Hate crime is alive and kicking: what does it tell us?
How sadly appropriate it is to publish this blog on the eve of the international Transgender Day of Remembrance, when we commemorate the hundreds of trans people murdered across the world for no other reason than their gender identity.
On Sunday, 17 November, a member of the TUC’s LGBT committee was walking with his boyfriend in Vauxhall, south London, when a group of five youths began to abuse them. When the youths followed them, they wisely took refuge in a pub. The bartender called the police, and ejected the gang who had followed our member into the pub and had produced weapons. This has been logged as a hate crime.
This is an area of a city renowned for being gay-friendly and regularly hosting large numbers of LGBT people, in a country where British Social Attitudes surveys show that acceptance of lesbian, gay and bisexual people as equals has never been higher and where our Conservative prime minister, who in 2003 voted to retain section 28, has steered same sex marriage through Parliament and has spoken out against the oppression faced by LGBT people in Russia.
Such crimes are all too common: the annual hate crime figures show homophobic crime levels second only to race hate. The figure for hate crimes against trans people, given their small numbers, is even more shocking.
While around a third of the population still does not accept that being LGB or T is OK, prejudice, discrimination and simple hate will continue. The hideous homophobia of some back-bench Conservatives (and their local memberships) during over same sex marriage show that prejudice is alive and kicking among all classes of society: it is not just the preserve of alienated teenage boys.
While older homophobes will probably die out before they are converted, the challenge of dealing with prejudice among the young should be a priority for government, as it is for unions. This week saw the launch of another Stonewall initiative aimed at schools, where 55 per cent of (LGB) pupils reported homophobic bullying in 2012 and 95 per cent of pupils have heard the word “gay” used as an insult: figures which have hardly changed in many years, despite strong words from ministers. Ofsted are now including bullying among their criteria for judging schools, and this may help force some to address the problem.
Such a culture has been successfully challenged in a growing number of schools through a whole-school approach of promoting equality and respect for difference and diversity. Schools Out! has pioneered this work, led by inspirational teachers like Elly Barnes. Unfortunately, the Department for Education has restricted its own advice to saying that schools must avoid harassment (anyway required by law), rather than develop the other requirements of the public sector equality duty, which are to advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations. These objectives, of course, are unworkable in a school where the ethos required that pupils are taught that being gay is a sin. And while more and more religious groups holding these views are being encouraged by government to take over or open schools, there will continue to be a gap between rhetoric and practice.
Our colleague has refused to be cowed by last Sunday’s terrifying incident, and will repeat his journey this Sunday (24 November). If you can be there in solidarity, get in touch: http://www.facebook.com/events/179918185536978/