By Matt Bagwell
I remember looking at my watch. Then nothing until I came to on a south London pavement in the early hours of a Sunday morning. My friend Sarah’s frantic shouts; pissed-up clubbers staggering past with glazed eyes and blank expressions.
I tried to speak but had something in my mouth – my lower gum, it turned out, ripped away from my teeth and hanging half out of my bloodied lips by a sinewy thread. In A&E, five hours later, it was reattached via stitches through the gaps in my teeth. But the feeling that someone – anyone – would want to physically hurt me to the extent I needed hospital treatment was more painful even than those stitches.
And that’s when I started sobbing.
It had been an unremarkable Saturday night – the usual bad dancing and cheap shots at The Two Brewers, Clapham’s long-running gay club, made more remarkable by the guy I pulled. He was Australian. Hot. We left together, heading to the taxi rank giddy and light-headed, Sarah and a couple of girlfriends a few steps behind, slowed by sore dancing feet and towering heels.
I was conscious of the beered-up blokes pouring out of nearby Infernos; it was an inbuilt instinct. But my night at the Brewers had instilled a healthy measure of Dutch courage in me, and so the Australian and I trotted up Clapham High Street with our arms around each other’s waists.
We were about half way along, when three lads strutted past. “What’s the time?” one asked, looking me straight in the eye. He knocked me out cold with a single punch – the trio swaggering off laughing, congratulating their mate, boasting that “the queer deserved it”. Sarah found them in the KFC down the road. When she screamed at them, they laughed.
It’s 20 years since that homophobic attack. The LGBT+ landscape has changed dramatically in that time – beyond recognition in some respects. The age of consent for gay men is now the same as for heterosexuals, and Section 28 – which banned councils and schools from intentionally ‘promoting homosexuality’– has since been repealed. I can now marry my same-sex partner. I can adopt. At work, I have the same legal protection as my straight colleagues. I could join the armed forces if I really wanted to (I really don’t). If you’re transgender, you can legally change your gender, acquire a new birth certificate and the Equality Act provides some legal protection around discrimination.
But despite the huge strides in equality, legislation and protection for the LGBT+ community and the fact we’re more visible than ever, it seems the attitudes that led to me being knocked unconscious on that Clapham pavement have not disappeared. It’s easy to think of Britain as a post-homophobic society, but hate crime fuelled by homophobia, biphobia and transphobia is in fact on the increase.
It’s easy to think of Britain as a post-homophobic society, but hate crime fuelled by homophobia, biphobia and transphobia is in fact on the increase.
Figures released by the charity Stonewall in 2017, show that attacks on LGBT+ people surged by 80% in four years. One in five LGBT+ people reported being verbally or physically attacked due to their sexuality or gender identity in the previous 12 months, and in the trans community, that number rose to two in five. The real figure is likely higher. According to Stonewall’s research, four in five anti-LGBT hate crimes and incidents go unreported, with younger people particularly reluctant to go to the police.
Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are certainly not a thing of the past, agrees Rusi Jaspal, Professor of Psychology and Sexual Health at De Montfort University, Leicester. “This verbal, physical and sexual abuse against LGBT people results in some of them deciding not to come out,” he explains. “By denigrating a less powerful group like LGBT people, some people come to feel that their own group – and thus they themselves – are somehow better.”
It’s easy to think that these attitudes are confined to small pockets of people in tucked-away parts of Britain. But they are everywhere: the 2017 British Social Attitudes survey found that Londoners were the least likely to say that homosexuality was rarely or never wrong. Thirty three per cent didn’t agree with same-sex relationships, despite London having the largest proportion of LGBT+ people in the country.
LGBT+ people experience this prejudice, blatant or covert, on the street and public transport. We come up against it in the supermarket or church, when we try and rent our flats, or go on holiday. We don’t even have to leave our homes to experience it – just switch on the telly. For every Tom Daley, there’s a Richard Hammond linking eating ice cream with being gay on an episode of ‘The Grand Tour’, or Peter Kay’s ‘Car Share’ taking aim at the trans community for cheap laughs. How many films have you watched when someone or something rubbish has been described as ‘gay’?
