From the Stonewall riots in 1969 to the present day, the rights and safety of the people in LGBTQ+ communities have had to be continuously upheld, contextualised and fought for.
A new report shows that in the last four years attacks on lesbians, gay people and bisexuals have dramatically increased. A common question I see on social media, often in response to street harassment, is: ‘How is this still happening in 2017?’ But, unfortunately, further progress is not inevitable simply because of the passing of time. A statement I would prefer is: ‘I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit.’
The findings, which are based on YouGov polling of more than 5,000 LGBT people in Britain and released by Stonewall, state that more than one in five LGBT people have been verbally or physically attacked due to their sexual orientation or gender identity in the last 12 months.
Trans people and people of colour are disproportionately affected, with two in five trans people experiencing hate crimes or incidents based on their gender identity, and one in three Black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT people. (This compares to one in five white LGBT people.)
In combating this almost 80 per cent increase of attacks in the last four years, it’s important we understand what’s going on. We have seen Theresa May’s Tory government condone homophobia, and we have seen heavy austerity hit LGBT services hard. So why would we surprised by an increase in attacks, as if these things aren’t connected?
You don’t have to look further than May’s election campaign. Firstly, their manifesto literally has nothing on LGBTQ+ rights – doesn’t even mention any version of the term. During the election she even went to an anti-gay church and called it ‘fantastic’.
Consider too that May voted against getting rid of of section 28, which banned the ‘celebration or promotion’ of homosexuality in the workplace and schools. She has also defended MPs who have made homophobic remarks.
Following May’s embarrassing election campaign, we were left with a hung parliament and now have a toxic deal between the the Conservatives and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
The DUP, which is a far right political party in Northern Ireland, has a bad track record when it comes to gay rights. Ian Paisley Jr, the son of the party’s founder, has in the past called homosexuality ‘immoral, offensive and obnoxious’ and said he was repulsed by gays and lesbians. The DUP also led a campaign against the decriminalisation of homosexuality called Save Ulster from Sodomy.
This behaviour within the political sphere has real-life consequences for those within the communities that are being demonised, socially but also very materially. In 2015, it was reported that LGB youth homelessness in the UK made up a quarter of homeless young people.
The same report stated that, as only 3.3 per cent of 16 to 24 year olds identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, LGB people are seven times over-represented among homeless young people. Not only is this not being addressed by central government, but LGBT homeless services are struggling to survive with many closing due to austerity cuts.
It’s important to emphasise the power of self-organisation in our communities against this increase in hate crimes and be wary of placing all our hopes on politicians and policymakers in bringing the change we want and need to see in society – though we shouldn’t ignore the damage they can do.
History has taught us that progress is not something we should expect, but something to fight for and uphold. It’s a harsh reality that as LGBTQ+ people we have to continue to fight for our rights and safety. But it is a reality nonetheless, and we shouldn’t allow the illusion of a socially liberal society to lull us into passivity.
Kennedy Walker currently works as a campaigns coordinator at a London-based student union and has been involved in Take Back The City and Demand The Impossible. He tweets @kwalkeronline