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Gay-Bashing in the United Kingdom

Survey Shows Increase, and Under-reporting

Hate crimes against LGBT people in the UK have surged by nearly 80 per cent in recent years, according to a new detailed survey.

A poster advertising the exhibition, "Queer British Art: 1861-1967" at the Tate Britain museum in London, United Kingdom, 2017. © 2017 Graeme Reid/Human Rights Watch

The report by British group Stonewall, based on a survey of 5,000 participants, showed that 16 percent of LGBT people reported experiencing a hate crime, up from 9 percent in 2013. Only a small proportion of cases are reported to authorities.

Among the other survey results:
  • Almost 60 percent of gay men feel scared to hold hands in public.
  • Over one in five respondents were verbally insulted or physically attacked due to their sexual orientation or gender identity in the last year. Racial or ethnic minorities are even more vulnerable, and a disproportionate number of transgender people experienced hate crime.
  • Hate crimes – which include physical assault, unsolicited sexual advances, harassment, intimidation, or insults – are dramatically underreported. Four in five LGBT victims of hate crimes or incidents in the past year failed to report it to the police, largely because they felt they would not be taken seriously by authorities.

A previous study had found hate crimes against LGBT people increased 147 percent in the three months after the Brexit referendum vote in June 2016.

In London, last week, I visited Queer British Art 1861-1967 at Tate Britain. The exhibition is a microcosm of queer life between two legal bookends: 1861, when the death penalty for ‘sodomy’ was abolished in Britain, and 1967, when sex between consenting men was decriminalized. One of the most compelling pieces on display is a door from Reading Gaol, believed to be from the cell in which Oscar Wilde was imprisoned and ruined. While the iconic image from the 1950s is a black and white photograph of three men, charged with ‘conspiracy to incite buggery’ under a British law forbidding male same-sex intercourse, also known by reform proponents as ‘the Blackmailer’s Charter.’

The exhibition is a useful reminder that it is only 50 years since sex between consenting men was decriminalized in Britain. Yet the Stonewall survey begs the question: how effectively is the scourge of hate crime being addressed?

Underlying the low reportage is a lack of trust in the police. Groups in Britain are rightfully calling for increased training of police officers, and a more responsive criminal justice system. The public expression of queer desire may have moved from Reading Gaol to Tate Britain, but it is alarming that holding hands in public is still both daring, and dangerous.  

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