Attacks on LGBTQI+ people prompt calls for strong hate crime laws

Eoghan Ryder (28) was threatened in a fast food restaurant, on public transport and at his workplace. He was “punched” by a passerby who called him “f****t” as he held hands with his partner, and was verbally assaulted, followed and physically threatened.

The UCD student describes himself as “fairly reserved” and is usually “left alone” as a gay man. He has never been physically attacked. However, a “sense of threat” is there if “even slightly intimate with a partner” in public.

Following the homophobic attack on Evan Somers in Dublin city center this weekend and the murders in Sligo this week which Gardaí say are being investigated as possible hate crimes , he says the environment for LGBTQI+ people seems to have deteriorated since the “euphoria” that greeted the passage of the referendum on marriage equality in 2015.

“After that, we could be calm and relaxed in our identities.” In the months that followed, he acknowledges, gay couples were more open to kissing, kissing and showing affection in public. “But since Trump, Brexit and the rise of the far right, there has been a decline.

“I think trans and non-binary youth are more open and relaxed about their identity in public [but less about open displays of affection].”

Without hate crime legislation – which is expected to be enacted by the summer, according to Justice Minister Helen McEntee – data on hate-motivated attacks is not routinely recorded by the gardaí. Data recorded by helplines, however, indicates that homophobic violence is on the rise.

“Huge under-reporting”

LGBT Ireland, which operates a helpline, received five calls about violence or harassment in 2019, 15 such calls in 2020 and 21 last year.

“We know there is huge under-reporting,” says the organization’s chief executive, Paula Fagan. “What’s very prevalent is homophobic slurs, homophobic language, threats.”

While the 2015 referendum made Ireland “more community friendly” within families, workplaces and groups of friends, she says there has been a noticeable shift towards “influences of ‘extreme right, certainly online, with negative and very vicious hate speech’.

“It seems to be more noticeable and spreading through the streets, which is what we saw on Dame Street over the weekend.”

Some older or newer LGBTQI+ people are of particular concern and “may not have fully come out,” she said.

“They meet people in secret. Their closest relatives often don’t know about this aspect of their lives, so they aren’t able to put the same safeguards in place when meeting people on dating apps.

“We would definitely see a lot of older men on online dating apps who end up being blackmailed or threatened with ‘outing’.”

At the root of it all, she says, is the “persistent and dominant stigma” that some members of the community have internalized and still hold very tightly.

“Irish society has arrived, but there are still a lot of people who hold that. You can’t get rid of it in five years. There is still a lot of work to do. »

She urged people to call the LGBT Ireland helpline, “to build support around them”.

There’s a safety concern for people who haven’t fully come out, she said. This was especially necessary for people who met people on apps or in secret. “There’s a vulnerability that people may underestimate, that may not be there in a heterosexual context,” she said.

“Normalized”

Liam Herrick, executive director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, described hate crimes as “message crimes” and said they “make whole communities feel silenced and marginalised”. He and Ms Fagan reiterated their calls for strong hate crime legislation.

Mr Somers, speaking on RTÉ Radio’s Liveline program from hospital on Wednesday, said he suffered a fractured eye socket and a broken ankle. The attack “was and is” a trauma, he said.

“I don’t know any gay or trans people who don’t have a comment here or there. I’ve definitely been called f****t before. It’s almost become so normalized that it’s become accepted,” he said.

“I think in 2015 I remember the feeling of euphoria I felt and the LGBT community felt when marriage equality was passed, it was a proud moment and I think looking back, it will always be a proud moment for this country… [but] this is not the end of the story.

“Just because it’s been passed, it’s not right to say, ‘Okay, it’s done, we’re equal’, because clearly, as we’ve seen in the past, while we don’t we just aren’t.”

The LGBT Ireland Helpline is a freephone number: 1800 929 539

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