One in four young gay people assaulted
Research highlighting the problems of growing up as a homosexual also shows that one in two of the youngsters self-harm
Emily Dugan is Social Affais Editor for The Independent, i and Independent on Sunday. She was previously a news reporter for The Independent on Sunday. Her investigations into human trafficking have twice been awarded Best Investigative Article at the Anti-Slavery Day Media Awards and her human rights journalism was shortlisted for the Gaby Rado Memorial prize at the 2012 Amnesty Media Awards. Emily is on sabbatical until March 2015
Sunday 04 November 2012
One in four young gay people in England have been assaulted because of their sexuality – and more than half have self-harmed – according to shocking research seen by The IoS.
The findings – which include the revelation that just under half (47 per cent) have received threats or intimidation as a result of being gay – are a stark reminder of the difficulties faced by young lesbian, gay, bi and transgender (LGBT) people.
The figures come from Youth Chances, the biggest social research project into young LGBT people in the country. The three-year project will eventually survey 15,000 young adults. The initial findings are based on the responses of the first 3,500.
Experts are particularly concerned by the statistics on self-harm, which are significantly higher than the national average of one in 12 young people. Researchers believe the difference may give an indication of the mental turmoil some LGBT teenagers suffer.
The rates of self-harm were significantly higher among young gay women, two-thirds of whom said they had hurt themselves on purpose, compared to 37 per cent of men. Transgender young adults were the most vulnerable, with almost four out of five saying they had deliberately harmed themselves.
Dan Baker, Youth Chances project manager, said: "In 2012, despite improvements which entitle LGBT people to equality, it's still a really challenging environment to grow up in. Self-harm jumped out as a really alarming statistic. Self-harm is a way of people expressing an internal issue that they might not be able to express. Maybe Britain is not as tolerant as we thought."
Despite Britain being ahead of many countries on gay rights – with civil partnerships and an equal age of consent – prejudice and homophobic bullying is still a problem. According to the gay rights campaign group Stonewall, three in five Britons believe there is still prejudice against LGBT people in Britain, and one in six say they have a "low opinion" of gay people.
Youth Chances believes its research shows that public attitudes have yet to catch up with the legal system. Mr Baker said: "There's a lot of great equality now, such as allowing gay couples to adopt and have civil partnerships. But, despite the progress, there seem to be lots of cases of harassment and even assault. If people are being taunted or attacked because of who they are, it shows public opinion and behaviour hasn't caught up with legislation."
Researchers think part of the problem is that bullying about sexuality is not being controlled in schools. Recent polling from Stonewall showed that 90 per cent of secondary teachers and 40 per cent of primary teachers had regularly witnessed homophobic bullying.
Mica Hamilton, 22, from west London self-harmed after being bullied at home and school for being gay. "My stepdad wasn't happy about my sexual orientation at all, and he used to make snide comments every day when I was a teenager", she said. "I wasn't happy at home and I wasn't happy at school. I used to be a bad self-harmer. I used to keep razor blades on me; it was part of my bag for school. On a typical day, I would wake up, get ready for school, brush my teeth and cut myself.
"At the height of it, I hadn't come out yet, but I was already getting comments about being gay. I went to a really left-wing school in a cosmopolitan area – and the headmaster was even gay – but it was still homophobic. One student was bullied so badly about being gay that he didn't come in for his GCSEs. Another had their photo posted online with 'faggot' written on it, and nobody did anything about it. I always wore black jeans and a black shirt and one day I was alone in a corridor and a teacher who didn't teach me said I was a 'cross-dressing dyke' and should go home and get changed."
Iain Stewart, Conservative MP for Milton Keynes, spoke movingly in the Commons earlier this year about being bullied about his sexuality at school. He said the figures on physical abuse and self-harm from Youth Chances showed how much work still needs to be done to stop young people being persecuted.
"This underlines that nobody can be complacent" said Mr Stewart. "We must do what we can to make sure schools have proper anti-bullying policies to deal with homophobia. The battle is still not over to make sure that people can live lives free from fear of prejudice and harm. I had bullying at school. It was verbal, so it wasn't as bad as some people experienced, but it affected me and took me a long time to get over it."
Mr Stewart said positive role models – such as those in today's Pink List – are crucial to improving life for young gay people. "There are some things that government can do, such as make sure schools have the right tools to tackle bullying," he said. "But a lot of it is about social change, and having positive role models in public life, particularly areas like football, where it still can often be a taboo. Some sports stars do feel confident enough to be open about who they are. The more that can happen, the more it can change general attitudes."
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: "These statistics are really shocking; they ought to be a wake-up call to every parent, teacher and community leader. As a society, we are still failing LGBT kids on a massive scale. Even today around half of schools have no anti-bullying programme specifically addressing homophobia. Kids are not born bigoted, they become bigoted. All the evidence suggests that education can help combat bigotry and promote understanding and acceptance."
Sam Mitchell, 21, from Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire
"I was at my mum's last year, and as I was leaving there were a couple of people hanging around outside. There were about five of them – guys in their mid-20s who I'd never seen before. As I began to walk home they started shouting names after me like 'faggot' and 'queer', and then they punched me in the face. They threw a few punches and then they just walked off laughing. Because it was late there was no one else around and I started panicking because these people don't like you. You just think, what's the point? I don't hide the fact that I'm gay; it's kind of obvious in the way I walk and talk.
"I had a black eye and a split lip. The police came out, but I had to drop the charges because I couldn't remember what they looked like. I've been out since I was a teenager, so I've dealt with kids in school who were pretty vicious. But this was different. There was no way I could stop them doing it because they were doing it for reasons I can't change."
'On a typical day, I'd wake up, get ready for school, brush my teeth, and cut myself'
Mica Hamilton, 22
from west London
"My stepdad wasn't happy about my sexual orientation at all, and he used to make snide comments every day when I was a teenager. I wasn't happy at home and I wasn't happy at school. I used to be a bad self-harmer. I used to keep razor blades on me; it was part of my bag for school. On a typical day, I would wake up, get ready for school, brush my teeth and cut myself. At the height of it, I hadn't come out yet, but I was already getting comments about being gay. I went to a really left-wing school in a cosmopolitan area – and the headmaster was even gay – but it was still homophobic. One student was bullied so badly about being gay that he didn't come in for his GCSEs. Another had their photo posted online with 'faggot' written on it, and nobody did anything about it. I always wore black jeans and a black shirt and one day I was alone in a corridor and a teacher who didn't teach me said I was a 'cross-dressing dyke' and should go home and get changed."
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