Homophobia: Heaven and Hell on London's Streets

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When Nazi nail bomber David Copeland blew up the Admiral Duncan pub in 1999, barman David Morley escaped with minor burns. Last month he was murdered in what the police treated as a homophobic hate crime.

He and a friend were brutally beaten on London's South Bank on 30 October. Six others - five men and one woman - were hurt in assaults by two youths within a 15-minute period. Several of the victims were walking to Waterloo from Heaven, a gay nightclub near Charing Cross.

These attacks come as a tragic reminder of the continuing threat of homophobic violence, even in a capital city celebrated for its tolerance and diversity. According to a survey by Stormbreak, a research agency that specialises in gay and lesbian issues, as many as 45 percent of lesbian and gay Londoners have experienced a homophobic hate crime; 28 percent have done so in the last year.

The Metropolitan Police concedes that less than one in five homophobic incidents are reported. Little wonder when the government dragged its heels before scrapping Section 28, the Tory law designed to stigmatise gay relationships; when it abandoned to the right wing press one of its ministers, Ron Davies, who was forced to resign after his assault while cottaging; when religious groups, favoured to run more selective schools, are exempted from anti-discrimination legislation.

The commitment of mayor Ken Livingstone to gay rights is to be welcomed, and there has been a significant increase in the visibility and acceptance of gay men and lesbians in the last decade. But the wellspring of homophobic violence continues to exist in a range of institutions. From an educational curriculum advocating an increasingly untypical family norm to a mass media rarely going beyond caricature, the experience of most gay Londoners is a world away from the gated luxury of Peter Mandelson. Two thirds of gay trade unionists polled by the TUC have concealed their sexual orientation at some point for fear of workplace discrimination and abuse. This points to the continuing need to build on the gains that have been made with a vibrant movement demanding genuine liberation.