The Rise Of LGBTIQ+ Hate Crimes Are Not A ‘Moral Panic’
The news of the horrific attack which saw same-sex couple Melania Geymonat and Chris physically attacked on a bus in London on May 30 went viral. And the image which often accompanies those news articles – of the pair covered in blood – is a haunting reminder that violence against LGBTIQ+ people is very much still a prevalent threat in our society. The news story was rightly met with disgust from media outlets from across the political spectrum, but not all commentators felt it was appropriate to merely condemn the rising hate faced by minorities; in particular the LGBTIQ+ community.
Enter stage right, Brendan O’Neill – editor of Spiked Online – who seemed to think this news story was the ideal springboard to ‘call out’ the “moral panic over homophobia”. O’Neill also claims that “It simply isn’t true that gay people face huge levels of harassment and violence”. Well that is one major generalisation Mr O’Neill and I’m sure many LGBTIQ+ individuals and allies will disagree with your take on this issue.
I’ll get to O’Neill’s comments and angle in a moment, but I want to discuss the dynamics of the attack – most of which have been completely ignored by O’Neill’s article. This was not just an attack on members of the LGBTIQ+ community, it was also blatant misogyny. The five teenage boys aged between 15 and 18 – who have since all been arrested – started harassing the couple on the upper deck of the N31 night bus to Camden. The group of boys, described by Melania Geymonat as acting like “hooligans”, made sexual gestures and verbally abused the pair after noticing they were in fact a same-sex couple.
The boys demanded the couple ‘perform’ for their own gratification, then the boys threw money at the couple before punching them. What is clear from this incident is the perceived power these boys thought they had over the same-sex female couple, and, acting in an all-male group, they felt it acceptable to verbally and physically abuse them. It is physical attacks and verbal abuse like this that highlights the need LGBTIQ+ inclusive education and sexual violence prevention workshops in schools.
OK, so going back to O’Neill and his dismissal of “huge levels of harassment and violence”. In his article, O’Neill ‘dissects’ stats on LGBTIQ+ abuse and hate crimes which was reported and analysed in the Independent. O’Neill proclaims “he’s calling BS” on the reported surge of violence against gay people and he also challenges the claim that ‘attacks on LGBT people have surged by nearly 80%’. This research, released by Stonewall in 2017 based on YouGov polling of 5,000 participants, provides indication that one and five LGBTIQ+ community members experienced “a hate crime or incident due to their sexual orientation or gender identity in the last 12 months”.
But O’Neill points to the 11% that have been physically abused. That is over one in ten LGBTIQ+ people having been physically harmed – that figure is incredibly worrying. In similar research published by the UK Government in 2017, assuming before O’Neill thinks the homophobic ‘moral panic’ began, 2% of LGBTIQ+ respondents claimed they had experienced physical violence.
In the same 2017 report however, it claimed LGBT people were considerably “less satisfied” with their life than the general UK population and two thirds of LGBT people don’t hold their same-sex partners hand in public because of a “fear of a negative reaction from others”.
What is even more disturbing is 5% of the LGBT participants had been offered ‘gay conversion’ therapy. That is one in twenty that have been offered a ‘cure’ for something that is perceived to be morally wrong. Moreover, the continued upward trajectory of hate crimes towards LGBTIQ+ people since 2013 is particularly concerning. Let us also not forget the “alarming” statistics of abuse faced by trans people and the current toxic debate around the State reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004.
In his argument, O’Neill focusses on the “conflation of hurtful comments” alongside “physical violence” and he goes on to say that this is “not helpful”. However, I am of the school of thought that any form of abuse – both verbal and physical – is completely unacceptable and anyone expressing hate or intolerance towards anyone is as a hate crime. For someone to intimidate or ridicule an individual for their sexual orientation and/or their gender identity is a crime – whether it was to occur in a public place or in a person’s place of work. Moreover, there is no conspiracy theory of ‘crime construction’ here Brendan, so best leave that BS out of such serious discussions about hate being expressed towards minorities.
That said, O’Neill correctly states that the increase in reporting can be partly because LGBTIQ+ people feel comfortable in reporting abuse to the police and this should be welcomed. However, it should not be used to discount the severity of abuse and the impact such abuse could have on an LGBTIQ+ individual’s mental health. Unlike O’Neill, I do not dismiss some online or verbal abuse as simply a difference of “political, moral or religious opinion” on LGBTIQ+ issues or rights – it is bigotry. And I will not apologise for calling it out as bigotry.
It is largely suspected that the increase in hate crimes against all minorities – from LGBTIQ+ to the BAME population and every intersectionality in between – is linked with the rise in right-wing populist political discourse in UK. And no O’Neill, it’s not just because Brexit as you say, it’s the far-right rhetoric that is legitimising hate and hateful acts towards minorities.
O’Neill concludes his homophobia is a ‘moral panic’ argument with one of the most infuriating lines I’ve ever read in in an opinion piece in a long time – “Let’s be honest: gay people have never had it so good, and that’s a good thing”. Aye well, cheers for that Brendan. I’m sure Melania Geymonat and Chris find that really comforting.
I’m sure Ben who was physical attacked for being in drag in Edinburgh in April 2019 believes that. Or Lucy and Rebecca who experienced verbal abuse and were hit with stones from a passing car because they kissed in the street really feels they’ve ‘never had it so good’. Or what about Michael who was knocked out in the street and suffered a broken jaw after trying to defend his two friends who were dressed in drag in Manchester just a few days ago? Do you think Michael feels like attacks on LGBTIQ+ people are just a moral panic? I don’t think so.
I could go on and on about similar cases and I could try to imagine the number of cases that went completely unreported. But it will just seem to O’Neill that I’m ‘hamming up’ the hatred that exists on the streets of the UK – perhaps a conspiracy of a moral panic even.
But perhaps Brendan O’Neill will be best spending his time jetting around to the next country considering legalising same-sex marriage. He can campaign against this equal right for LGBTIQ+ individuals by sharing “[his] beef” with the idea – like he did in Australia in 2017. The LGBTIQ+ community still has a long way to go for real equality, either get behind us or get out of the way.