Yes, you’ll see cities adorned with rainbow flags for Pride. But this normalisation of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia is still happening all the time. In a recent article for GQ magazine, journalist Justin Myers, AKA The Guyliner, coined the phrase ‘stealth homophobia’ while considering an image of a lipstick-wearing Donald Trump puckering up to Vladimir Putin, published in The Economist.
Its message is clear: the US president is being ridiculed. He would hate to be seen in lipstick, kissing a man. “But hang on, isn’t that what a lot of women do? And LGBT people? Wear makeup, kiss men?” Myers writes. “And imagine being compared to one of those – so reduced in status. This is what it teaches younger people – that to be feminine, or LGBT, or a woman is, in some way, inferior, that it’s an insult and that someone would be rightfully offended by the comparison.”
We should not overlook this “stealth homophobia” argues Professor Jaspal: “In contemporary British society, overt prejudice is stigmatised – some people may manifest prejudice against LGBT people in less overt ways but they still exist. Some people manifest such prejudice in more subtle ways. These forms of prejudice can result in social and psychological stress for LGBT people who experience them.”
An example of less obvious prejudice might be heteronormativity – the assumption that everybody is heterosexual and that people’s lives follow the norms associated with heterosexuality – “[which] fails to acknowledge diversity and the fact that some LGBT people have different lifestyles,” says Prof Jaspal.
As a white gay man in 2018, I certainly have it better than those gay people forced to stay in the closet, sometimes entering heterosexual marriages because being who they were was against the law. Or the gay men who suffered excruciating deaths from AIDS as complacent and uninterested governments looked the other way. And unlike those people living in the 37 countries where being gay is still outlawed, I don’t live in fear of my life on a day-to-day basis.
But I’m not quite ready to write my thank you cards just yet.
A 49-year-old man lies in a critical condition after his back is broken following an attack in London. The victim was walking through Soho when he was struck – the impact caused his spine to break.
This is not a crime from 20 years ago – but a terrifying attack that happened on the weekend of this year’s London Pride. The Metropolitan Police treated the incident as a hate crime because of “offensive language heard by the victim shortly before the assault”.
More recently, former Wales rugby captain Gareth Thomas, who came out in 2009, was the victim of a homophobic attack during a night out in Cardiff city centre. In a video he shared on Twitter following the attack, the visibly bruised sports star, revealed how he had used restorative justice on the 16-year-old perpetrator because he believed “they could learn more that way”.
Peter Tatchell, the veteran LGBT and Human Rights campaigner, has experienced more violent homophobia than most. “In total I’ve been violently assaulted over 300 times including with fists, bottles, bricks and iron bars,” he tells me. “Almost all of the teeth in my mouth have been chipped and cracked as a result of these assaults. For years I suffered from extreme post traumatic stress disorder, including night terrors. My flat has been attacked over 50 times, mostly bricks and bottles through the windows but also three arson attempts and a bullet through the front door.”
Tatchell describes his own experience of hate crime – attacked because of his sexuality and his campaigning – as “living through a low-level civil war”. It’s not a war that appears to be coming to an end.
Will Mayrick was on his way to a party in East London when he was homophobically attacked in December last year. The 20-year-old photography student says he “feared for his life” when he was verbally and physically assaulted on the London Underground by a group of teenagers.
“Everything’s going through your head. I didn’t know what was going to happen. You don’t think it’ll ever happen to you. It hurts you that someone is attacking you for things that you can’t help or the person that you are.”
Mayrick and his friends managed to get off the tube at North Greenwich station after he’d been placed in a headlock and made to “apologise for being gay”.
“We jumped off the train straight away and found a British Transport Police officer and spoke to her, and she was fantastic,” he explains. “She handled the situation so well, she really calmed us down and made us feel better. Immediately I didn’t get upset but then when I saw that my friends had completely broken down in floods of tears, it suddenly hit me.”
Unlike many other LGBT+ people, Will says he never considered not reporting the hate crime, but was left disappointed by how the case was treated in the later stages. “I don’t want to criticise the police at all because they did a fantastic job,” he says. “But there were moments when I had to call up and chase what was happening. I don’t think it would have moved as quickly if I hadn’t. I was told there was an expiry date on the case after six months. It was taken seriously, which I do appreciate, but I think there’s more that can be done to reach out and help victims because if it wasn’t for my friends I wouldn’t have coped so well with it.”
