Worries Brexit Could Lead To Rise In Homophobic Attacks

Campaigners in the West Midlands have told Heart they're concerned that leaving the EU could lead to a rise in attacks on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual people.

It's 50 years since being gay was made legal in England and Wales, and LGBT support workers in Birmingham have told us the messages from politicians have almost given clearance to people to act upon hostile and negative attitudes and that they're concerned the clock could be being turned back.

Figures show 601 homophobic hate crimes were reported to West Midlands Police, West Mercia Police and Warwickshire Police in the year to November 2016, compared with 576 the year before.

It's a rise of around 5%, and some of the victims were aged as young as seven.

James Conlon from Quinton, Birmingham, has told Heart he was abused throughout school. He said: "I was instantly judged for the way I acted. I wasn't sporty. I didn't have the confidence to defend myself.

"I've been on anti-depressants for a number of years now. My sexuality has definitely been a catalyst for my mental health. And it's definitely held me back.

Steph Keeble is Director of Birmingham's LGBT Centre. She thinks what's happening with the UK's exit from the EU is having an affect on the rise in reports and that victims are getting younger.

"As an organisation we have been targeted with a couple of incidents since the vote for Brexit. We had homophobic posters posted on the front of our centre, and I believe some of the [gay] bars had a similar experience.

"There is certainly a concern that some of the attitudes out there now are not as welcoming towards diversity and difference. Not just around homophobia, but there's less tolerance.

Anti-bullying workers say school is the best place to start to root out the problem, and challenge negative stereotypes about the LGBT community.

One group, called Educate and Celebrate, is working to help pupils in schools set up their own university-style LGBT society, to help give young people a place to go to ensure they're safe and have somewhere to go to talk to other people and get support. Special assemblies and workshops are also helping teachers recognise homophobic language and behaviour so that they also have the confidence to challenge it.

The government says it's committed to working to reduce negative attitudes, and ensure the protection of the LGBT community's rights before and after Brexit.

Education Minister Justine Greening has been telling Heart it is so important to her: "We've made big steps forward over many years and we absolutely don't want to see that go in reverse. And what we need to do is continue to combat some of the issues that are still there.

"Part of it is education, part is helping young people to support themselves more effectively. Some of it is technology as well. We have been helping to fund an app so that children can report things that are going on to teachers.

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