After years of decreasing hostilities, hate crimes against LGBT+ people are now on the rise

By Mark Walters, co-Director of the International Network for Hate Studies

Is Britain really becoming more prejudiced towards LGBT people? Or is it the case, as some commentators suggest, that more LGBT people are simply coming forward to report incidents of hostility and violence?

The truth is that after years of decreasing levels of anti-LGB hate crime, recent crime survey data reveals an increase in anti-LGBT hate incidents in real terms. For example, data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) ­– our most accurate measure of actual crime levels — shows that there was an increase in anti-LGB hate crimes of 11%, rising from an estimated 27,000 incidents per year in 2016 to 30,000 per year in 2018.

At the same time, the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey shows that the proportion of people who say they are completely comfortable with same-sex sexual relations has fallen for the first time in more than three decades, dropping from 68% in 2017 to 66% in 2018.

It is not just CSEW and BSA data that evidences this rise. Stonewall, the UK’s largest LGBT charity, surveyed over 5,000 LGBT people finding that the proportion of lesbian, gay and bisexual people who had experienced a hate crime or incident over the past year because of their sexual orientation had increased from nine per cent in 2013 to 16 per cent in 2017.

The statistics evidence the extent to which LGBT people continue to experience wide-spread hostility throughout the country. However it is the numerous violent cases that have caught the attention of the media that reveal the shocking violence that many LGBT continue to face.  The two women who were attacked on a bus in London for refusing to kiss in front of a group of young men came as a shock to many who think that homophobic violence is a thing of the past. Many other cases have since been captured on mobile phones with bloodied faces becoming an all too frequent reminder of the ugly truth that 2019 Britain isn’t the LGBT friendly place many assume. 

The increased violence directed towards LGBT people has not occurred within a vacuum. The rise in anti-LGBT hate crime has come at a time when statistics are also showing sharp rises in other types of hate incidents across the UK, USA and Europe over the past five years.  In the US, Trump’s anti-Muslim tweets have translated into real life spikes in Islamophobic violence on the streets. There is clearly a direct correlation between the growing toxicity in public discourse on minority group rights and the rise in hate that is directed against these groups.

The wide coverage of the homophobic protests outside schools in Birmingham, detailed in the recent Panorama report, Sex Education: The LGBT Debate in Schools, and the backing given to the homophobic actions of a few by public figures such as Labour MP Roger Godsiff, exemplifies a renewed hostile environment in which increased numbers of individuals seek to demonstrate hostilities towards LGBT people publicly.

Equally concerning is the failure of all government ministers to denounce homophobia, such as Esther McVey who, rather than publicly condemning the marginalisation of LGBT people in schools, spoke instead of the rights of parents to withdraw children from classes that might expose them to information about LGBT people.

Godsiff and McVey need to understand that their words give permission to others to express hate towards LGBT people.  So too do the critics on the right so often at pains to discredit any evidence that anti-LGBT attitudes and hate crimes are on the rise. The Spectator is one medium that seems to attract numerous journalists keen to uncover “the real hate crime scandal”, with one making up the groundless assertion that phantom officials have been trawling for cases to classify as hate crimes and imploring people to call “hotlines” to report offences, even if there is no evidence.

The increased reports of hate crime since the Brexit vote even led the Conservative MEP politician Daniel Hannan to claim that members of the public are being “invited” to log onto to a website to “advertise that they have been victims of hate crimes”. These spurious claims of hate, it is claimed, are being used by the left to exaggerate the invidious effects of Brexit and other right wing populist movements sweeping across liberal democratic societies. 

The denial that hate crime is a problem is so transparent as to reveal a desperation amongst certain critics to avoid hard truths. The evidence is not anecdotal, it is not even based just on “reported” cases to the police, but on years of extensive representative victimisation and attitude surveys.

So when sceptics such as John Glynn at the Spectator asks “Are LGBT people really under attack in the UK?” the answer is quite clearly, yes – yes they are!

The impacts that these targeted incidents have on LGBT people cannot be overstated. A national survey of LGBT people conducted by the Sussex Hate Crime Project reported last year that victims will often experience heightened levels of anger, anxiety and feelings of vulnerability above and beyond that which is experienced in the aftermath of similar non-hate based incidents.

These impacts not only affect direct victims but ripple out impacting entire communities of LGBT people. The researchers found, for example, that simply hearing about incidents increases LGBT people’s feelings of vulnerability, anxiety and anger to a similar degree to those who are directly targeted. These damaging emotions are directly linked to changes in behaviour, including avoiding certain locations and even seeking to change appearance in order to “fit in” with the rest of society. For many trans people, these experiences of abuse can be particularly acute, with many facing the daily threat of violence. It is little wonder that anti-trans hate crime victims have been shown to be 10 times more likely than other victims to have suicidal thoughts. 

The time spent on denying that the problem of anti-LGBT hatred exists serves only to exacerbate it. What is needed now is strong leadership by the government, schools and criminal justice agencies to counter the narrative of anti-LGBT hate that is taking grip in large parts of our communities.

As we enter this years’ LGBT Pride season, the movement to protect LGBT rights appears more political and more urgent than ever. Unless we make our voices heard, there is a real risk that we will return to an age of intolerance and segregation where all individuals who are seen as “different” live in constant fear of violence – indeed for many this is already a reality.

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