One in three gays is victim of 'hate crime'

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The Independent Online
One out of every three gay men and one in four lesbian women have been the victim of a violent attack, according to the biggest-ever survey of homophobic crimes. Nearly all gays have been verbally abused because of their sexuality.

The report, "Queerbashing", to be published later today, reveals a frightening picture of homophobic violence and insults and contains graphic and disturbing accounts from the victims. Many had been the targets of weapon-wielding hate gangs. The report suggests there have been no less than 181 gay murders over the past 10 years.

Others had been abused by the people they had expected to protect them - family, colleagues and the police. One man described how, when he left a gay club at the time of several gay killings in London, two officers said to him: "Watch your back faggot, they're killing fairies like you."

The campaigning group Stonewall asked 4,200 gay men, lesbians and bisexuals about their experience of homophobic violence, harassment and verbal abuse in the past five years. Of those assaulted, one in 20 had been hit with a weapon.

A third of all men and women had also suffered some form of harassment - some driven from their homes by homophobic neighbours, some receiving hate mail. One in 10 had been threatened or blackmailed.

And seven out of 10 had at suffered verbal abuse - like "dirty queer", "poof", "lezzie", "dyke" and "faggot".

For people under 18, the statistics are even more alarming, with half of them likely to fall victim to attack and nine out of 10 of them subjected to verbal abuse.

Although the study acknowledges that there has been a striking shift towards greater tolerance and support for gay and lesbian people, it blames "deeply institutionalised homophobia".

"It is the last respectable prejudice, reinforced by laws which still treat lesbians and gay men as second-class citizens," it says. It cites the unequal age of consent, the ban on gays in the armed services - which Stonewall is taking through the European courts - section 28 of the Local Government Act, which constrains schools in dealing with issues of homosexuality.

But it says there are "glimpses" of changes of policy - particularly in police practice, with many forces dealing successfully with homophobic violence and chief constables currently drawing up a charter of best practice in officer training and in recognising and dealing with homophobic crime.

However, it accuses the Home Office of maintaining "an official silence".

In a foreword to the report, Jack Straw, Labour's home affairs spokesman, says the statistics are "alarming", leaving many gay people feeling neither the police nor the legal system are "there for them".

"The violence and fear to which gay people are subjected is something which diminishes us all. Yet this not just a matter of law and order - homophobic violence is indicative of the underlying barrier of discrimination," he says.

However, despite the "frightening and disturbing picture", the authors say: "We are not left with a feeling of despair . . . Alongside the horror, there was also a sense of resistance and determination to live openly and safely."

CASE STUDIES

Targets of abuse are left haunted by fear

Peter was on his way home from church when he was attacked by a gang who left him for dead in a south London street.

"I can still see the hate-contorted face of the first attacker," said Peter. "I still hear the jeering voices - 'poof', 'queer', 'bent bastard'.

"I was hit again and again and then I pretty much lost it. I fell to the ground in a pool of my own blood and don't recall any more until I woke up in hospital with drips and machines all round me."

Peter's physical injuries have now healed, but doctors told him it had been "touch and go".

Relating the events for Stonewall's study reduced Peter to tears. "I thought I had dealt with this," he said. "I almost died because of some mindless morons - who are still roaming the streets."

The police believe Peter was the victim of British Nationalist Party "queer-bashers", but have been unable to arrest anyone because Peter cannot recognise them. "That scares me. I have moved home, changed my appearance, changed my life routines and I am still constantly looking over my shoulder when I am out, even with other people.

"The physical stuff is long gone, but the mental and emotional trauma of nearly dying will take a long time to get over," he said.

Jill and Jan, a couple also in their 30s, were driven from their home on a south London estate by weeks of abuse and harassment from neighbours, mainly children.

Jill said: "We kept ourselves to ourselves and were not obviously lesbians".

It started with obscene material and handwritten notes being pushed through their letter box. Then a group of estate children, aged about 12 -14, joined in the torment. "They waited until we got home, then banged on our windows and kicked our doors while shouting and calling us names."

One day it got too much for Jill who chased one of the children, demanding they go to her parents, so she could complain.

"Big mistake," said Jill. Half- an-hour later parents and children had gathered outside the flat, attempting to kick the door in. "The gang had smashed the windows and were trying to get in when the police arrived."

However the police were unsympathetic. They believed the children who said Jan had hit one of them on the head. "The gang were standing there making threats, holding sticks, bricks and bottles, but the police just ignored this. We were forced to apologise," said Jill.

They left but threatened to return and the couple made a snap decision to move out. "We went back a couple of days later to collect the rest of our belongings, but the flat had been smashed up and everything had gone."

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