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'It’s become the "Twilight Zone" up here': Rise in anti-gay attacks unsettle U.K. advocates

Crimes motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity have increased almost every year since at least 2015, according to data from England, Wales and Scotland.
Image: The LGBTQ community organized a rally with the help of people who work in nearby bars and several organizations after three men were assaulted and subjected to homophobic abuse near a pub  in in Liverpool, England, in June 2021.
The LGBTQ community organized a rally with the help of people who work in nearby bars and several organizations after three men were assaulted and subjected to homophobic abuse near a pub in in Liverpool, England, in June 2021.Stefan Price / LCR Pride Foundation

In the early hours of Friday, June 11, three men were assaulted and subjected to homophobic abuse near a pub in Liverpool, England, by a group of teenagers, one of whom had a knife, according to police. 

“Due to the abhorrent verbal abuse the victims were subjected to, we’re treating this as a hate crime,” Detective Inspector Chris Hawitt said in a statement at the time, calling the attack “despicable” and saying the Merseyside Police would not “tolerate people being targeted in this manner because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

A few weeks after the incident, the Merseyside Police released a report saying that the “increase in incidents involving LGBT+ victims has, sadly, mirrored an increase in crime experienced as lockdown restrictions were eased.”

The LGBTQ community organized a rally with the help of people who work in nearby bars and several organizations after three men were assaulted and subjected to homophobic abuse near a pub in in Liverpool, England, in June 2021.Stefan Price / LCR Pride Foundation

In response, the local LGBTQ community organized a protest rally. People who work in nearby bars and several organizations helped put it together, according to the Liverpool-based LGBTQ organization LCR Pride Foundation.   

“Hate crime is still a shock,” said Andi Herring, the foundation’s CEO and co-founder. “For me it’s determination that these people won’t win, and we’ll carry on doing what we said and tackle it.” 

The Liverpool assault is one in a string of anti-gay hate crimes that happened over the summer in the United Kingdom.  

West Midlands Police arrested three men last month after a same-sex couple was attacked in the Gay Village of Birmingham, England. Police said two men, both in their 30s, were attacked Aug. 15 with bottles after being subjected to homophobic abuse. One  was left unconscious and the other suffered “nasty cuts,” according to a police report.

Crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity have increased almost every year since at least 2015, according to government data from England, Wales and Scotland. In England and Wales, sexual orientation hate crimes rose by 19 percent and anti-transgender crimes by 16 percent from March 2019 to March 2020. In Scotland, the number of hate crimes related to sexual orientation rose by 5 percent from April 1, 2020, to March 31. 

The U.K. government, in a statement last year, attributed the uptick to better crime recording by law enforcement and improved identification of what is considered a hate crime. The police also report spikes in hate crimes after major political or terrorist events. 

While some British LGBTQ activists agreed that queer people are more comfortable reporting hate crimes to police than they were in the past, they said the isolation from the pandemic and the increase in political hate speech and violence are energizing people with anti-gay feelings.  

“If there are people in power who are bigoted … that legitimizes people to be hateful in their everyday life,” said Rebecca Crowther, policy coordinator at the Equality Network in Edinburgh, Scotland. 

Crowther said that in addition to the mental health toll the pandemic-related lockdown had taken on people, she has witnessed a rise in hate crimes in Scotland, adding that mistrust between the community and the police still exists.   

After an attack involving two men in Edinburgh in July, three men were arrested and charged in connection with the alleged assaults and homophobic crime, according to Police Scotland. 

“It’s become the ‘Twilight Zone’ up here,” Crowther said.  

Herring said he also attributes the increased hate-crime numbers to more survivors understanding what a hate crime is and a growing confidence that they will get the support they need after reporting.  

The U.K. government has made several major decisions regarding LGBTQ rights in the last year. Britain allowed sexually active gay and bisexual men to donate blood in a landmark change to existing policy last December. LGBTQ-inclusive sex eduation became mandatory in all of England’s high schools in September 2020.   

In the same month, the U.K. government scrapped plans to allow transgender people to self-identify and announced that a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria was required to legally transition. The government also said it planned to open three gender clinics in 2020. 

Eighty-five percent of British people surveyed said they would be supportive if their child, sibling or close relative came out as lesbian, gay or bisexual, and 71 percent said they would feel the same about a family member coming out as transgender or nonbinary, according to an August YouGov survey. Seven percent of people in Britain identify as LGBTQ, the survey reported. 

Crowther said visibility and allyship affects a community’s friendliness toward LGBTQ people. When Edinburgh bars and public spaces shut down because of the pandemic, residents saw less LGBTQ markers like rainbow flags, according to Crowther.   

“It sends a message to the wider public that you are a welcoming space and won’t tolerate hate,” Crowther said of LGBTQ equality symbols. 

As the countries reopen, Herring said combating anti-gay sentiments should happen all year around. He said everyone has a responsibility to report hate crimes they witness. 

“I can see everything moving in the right direction,” Herring said about ongoing education efforts and Liverpool venues that want to become official safe spaces for the LGBTQ community. “It’s not just a reaction to one crime; it’s about the bigger picture.”

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