They're Here, They're Queer, Get Over It

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Post Brexit vote Britain witnessed a wave of hate crimes with the media reporting instance after instance of racially or religiously aggravated assaults, yet little focus on the rise of sexual orientation hate crimes. The UK saw a 147% spike in sexual orientation and gender identity hate crimes – a rise that few analysts predicted in the wake of the vote.

Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are still prevalent in our society. From heteronormative and cisgender-normative narratives pushed to the general public throughout media, television, and advertisements to religious figures and politicians openly condemning the communities - our LGBT+ population are constantly coming under fire.

Galop, an organisation that focuses on making life safe, just and fair for the LGBT+ community, released their second edition hate crime report last year. Using updated analysis and an in-depth study as part of a pan-European project, Galop aims to raise awareness and give insight into victims’ experiences of hate crimes, support systems and the criminal justice system. Needless to say, the alarming numbers speak volumes to the inequality LGBT+ people face on a daily basis.

Galop's study found that 4 in 5 LGBT+ respondents had experienced hate crimes due to either their gender identity or sexual orientation, a quarter had experienced violent hate crimes, a third had experienced online hate crimes and a tenth had experienced sexual violence as part of a hate crime.

Looking at these figures it goes without saying that anyone who identifies with the LGBT+ community can be a target for verbal or physical assault. When victims seek justice, evidence shows an abundant complacency for sexual orientation and gender identity hate crimes in the criminal justice system - so much so that only a quarter of LGBT+ respondents reported their last hate crime.

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The Home Office's most recent report on hate crimes confirmed 7194 homophobic crimes were recorded by UK police between 2015 and 2016 in England and Wales (equating to 20 incidents per day). During the same time 1020 incidents were reported in Scotland. 1428 transphobic attacks were reported across all police forces in the UK.

Many victims don't report crimes or seek justice due to a number of factors. Some of the most common barriers include the victim being unsure if the attack was a crime, uncertainty that it would produce a result or feeling the crime would not be treated seriously. This is highly understandable when you consider Galop's study found most victims felt that reporting lead to no result - a dismal 1% of sexual orientation hate crimes committed go on to be proven as hate crimes by a court.

Some officials believe this wave of hate crimes is due to a higher number of victims reporting attacks to the police in recent years. Others believe the spike in these categories of hate crimes is due to the recent surge of populism and nationalism, which creates a climate that encourages attacks on the vulnerable. Considering Stonewall Scotland found over 2 in 5 LGBT+ people in Scotland are not confident in Police Scotland's ability to to address homophobic, biphobic and transphobic hate crimes in their area, the latter explanation seems more plausible to me.

Worryingly, discrimination against members of the LGBT+ community is extremely common in many aspects of everyday life - schools, the workplace, mainstream media, social media and the government. This can be somewhat surprising as there is a notable number of government officials and high profile MPs and MSPs are now confident in living lives within the LGBT+ community. Constant bullying and discrimination are just one of the major contributors to high suicide rates in LGBT+ people. This issue is particularly prominent within 16-24 years old age group as studies have found 44% of young LGBT+ people have considered or are considering suicide, while 2 in 5 have attempted or thought about taking their life directly due to bullying. The same number also said they deliberately self-harm directly due to bullying. In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt, 92% of these individuals had attempted to take their lives before the age of 25.

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As well as being targeted by outside influences, it is well known that many members of the LGBT+ community have faced all forms of abuse in the home due to homophobic, biphobic or transphobic relatives. This abuse can and has led to the high rates of self-harm and suicide in these communities not just in the UK, but around the world.

But not all hope is lost, some steps are being taken to address these issues. Police Scotland and The Equality Network partnered together last year to create a network of 90 liaison officers across Scotland and are currently working together to help prevent hate crimes and to encourage the reporting of hate crimes. The Equality Network, Scotland's LGBT+ equality charity, trained the 90 officers in supporting victims of hate crimes and increase public confidence in the police.

Stonewall conducted research which confirmed that schools that take an active and positive approach to tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language and bullying get the best results. The LGBT+ charity found that while 55% of LGBT+ students have experienced bullying in school a shocking 80% of secondary school teachers haven't received any specific training on how to handle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.

Huge leaps and bounds have been made over the years, thanks to numerous charities, organisation and not for profits paving the way for equality for our LGBT+ communities in the UK but we still have a long way to go in respect of the fair and just treatment of our LGBT+ population. Despite the progress fought for decade after decade the minority communities of our nation continue to face negative attitudes and damaging stigmas on a daily basis. We need to stop the current regression. If you witness homophobic, biphobic or transphobic language or behaviour challenge it (LGBT+ people don’t have to be present in these situations in order for this to mean something - the point is to object to discrimination and denormalise bigotry, not big yourself up for not being intolerant). If every member of every disenfranchised minority group harnessed their power into creating social change, wouldn’t that create an unstoppable force of nature?

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