For 35 years, the LGBT+ anti-violence charity, Galop, has offered practical help and support to victims of hate crime, domestic abuse and sexual violence. Nick Antjoule is the charity’s Hate Crime Manager. “My take is that there has been an increase in people actually reporting stuff but also there’s been an increase in the amount of stuff people have been experiencing,” he says.
“More is coming to the attention of authorities and I’m sure it won’t last forever, but people are experiencing more hate crime than they have in the last couple of years. So that might be violence from strangers maybe on a night out or on public transport, but also things like people facing ongoing harassment from neighbours, homophobic, transphobic or biphobic abuse.”
Assistant Chief Constable for Merseyside Police Julie Cooke – the National Police Chief’s Council lead for the LGBT portfolio – insists that hate crime is a priority for the police force.
“It’s certainly high up there on the things we want to make people deployed to as quickly as possible and making sure that we are giving a premium service as much as we can do,” she says.
Antjoule says he’s seen first hand how much the relationship between the LGBT community and the police has changed over the years. He recalls the 80s, when Galop first started. “We were doing lots of work essentially defending LGBT communities against the police,” he says. “Back in the bad old days there were laws that specifically criminalised LGBT people.
“Trying to get police to record hate crime, let alone treat someone in a respectful way was a real difficulty. People experienced really unpleasant reactions from the police. We’ve really evolved from then to the point where hate crime is being prioritised.”
Tracy O’Hara, a police detective constable in Merseyside and co-chair of the National Police LGBT Network and chair of the Merseyside Police Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Staff Support Network, says there has been progress on how police deal with hate crimes.
“Some forces have LGBT liaison officers, which give a great level of service,” she explains. “I’m not so sure that it’s as much a lottery now as it was because there’s a better way of things being raised if they haven’t been dealt with correctly.”
Even the acknowledgement from government, police and prosecutors that hate crime is a problem and that they need to tackle it together is new, Antjoule argues: “I think that is something that’s different.”
But while it’s true that the LGBT+ community’s relationship with the police has improved considerably in the last few years, there’s evidently still work to do.
Part of the issue of trust comes down to LGBT+ representation within the police force itself. According to Stonewall, almost half of gay, lesbian and bisexual people believe they would “face barriers” if they joined the police, which is dominated by heterosexual men. Some forces are making efforts to increase LGBT+ representation and the way in which they respond to LGBT-related hate crime, but homophobia, biphobia and transphobia still exists within the police.
Despite this perception, O’Hara – an out gay woman within the force – says she has seen a “sea change” in attitudes towards LGBT+ colleagues since she first joined the police.
“People are coming into the organisation now out and open,” she says. “And I don’t think that has happened by accident. It happened by lots of people throughout the years in the police service being prepared to challenge those attitudes. And let’s be honest, those attitudes existed and we’d be complacent to think that they still don’t but there’s certainly better facilities and better systems and processes.”
She adds: “I think one of the key things for me as a gay officer in the police now is the support from our non-LGBT colleagues, line managers and role models. We have a lot more allies in the organisation than we used to do who are prepared to be at the front of a Pride march or the end of the phone if something happens.
“I know that’s not going to be the same in every police force in this country but certainly in the collective of regions there’s that better support process for all of us to be ourselves. It’s definitely an unacceptable way to be if you’re deemed to have homophobic, biphobic or transphobic attitudes within the police.”
O’Hara adds that they are proactively encouraging all members of the LGBT+ community to consider the police as a viable career choice. She recently spent time with the national transgender charity Sparkle in Manchester, with a number of police services and British Transport Police. She explains: “One of the things we said was to start thinking about [the police] as a career rather than somebody who you tell when things go wrong.”
In her 2015 TEDx talk, Irish drag queen Panti talked about the little tweaks to our lives that LGBT+ people make all the time just to be safe. “We are so used to making those small adjustments every day that we rarely ourselves even notice that we are doing it because it is just part of the background of our lives,” she noted.
“If we complain about it we are told we have nothing to complain about because aren’t you lucky that you don’t live in Uganda. And yes I am lucky that I don’t live in Uganda, But that’s not good enough. Our society is homophobic. It is infused with homophobia. It is dripping with homophobia.”
Yet there are still many people who think homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are a thing of the past – and they aren’t always straight.
