People are today marking the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT), which calls for zero discrimination anywhere in the world. The world has got a lot better for LGBT+ people since the day was created in 1990, and the raising of the rainbow flag by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, City Hall in London, police stations around the country, and town halls like my own in Oxford, sends a powerful message. But, more change needs to happen before the world has ended discrimination.
We can start at home, where we’re seeing an increase in reports of hate crime. In the months after the EU referendum, there was a significant spike in hate crimes against EU nationals and ethnic communities who reported feeling unwelcome in this country.
These reports haven’t been a blip. They’re part of a longer-term story, one coming into clearer view as the first anniversary of the referendum looms. Some of the referendum’s toxicity has drifted away, but as Brexit dominates front pages, our country is confronting the possibility of a newer trend of rising hostility.
Clearly this climate of fear is unacceptable. Surprisingly to some, reports of hate crime are spreading to include LGBT+ people. The number of homophobic attacks in the UK more than doubled in the three months following the referendum vote, according to the LGBT anti-violence charity Galop.
UK responses to the hate crime are among the very best in the world. The overwhelming response to horrific incidents has been to condemn them and stress values of tolerance that unite us. Communities have joined together to support the abused and wipe away offensive graffiti. Those in position of significant political power could be more careful about peddling views which deepen the divide in the country and make hate crimes possible in the first instance. And our hate crime laws could be drastically improved.
The highest prison sentence that a court can give for homophobic, transphobic or disability common assault is six months. That sentence length is unacceptable. And it’s a quarter of the two-year maximum for race and faith common assault. This disparity needs to be fixed. Some groups should not be seen as more worthy of protection than others. Not only would such a hierarchy of hate crime undermine the confidence of victims about the law, but it could affect their decision to report their experience of hate crime full stop.
Four in five LGBT+ respondents to the post-EY referendum Galop report said they had experienced hate crime. But, only a quarter of this number reported the last hate crime they had experienced. Clearly there is low satisfaction with the law. That matters because reporting matters – to you, your friends, and our community.
Reporting hate crime when it happens helps to stop it happening to someone else. That’s why Oxford City Council is launching a new LGBT+ website to ensure communities have better access to information, services, and impartial advice. As a councillor and cabinet member for community safety, I’m delighted that the website is a result of the closest of collaborations between community figures and the town hall. My hope is that it supports LGBT+ people to feel confident in seeking help, particularly if they face any hate crime.
On International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia and Biphobia, I’m relieved that schools are fighting to free classrooms of hateful taunts. It’s fantastic that trade unions are campaigning hard to eradicate workplace bullying. And it’s reassuring that good people up and down the country are comforting LGBT+ victims who have been bruised physically and psychologically by hate crime, encouraging them to open a browser window, find the reporting phone number, and make the country better for them and the people they love.
Tom Hayes is a Councillor and Cabinet Member for Community Safety on Oxford City Council. Follow him on Twitter @CllrTomHayes.