Gay East End: Can I Hold Your Hand?

Months after two serious homophobic attacks occurred in East London within a week of one another, what does the future hold for the many LGBT+ residents of East End?

In June this year, following on from two serious hate crimes in East London occurring within a week of one another, ITV published figures online showing the rise and fall of homophobic hate crimes in London Boroughs between 2013 and 2014. Despite improvement in a few boroughs, a disturbing amount have had a rapid increase including by up to 115.6% in Lewisham and 120% in Kingston Upon Thames.

Big changes have happened in the fight for LGBT+ equality in the past year, perhaps most notably with the legalization of gay marriage in March, so why do these statistics not reflect these steps forward?

It’s clear how far as a country we have come in the past few years, and this is something you can find in the East End if you look hard enough. A good example of this is in Tower Hamlets, where in 2011 the Telegraph reported stickers appearing ‘declaring the borough a “gay-free zone”’. Once the Police did eventually find the culprits, they failed to charge them. A gay-rights activist claimed the police avoided charging the youths responsible because they ‘didn’t want to upset the Muslim community’.

Now, however, I walk around the East End and in place of these stickers I find a wall painted with a rainbow here, or a message of acceptance there. Subtle, but prominent signs of improvement. People are talking about it, discussing it. Which is a good thing, right?

This is where we get to the crux of the problem. This rapid movement forward was, in fact, always going to have a rebound from those who are stuck in their views. People aren’t going to disagree quietly.

And so I turn our attention back to the two violent homophobic assaults in June – is this just the first of many LGBT+ attacks in the years to come?

As I’m not blessed with the powers of clairvoyance, and there hasn’t been any serious attacks reported since then, I cannot be sure. What I can be sure of is this: We have to be prepared.

I have to agree with Stephen Ward, a director of Pride in London, who said: “We probably feel more relaxed than we used to about public displays of affection with our partners on the street, on the tube, that sort of thing. But that can cause a backlash with people who haven’t perhaps come as far on the journey to acceptance as the rest of the city and country has done.

So… What if I want to hold my partner’s hand in the park? On the way home from a night out? When out shopping? What then?

Well, the likelihood is that it will go quite unnoticed. But we have to be ready, for now, to accept the rebound this might have.

It is definitely a risk that I, for one, am willing to take.

 

All statistics used can be found here.

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