At a friend’s recent party, I found myself talking to a man I hadn’t met before. We chatted about our lives as gay men of different ages when he told me, in no uncertain terms, that homophobia was a thing of the past. Gay men were making it an issue, he argued.
I was speechless – albeit momentarily. As a financially comfortable man, he’d always floated in certain circles and had always lived in relatively gay-friendly cities. His ‘I’m alright Jack’ attitude hit a nerve: just because he hadn’t experienced homophobia first hand did not mean it didn’t exist.
As Tatchell notes, current levels of hatred do not match those seen during the 80s and Section 28 era. However, he admits “the current bigoted atmosphere is more severe than five years ago.” Meanwhile, Nick Antijoule from Galop, currently going through one of the busiest times the charity has faced in its 35-year history, acknowledges: “There are still big elements of UK society that are not accepting of LGBT people and feel that we’re a threat.”
A recent survey revealed that 78% of people aged 18 to 24 believed gay sex was natural, while 69% of those aged 65 and above believe it is not.
So what’s going on? Psychologist Professor Rusi Jaspal argues that while the UK has made real progress in challenging homophobia, there has been less movement in relation to biphobia and transphobia. Reduced homophobia is the result of many simultaneous processes, he says.
“First, awareness-raising campaigns have made LGBT people more visible than ever before. People tend to fear the ‘unknown’ so, as more LGBT people become visible, their lives and identities can also be understood by heterosexual people,” he says. “Pride, for instance shows how people of all identities and backgrounds can come together to acknowledge, support and celebrate LGBT+ identities.
“Second, decreased stigma in turn has meant that more people are willing to come out as LGBT … this means that more people now know someone who is openly LGBT, which is an important step forward,” says Jaspal. “If you do not know someone who is LGBT, you are more likely to rely on often negative stereotypes of this unknown group.”
“Third, LGBT people themselves have become much more vocal about their lives and identities and actively challenge stigma when it is manifested … Fourth, thankfully in the UK, we have the Equality Act of 2010 which protects people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender reassignment among other ‘protected characteristics’.”
This legislation reinforces social attitudes – people generally look to authority for guidance around how to think and behave – which have changed in recent years. A 2017 YouGov poll for Pink News, revealed that 78% of people aged 18 to 24 said that gay sex was natural, while 69% of those aged 65 and above believe it is not.
Despite this progress, trans people are experiencing more prejudice and hate crime than other sections of the LGBT+ community. A report earlier this year revealed that one in three employers were “less likely” to hire a transgender person. Just 3% of the 1,000 employers polled by Crossland Employment Solicitors from a cross section of industries, have an equal opportunities policy that openly welcomes transgender people to apply for jobs. Few felt their workplace was liberal enough to tolerate transgender workers, with only 4% declaring their workplace culture diverse enough for transgender people to “fit in.”
Additionally, recent reports by Stonewall, reveal how half of transgender workers hide their identity at work for fear of discrimination. Earlier this year The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) called upon government to act on transgender discrimination.
Blackpool student and youth worker Chrissie Deans began her transition when she was 16 and still at school. Her story highlights just how difficult the process can be.
“I always knew I was different,” she says. “I was about 13 when I knew I was definitely trans and not gay. I told friends but it was when I was about 15 that I definitely knew that I was going on this journey and that it was the only thing I needed to do to survive.
“Leading up to my transition I was acting out really badly and my family couldn’t deal with my behaviour so I ended up being in care,” she says. “[At the time] I couldn’t articulate it. I wasn’t sure what it meant and it just scared me. When I was acting up my mental health was really bad so I was really badly behaved. I was also really suicidal. My transition was policed a lot by social services. They’d never had a young person like me at the time.”
She adds: “My mum found it really hard. She felt a sense of ambiguous loss so she was grieving for a long time. Now we have a much better relationship because of that. I see her regularly and I speak to her. It was a journey I basically did by myself with support from some support workers.”
Since transitioning, transphobia has been a constant in her life. “It sounds really bad but I’m almost used to it,” she admits. “It’s been seven years and I always knew that things like that would be a part of it. So I do counselling but to get a lot of my frustration out I write. That’s helped me to come to terms with things and deal with the abuse.”
