Homophobia is increasing among young British people, new research has suggested amid warnings that “online communities of hate” could be driving the worrying trend.
A poll seen exclusively by The Independent found one in four 18- to 24-year-olds thought LGBT+ people were “immoral” or that homosexuality contravened their beliefs, compared to one in five across all age groups.
Young people were also more likely to think LGBT+ people were “dangerous” to others or could be “cured” than their older peers, according to research by LGBT+ anti-violence charity Galop.
The findings prompted warnings of a “worrying cultural shift” in the UK, following years of falling discrimination against the gay community.
It came as new Home Office figures showed dramatic rise in hate crimes targeting LGBT+ people in England and Wales.
Nick Antjoule, Galop’s head of hate crime services, said the journey towards equality was “far from over” in Britain.
“Despite most people in this UK poll voicing support for LGBT+ people, a significant proportion still think we are dangerous, immoral or that we can be ‘cured’,” he added.
“It offers a sobering reminder that progress achieved in recent decades can easily be reversed.
“Young people polled tended to hold more negative views toward LGBT+ people than other age groups.
“This alarming finding warns of a generational pivot ahead and a bumpy road for those of us committed to challenging anti-LGBT violence and abuse.”
The research found that the views of under-25s were more polarised than their older counterparts, pushing towards “strongly agree” or “strongly disagree” rather than giving answers in the middle ground.
Presented with the statement that “being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is immoral or against my beliefs” 60 per cent disagreed but 27 per cent agreed – higher than any other age group.
Almost one in five under-25s said gay people could be “cured”, compared to just 5 per cent of respondents aged between 55 and 65 and 3 per cent of 45- to 54-year-olds.
When asked whether LGBT+ people were “dangerous” to others, 16 per cent of under-25s and 15 per cent of 25- to 34-year-olds agreed, but the figure was only 4 per cent for the oldest age group surveyed.
“The views expressed by young people in this study gives rise for serious concern,” researchers said. “They were often more negative towards LGBT+ people than their older counterparts. This perhaps indicates that the position of LGBT+ people in society is under threat in future generations.”
Galop’s report said the answers may reflect a “the influence of the rise of anti-LGBT+ rhetoric globally”, following a rise in anti-trans activism among high-profile right-wing groups in the US and UK.
“It may also be connected to the influence of a growing number of siloed online communities of hate, which exist with different social norms to mainstream society, running counter to inclusion and tolerance,” it added.
Protests that started in Birmingham over the teaching of relationship education in primary schools have sparked angry public debate and abuse on social media.
Galop said the levels of bias against LGBT+ people in Britain may be higher than the findings of the poll, because respondents may have been reluctant to express bigotry.
Figures released by the Home Office on Tuesday showed that a record number of hate crimes were reported to police in 2018-19, with the largest increases for anti-transgender incidents, which rocketed by 37 per cent to 2,333 incidents.
Crimes motivated by sexual orientation rose by a quarter to 14,500 in the year.
Mr Antjoule said Galop had also recorded a “stark increase in the severity and scale of anti-LGBT+ violence and abuse” in recent years.
“This appears to be a symptom of emergent anti-LGBT attitudes and social division across society,” he added.
“The fact that anti-LGBT hate crime figures are rising so much faster than race, faith and disability hate crime should be a wake up call for policymakers.”
The National Police Chiefs’ Council urged people to report attacks and abuse and pledged that officers would take complaints seriously.
Assistant chief constable Mark Hamilton, national lead for hate crime, said: “The 10 per cent increase reported today is in part due to increased confidence of victims to report to the police and continuing efforts by police to improve recording.
“However, these statistics also represent real rises in hate crime, and we are particularly concerned about the sharp increases in LGB and transgender abuse.
“We also recognise there are real divisions in our society at this time, and there is a responsibility on us all to think carefully and be temperate in how we communicate with each other to avoid escalating tensions or emboldening others.”
A government spokesperson said it was working to improve prosecution rates for hate crime, adding: “Any incident of hate crime is completely unacceptable.
“No one should be targeted because a hateful minority cannot tolerate the differences that make our country great.”
If you have experienced homophobic, biphobic or transphobic violence or abuse and need support, you can get in touch with Galop via firstname.lastname@example.org, 020 77042040 or via the website galop.org.uk
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