Homophobia still seen as a ‘respectable prejudice’ ?

Angelique Chrisafis in the Guardian today takes a look at the increasing levels of violence and harassment faced by members of the Gay and Lesbian community in Northern Ireland. An estimated five homophobic murders in the past six years and homophobic incidents increased by 300% in the past year in Derry, “now dubbed the “gay bashing capital” of Northern Ireland.” Gays and lesbians under siege as violence and harassment soar in Northern Ireland .The article looks at some examples across the province ranging from spur of the moment to persistant and planned attacks, with mass cards being sent in some cases and evidence of paramilitary involvement.

One reason for the rise in the number of recorded homophobic attacks is the gay community’s growing confidence in reporting abuse to the police. Community groups and police are working to increase this. But campaigners also say attacks are becoming more common and brutal.

The gay scene is growing. Belfast’s Gay Pride march is in its 15th year and every summer it files politely past the religious protesters with their megaphones.

But parliament’s Northern Ireland affairs committee has warned that if the government and police do not improve their handling of the “rising tide” of homophobic, racist and sectarian attacks in the province, “hate crime may spiral out of control with extremely serious consequences for the pace of social improvement”.

Police clearance rates for homophobic crime stand at 22.5%, which the committee of MPs found “unacceptably low”.

James Knox of Belfast’s Coalition on Sexual Orientation said the violence was a product of the post-Troubles society. “The Catholic-Protestant situation is starting to minimise and people are just looking for another excuse to have a go at somebody else,” he said. “Ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, gays and lesbians are easy targets.”

It looks like the silver lining of the reduction of troubles-linked violence has a cloud attached to it. And sadly I suspect that many of our politicians who complain about attitudes which led to campaigns such as “Save Ulster from Sodomy” are not terribly interested in the welfare of our gay fellow Irishmen and Irishwomen.