I have been a part of the struggle for LGBT equality in the UK. Some days I marvel at the progress that has been made. Winning the right to marry, ensuring protection in the workplace, seeing our communities represented so often in the media, on those counts, we have exceeded my expectations. But the struggle is far from over. Everyday people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans face violence, hate crimes and bullying, purely because of their sexuality or gender identity.
The attacks on our communities are daily, they are relentless, and they are far more likely to affect you if you are black or disabled or trans. The number of hate crimes reported to police has more than doubled since 2013. Transgender identity hate crimes increased by more than a third in the last year alone. The number of offences linked to sexual orientation increased to 14,491, about a quarter of these crimes were violent; an even higher proportion of anti-trans hate crimes involve violence.
The figures for LGBT hate crimes are dwarfed by the almost 79,000 reported race-related hate crimes, which increased by 11% in 2019. If you’re black and gay or black and trans, the odds of being a victim of a hate crime only increase.
I would like to say that I struggle to understand how attacks like these can still happen, but I don’t. The path that leads to these horrific crimes is clear. Homophobia, transphobia and racism have always persisted. In recent years, though, the political axis has shifted. Those who give voice to such hatred have been empowered, their voices amplified, their repugnant views validated.
You don’t have to look hard to find powerful people eager to stir up racial fear and hatred to meet their own agenda. Over a short period, it feels that we have gone from dog-whistle racial references to overt expressions promulgating racial tension. One recent spike in racial hate crime in the UK was seemingly prompted by the words of the man who is now our Prime Minister.
We just have to be better than this—every single one of us. We have to join the dots, not only from the words of those in positions of power to the attacks on the street but also from our own words and our own actions to such anger. None of us come out of this well.
LGBT people are not only victims of prejudice. We have failed to make many of our gay spaces, whether physical or online, safe, let alone welcoming, for black LGBT people or for disabled LGBT people. People living healthily and well with HIV are still abused and shunned. Gay men are likely to be judged on their ability to meet a physical ideal which is way beyond most of us.
We have to be better than this. We have to be sure that we douse the flames of hatred rather than fan them. We cannot decry bullying from someone whose views we oppose and then bully that person or their compatriots. This even applies to President Trump. Any weapon we raise against others will likely be used against us also.
We have to be better than this. And that means stepping outside of our own comfort zones, the limits of our own experience, to understand how life is for others. That means being active in our support of our trans sisters and brothers who face relentless harassment in the media. That means calling out racism wherever we encounter it.
I know that I have to be better. I have to remain mindful of the many privileges that I enjoy as a white, Western, cis man and the impact these have on my experience of society.
There is no magical fix. The fractures in our society run deep, we can’t just paper over them any longer. But we know that social change is possible because we have seen the considerable progress that has been made in terms of LGBT rights and LGBT acceptance in the last thirty years. It starts with the acknowledgement that it will require effort and energy to build a better society for all of us to flourish. It starts with us.
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