And despite anti-discrimination measures being in place in the areas of employment, education, housing, and services, she says transphobia is everywhere. “I found it exceptionally difficult to get jobs due to transphobia,” she says. “I’ve been thrown out of public bathrooms and toilets. I have been quite lucky because I pass quite well now, but those experiences still live with you.”
Both Tatchell and Antijoule believe the Brexit vote had an impact on the rise in hate crime – resulting in an undisputed increase in homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, as well as xenophobia and racism.
Antijoule argues that while the highly divisive referendum had an impact, this was short-lived. “Immediately after the referendum we saw a big spike up and then straight down again. Over the longer term what we have seen, say over the last year, is a steady large increase.”
Tatchell states that we seem to be entering a rising atmosphere of intolerance including xenophobia, racism and anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim prejudice. “In the wake of the bigoted and intolerant atmosphere stirred up by the Brexit debate we have clear evidence of a very significant rise in reported homophobic hate,” he says.
“Bigotry towards LGBT people is part of this toxic mix, which has been fuelled by the Brexit debate, the rise of right wing populism and the spread of social media which has been abused by homophobes, biphobes and transphobes.”
Officer Tracy O’Hara acknowledges that hate crime did increase post-Brexit vote, but believes this is also down to people feeling more comfortable reporting it.
“I know we monitored quite a bit post-Brexit,” she says. “You do see spikes, you do see more attacks, and people feeling more vulnerable. For us, we want people to tell us. It’s an area of crime that if we see a reporting increase, we would see that as a better trust in us and a better relation between us and our communities and that things will be done about it.”
Professor Jaspal explains that this spike in hate crime can be attributed to some of the debate around Brexit that focused on xenophobia, exclusion and ethnocentrism that helped promote a general culture of intolerance. “Such a culture is unlikely to promote favourable attitudes towards minorities of any kind,” he explains.
People tend not to discriminate against a single group but rather against a variety of groups, he suggests – those who are racist, are also often homophobic, sexist and intolerant of other minorities. “Today the target of prejudice could be a group we have nothing to do with. Tomorrow it could be our own group,” he notes. “A culture of intolerance generally encourages stigma, discrimination and hate crime against all minorities.”
Laura (not her real name), a bisexual woman from the Midlands, says her experience is that biphobia is genuinely overlooked or not taken as seriously as homophobia or transphobia, because for many, bisexual people “straddle the border” between homosexuality and heterosexuality.” In response to a HuffPost call out on social media, Laura explained her own experience of biphobia as often coming from friends unaware of the impact of their words on her feelings.
“I’m often asked ‘Is it men or women you’re into at the moment?’ or ‘I thought you were a lesbian at the moment?’,” she says. “Whilst completely innocent in their eyes, I grow tired of having to explain I sit on a spectrum or that love for me has no gender. My gay friends don’t suffer this sort of constant barrage regarding their sexuality.”
She adds: “They will never truly understand how uncomfortable it makes me feel when they single me out for it, making me feel different. I have found when dating women in particular that identifying as bisexual almost makes me less gay in their eyes, and not fully committed to the cause. I am deemed less trustworthy and often met with disgust when I make comments about being attracted to men as well. I find dating bisexual women a lot easier in these instances, as there is a deeper understanding with regards to my personal sexuality preference.”
Even the seemingly small act of holding your partner’s hand in public is never, ever an unconscious move. Internally, a whole process of evaluation is carried out before deciding if it’s safe to do so.
Adjusting your behaviour just because of who you are – not to fit in, just not to stand out – is exhausting. Bisexual, trans and gay people all have examples of these low-level adjustments they’ve had to make – and sometimes, at 46, I still struggle with the fact that I’ve had to do that.
Even the seemingly small act of holding your partner’s hand in public is never, ever an unconscious move. Internally, a whole process of evaluation is carried out before deciding if it’s safe to do so – a risk assessment just to show affection in public. Often I’ll take the fuck-it route, and defiantly grab the hand of my other half. But it would take just a single stranger taking exception to my PDA and it could be Clapham High Street 1998 all over again – or worse.
Christania, a 29-year-old magazine editor from London, says she doesn’t experience homophobia when she’s alone because she’s femme-presenting, but it’s a different story when she’s out and about with her girlfriend.
