The fight to win legal equality for gay people is almost won inBritain – yet the taste of champagne has been tainted by an unexpecteddash of blood. In the past few years, gay people have finally begun toexercise the same rights as their straight siblings, yet there has beena sharp surge in violence against us.
In London, recordedhomophobic attacks are up by 20 per cent. In Glasgow it's 32 per cent;in Liverpool it's 40 per cent; in Greater Manchester it's 63 per cent.James Parks is only the latest face to be kicked in by this trend: lastweek, the off-duty police officer left a club in Liverpool with hisboyfriend and was lynched by a group of 20 teenagers who smashed hisskull and left him close to death.
In a recession, violencealways rises, and violence against minorities rises more. Attacks onMuslims, Jews, and black people are also spiking across Britain. Butrecorded violence against gay people has shown the most extreme rise.Last year, an 18 year-old hairdresser in Liverpool called MichaelCauser was sleeping on a friend's sofa after a party when he was wokenup. A witness testified that a group of teenagers yelled, "You littlequeer faggot!" They said they were going to cut out his body-piercingswith a knife, and started burning his legs with a lighter. He was foundbleeding to death later, dumped in the road outside, after having hishead smashed in with a hardback book.
At the trial, one of the 19-year-olds tried for the murder said hewas acting "in self-defence" – against a smaller, seven-and-a-halfstone boy with no history of violent behaviour. A witness said thatduring the attack, he had yelled: "He's a little queer, he deservesit!" Yet the jury found him not guilty.
What can we do to stopthis surge? The answer does not lie in new laws; these attacks arealready highly illegal. It lies in changing the culture of two coreBritish institutions that are still tolerating anti-gay bigotry – ourschools, and our police service.
Almost all the new homophobicattacks have been carried out by teenagers who are in – or just out of– the education system. It is not a coincidence that our schools arethe one place where homophobic violence is still absolutely mainstream.The official schools inspectorate, Ofsted, says that homophobia is "endemic" in our playgrounds and ourclassrooms. A study by Stonewall found 41 per cent of gay children arebeaten up, and 17 per cent have been told they're going to be killed(it's 10 per cent higher still in faith schools). The young people whoattacked PC James Parks were simply taking that culture out of theplayground and onto the streets.
This doesn't have to happen.Michael Causer's mother, Marie, says: "This generation of infants needsto be educated. You hear youngsters as young as four and five saying'Go away, you're gay.' It might be a word to them, but their parentsneed to pull them up and tell them that it's wrong. They need bettereducation to let them know that gay people are no different."
Whenthis is tried, it works. The Stonewall study found that in schools witha consistent policy of punishing homophobic language, gay children were60 per cent less likely to be attacked. That fall in violence couldripple out from the school gates - but today, only 6 per cent ofschools adopt this policy. The Government should immediately make itmandatory.
What about the police? There are some terrific policeofficers who are appalled by anti-gay crime – I'm related to one – butthey remain too few. A major 2005 study for the Home Office found thathomophobia and sexism are "all but endemic within the police service."It was "not just in every force we surveyed, but in every part of everyforce." One of the authors, Professor Tim Newburn of the London Schoolof Economics, said: "It is quite clear that gay and lesbian officersfind themselves in a very uncomfortable position in the police service.... Sexist and homophobic language is now largely ignored and eventacitly accepted."
Little seems to have changed since thereport. This week, a lesbian police officer called Sergeant JasmineStewart is appearing before a tribunal. She says her colleagues calledher "a poof" and refused to work shifts alongside her. She gaveevidence that a senior officer had said she had caused a "drop inmorale" in the station.
If the police are happy to talk about"faggots" when the door is shut, what do they do when one of them walksthrough the door needing help? In too many cases, they do too little.To pluck one example: in Brighton a few weeks ago, two gay women – aged18 and 22 – were repeatedly punched in the face by a gang of thugs.They went straight to the police – but it was 12 days before officersappealed for witnesses, long after the trail had gone cold.
Yetthe 2005 report contained some good news. Racist language had "all butdisappeared" from the police force. Why? "Because officers know it willlead to disciplinary action." Of course some racist attitudes remain,but they have been driven underground by a tough policy of requiringpolice officers to talk about black and Asian people respectfully. Itmeans there are fewer cases like the Steven Lawrence abomination, andso fewer murderers walking our streets. The same could be done with gaypeople. All it takes is political will.
Of course, any move toensure gay people are treated the same as everyone else is immediatelylabeled "political correctness" and smothered in exaggeration anddistortion. The defenders of homophobia can no longer, in politesociety, say they think gay people are disgusting and immoral. Too manypeople have grasped the simple, humane truth that every human societyin history has had 3 to 5 per cent of people who were attracted totheir own gender, and it does no harm to anyone. So the homophobes haveresorted to other tactics. One that has been growing over the past yearis to claim that gay people who are trying to stop bullying andintimidation are "the real bullies," trying to "silence" poor embattledhomophobes.
The logic of this argument is rarely spelled out.Were Martin Luther King and the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klanequally bigoted? The Grand Dragon was intolerant of black people; Kingwas intolerant of racism. When you put it like this, the bogusnature of this way of framing the debate becomes clear. To one side,there are people who believe an entire group of human beings isinferior and deserve lesser rights, simply because of a naturallyoccurring and harmless difference. To the other side, there is a groupof straight and gay people who say sexual orientation is a trivialsubject and we should all be treated the same. Yes, both sides shouldhave the right to speak freely – but nobody should pretend there is amoral equivalence.
There are even people who hint that thisviolent backlash against equality is evidence that gay people shouldhave stayed in the closet. With faux compassion, they say – well, thisis what happens if you "flaunt" your sexuality by behaving likeeverybody else. Do they realise what they're saying? The great civilrights advances in the 1960s in the US were followed by a sharp rise inanti-black violence. Should black people have stayed out of the pollingbooths and at the back of the bus to avoid the wrath of racists? Theproblem is not with the victims; it's with the thugs attacking them.
Wehave come so far in this country thanks to the decency and compassionof most British people – but we have only reached the half-way point.The battle to change our laws was a crucial stage. Now we need tochange our institutions. The people who oppose these humane measureshissing "PC! PC!" – or "it's my religion!" – should know what they aredoing. They are ensuring more innocent people like James Parks andMichael Causer – or your son, or sister, or neighbour – will belynched, simply because they were born gay.
Johann Hari is a writer for the Independent. To read more of his articles, click here. You can email him at johann -at- johannhari.com
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