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Homophobic Britain

Chris Newcombe reports on the rise of homophobia in Britain today

From the presence of Elton John and his partner at the royal wedding, you might conclude that lesbians and gay men had achieved not just equality, but actual respectability. A look at recent homophobic violence and the chilling statistics forces you to think again.

A recent violent attack left Philip Sallon with a 50 -50 chance of survival. Across London, homophobic crime fell by 3 per cent in 2010, but in the West End it rose by 21 per cent, and the small drop over London follows a 20 per cent rise in the previous period.

Over the years, other cases of appalling violence demonstrate the ferocious hatred involved. Jody Dobrowski, beaten to death in 2005. Oliver Hemsley, viciously stabbed and left paralysed in 2008. Ian Baynham, kicked to death by teenagers in Trafalgar Square in 2009. At almost the same time, in ‘gay friendly’ Brighton, a young lesbian couple were punched in the head by two men, while a third looked on. The list of attacks because of someone’s sexuality is a terrifying reminder of how homophobia is still deadly.

Discrimination and abuse are also rife. In a recent case, a gay couple were thrown out of the John Snow pub in Soho for kissing. This was not an isolated incident and seems to be part of a trend. Following the attack on Philip Sallon, his friends held a march through Soho to appeal for witnesses. As a result, one came forward – but the parade itself was attacked!

Despite these widely reported cases, homophobic crime remains under reported. One reason is that victims don’t believe the police will take complaints seriously. When the two Brighton lesbians were attacked, police waited 12 days before appealing for witnesses. No wonder those targeted by gay-haters are cynical regarding police action.

Homophobia is also still rife in education. Teachers at the recent NUT conference warned that endemic homophobia is likely to rise as the number of faith schools grows. The Catholic Church has criticised the national code of conduct to challenge discrimination, clearly signalling that religious institutions cannot be trusted to uphold equality in the schools they control. Recall, too, that the Catholic Church has been responsible for some of the worst and most widespread abuse of children and youth in its educational institutions.

There is no dividing line between verbal abuse and bullying and violent attacks on victims of prejudice. Often, verbal abuse is the prelude to an attack, and insults and bullying as a whole ‘legitimise’ physical assaults by demeaning and dehumanizing the targets of verbal abuse.

What can be done to combat this wave of gay hatred? Undoubtedly, the best answer to those who want to turn back the equality clock is a new drive to demand full rights and social equality for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and queer people generally.

We need to build a militant activist movement, and to uphold the right and establish the practice of self-defence. We also have to dispel the complacency that is based on the false idea that equality was established when celebrities like Elton John and David Furnish were finally able to tie the knot.

It is crucial that this movement be rooted in working class politics. The trade unions have been central in promoting and upholding LGBT rights in the workplace and in wider society. But we cannot be complacent; we need a militant movement to inject some radicalism and urgency into the campaign for equality.

Equally, winning the mass of workers – the only social force capable of creating a society free of exploitation and oppression – to the cause of lesbian and gay equality is the key to ultimate victory.

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