“People just see a black woman but don’t think I’m a lesbian,” she says. “But when I’m walking down the street holding my girlfriend’s hand, that’s a whole different kettle of fish. People call us names in the street, give us looks, literally stop and stare… black people, white people, whoever. I don’t think they’re used to seeing two black lesbians holding hands.”
Despite the hostility they regularly encounter, Christania says as she’s got older and grown in confidence, she no longer cares what people think.
“When I was younger I would second guess myself, but I’m at a point in my life where I don’t care,” she says. “We don’t care about it at all, we don’t think about it, we just do do it. It’s just automatic.”
She adds: “The thing is, I see straight people all the time on the tube kissing like they’re in their bedroom about to have sex but they’re there on the Northern Line going for it like there’s no tomorrow, so I don’t really see how me holding my girlfriend’s hand is upsetting anyone. That’s the thing, it’s not hurting anyone. It’s not putting anyone in danger.”
But most often, blatant homophobia is hard to simply ignore. Earlier this year, Daniel Browne set up a stall in Stratford-upon-Avon market to raise awareness of Warwickshire Pride, of which he is chair. “I was looking forward to the day and chatting to local people, but from the moment I set up it just went really downhill,” he tells me. “The first person that came over to the stall started shouting at me saying that a stall of that kind had no place in Stratford. There were also lots of people walking past saying that it was disgusting and that being LGBT was an illness.”
After enduring three hours of abuse from more than 100 people, Daniel decided to pack up and leave. He reported what happened to the police, who logged every incidence of abuse as a hate crime – a response he describes as “fantastic”.
It wasn’t the first time Daniel had encountered homophobia. “I’ve been physically attacked, I’ve had holy water thrown in my face when someone said they were trying to cleanse me and lots of verbal abuse over the years,” he tells me. But on those occasions he didn’t involve the police. “I thought it wouldn’t be taken very seriously and that the police wouldn’t do very much. But now I actively encourage reporting and it’s something I regret not doing,” he admits.
Pride season has been and gone for another year – for many the events are one big party, and there’s no shame in that. It’s basically Gay Christmas.
Pride events give hope to people who desperately need to know that things will get better, when the world all too often tells them that being queer is wrong.
Pride is also about visibility and creating a sense of belonging. It gives hope to people who desperately need to know that things will get better, when the world all too often tells them that being queer is wrong. Pride is particularly important for young LGBT+ people, who need to know they are not alone, that they are safe and that not everyone wants to cause them harm or make them feel ashamed of who they are.
But the LGBT+ community needs to get its own house in order too.
This year’s Pride in London parade was disrupted by anti-trans protesters who lay down in front of the march and then led it, uninterrupted, carrying banners and flyers stating “transactivism erases lesbians” and describing the trans movement as “anti-lesbianism”. Other LGBT+groups quickly condemned the stunt, but it highlighted how much prejudice still exists.
It’s something Chrissie Deans has experienced: “I think the reason transphobia may be higher [than other LGB-related hate crimes) is because there’s a lot of intersectional transphobia within the LGB community as well. You almost don’t have a place in society. It all goes down and you’re at the bottom, especially trans people of colour. They get the most abuse because it all trickles down. But I also think there’s a fear. People hate what they don’t understand.”
Christania agrees that transphobia is rife within the LGB community, which she attributes to “ignorance, plain and simple”.
She says: “Even within the community, people don’t really interact with people who don’t share the same identity, so they’re not learning anything. I’m a cisgender lesbian but I’ve taken the time out to learn about trans women’s experiences, and also I respect them. It’s not everyday a trans person will want to educate me about their experience. You don’t know how painful it is for them, you don’t know what they’ve gone through to get to the point they’re at now.”
Being a black gay woman means Christania has experienced more prejudice than most – and she doesn’t have to step outside of the LGBT+ community to experience it.
“The thing is with racism in this country is it’s insidious,” she says. “It’s like if I’ve ever been to a predominantly white lesbian bar, everyone looks at you like ‘why are you in here?’. To them all they see is a black woman, there’s no way I could be a lesbian. [They’re like] black women aren’t lesbians. They can’t understand that.”
She adds that even the supposedly safe, inclusive environment of a Pride event can be anything but.
“When I went to London Pride a few years ago, me and my friend were in Nandos and a white lesbian started calling my black gay male friend the N-word,” she says. “That experience has never left me. We’re all at Pride in London and one community, but she still recognised her whiteness I guess, and used her privilege because she knew that word would hurt him. She didn’t care that he was gay or that we were all at Pride trying to have a good time, she just saw a black boy and thought you’re a n*****.
Kids are coming out at a younger age these days. But LGBT+ youth are still six times more likely to die by suicide. Two thirds suffer homophobic bullying at school.
Stonewall’s 2018 health report found more than half of LGBT people have suffered depression in the past year, and 61% anxiety.
Of the 5000 LGBT people surveyed, one in eight aged between 18 and 24 have attempted to take their own life in the last 12 months.
Will Mayrick left school two years ago. He likens the experience to being “in a prison” and strongly believes that there is not enough being done to tackle homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in schools. “You just want to stay under the radar. I grew up in a small Cotswold village of just over 2000 people in a very conservative area. I have friends who lived and grew up in London and sometimes they don’t understand what you go through.”
He adds: “There was no formal assembly on it, just one class that wasn’t taught very well, I didn’t feel comfortable speaking about it. ‘Gay’ is used as an insult at school and people flippantly use it around the classroom… but you don’t feel like you can talk to anyone about it.”
Currently, PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic) lessons are not a statutory requirement of all schools, despite being supported by 85% of business leaders, 88% of teachers, 92% of parents and 92% of pupils, according to the PSHE Association, which campaigns to raise PSHE standards. The organisation is currently working with the Government Equalities Office on an anti-homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying programme.
The hope is that it will reduce the incidence of HBT bullying in primary and secondary schools in England by transforming how schools prevent and respond to it.
In November this year, Scotland became the first country in the world to embed LGBT and intersex inclusive education into the curriculum. State schools will now be required to teach pupils about LGBTI history and equality, as well as exploring LGBTI identity. Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia will also be tackled.
The heartbreaking story of a young man called Dominic Crouch was what moved Claire Harvey, to found Diversity Role Models, a charity working to prevent homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in UK schools.
Dominic went on a school trip aged 13, and during a game of spin the bottle was dared to kiss another boy. “Everybody knew it was part of the game, but someone had videoed it and when he had got back to school it had gone viral,” Harvey says.
“He was subjected to what I can best describe as banter, he wasn’t punched in the face… people made jokes and comments and ribbed him, and everybody knew it was happening but everyone thought it was just banter and so no one did anything. Unfortunately Dominic took his life.”
The tragic story prompted Claire, working with others, to consider how Dominic had arrived at that point. How could things be so bad that even the suggestion that a young person is gay could have such terrible consequences?
The night I was attacked, my younger brother came and took me to A&E; we didn’t phone the police or an ambulance. It took me months to recover mentally. Clapham High Street was a no-go for me. Large groups of lads intimidated me. I didn’t like being out anywhere at night. But slowly, I got over it, with a resolute determination that no one was going to have any form of control over my life.
I was aware too, it could have been much worse. The same year, three people were killed and 79 injured by a nail bomb that had been planted in the Admiral Duncan gay pub in Soho by 22-year-old Neo-Nazi David Copeland, a former member of the British National Party.
After attending several Pride events this year – both in the UK and abroad – I’m hopeful that one day all sections of society will not only be truly accepted, but respected and understood. And that’s key.
Harvey believes that societal change is in the hands of the next generation. “I’d love to get to the point where you say you’re gay and everyone goes ‘oh yeah, fascinating’. But I don’t think I’ll see it in my lifetime, sadly. If we can change the next generation, then they will be the leaders of the future.”
I’ll leave the last words to self-proclaimed “optimist and idealist” Peter Tatchell. He says history has taught us that change does come about – eventually.
“People used to say that slavery, colonialism and the denial of votes for women was part of the natural order and could never be changed, yet those injustices were eventually overturned,” he says. “I believe that one day we will make homophobia, biphobia and transphobia history.”
I hope he’s right.
Useful websites and helplines:
- London Lesbian & Gay switchboard (LLGS) is a free confidential support & information helpline for LGBT communities throughout the UK | 0300 330 0630
- Manchester Lesbian and Gay Switchboard is a free support, information and referral service for the Manchester and North-West area | 0161 235 8000
- Stonewall for more information on other LGBT services and helplines | 08000 502020