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We must stand up to hate crime

 

Mike Findlay says its vital to think about how we can support the LGBT+ community as Pride Month draws to a close

June is Pride month. Normally at this time of year we see LGBT+ celebrations taking place globally involving marches, floats, and rainbow flags hanging from buildings. All of this to mark the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots of 1968.

This year due to lockdown, Pride has done what Eurovision did some weeks ago, and taken its celebrations online. Zoom parties, fundraisers, performances, and networking opportunities have all contributed to a real creative flair to the month of June – as the way it should be, given what celebrations are normally this time of year ‘in the real world’.

Despite this, June has seen a real mixed bag of news for the LGBT+ community.

J.K. Rowling’s tweets caused an outpouring of offence from trans people and their allies.

The UK Government followed the Scottish Government’s decision to scrap plans to allow people to change their legal gender by ‘self-identifying’ as male or female, a move which would have allowed transgender people to change their birth certificate without a medical diagnosis. The ‘sweetener’ to this coming in the proposals to ban so-called ‘gay cure’ therapies.

In the US, the Supreme Court ruled a landmark civil rights law protecting gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination, handing the movement for LGBT+ equality a tremendous victory. Meanwhile, pressure is mounting to investigate the murder of two black trans women, Riah Milton in Liberty Township, Ohio, and Dominique "Rem'mie" Fells in Philadelphia. They are thought to be the 13th and 14th transgender or gender non-conforming murder victims in the US this year.

In Scotland, we had a sobering read at the start of Pride month. New annual figures were released from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service on Hate Crime in Scotland 2019-20. Findings included: sexual orientation aggravated crime is the second most commonly reported type of hate crime, with an increase by 24% up on last year; and there were 41 charges reported in 2019-20 with an aggravation of transgender identity, compared to 40 in 2018-19.

Mike Findlay
Mike Findlay

As a nation, we must do more to stand up to hate crime.

Our services are here to support people in the aftermath of any crime – even if they haven’t reported to the police. We provide a safe place for members of the LGBT+ community to go to when they need support, either emotional or practical.

We want all members of the LGBT+ community to feel confident to come forward and talk about what has happened to them – we listen, we don’t judge.

Victim Support Scotland is also a third-party reporting centre, which means that we can be the first people you speak to about a crime in confidence. If you do decide to report the crime, you can do it with us rather than talking to the police. Our support staff and volunteers are there for you at every stage.

Like many third sector organisations in Scotland, we want to get it right when it comes to equalities and understanding the issues as they evolve. Over the last year, we have developed our own Equality Forum involving an enthusiastic team of staff members and volunteers, with the aim of recognising the wide range and diverse needs of people affected by crime. This is partly about us equipping ourselves with the most up to date training and resources. It is also about us reaching out to our partners, including LGBT+ charities, to allow us to start thinking through how we adapt our services according to unmet need.

Getting to grips with equalities was a strand of the Victim Support Scotland’s National Conference last year and, as a result, our workforce has been overwhelmingly supportive of us spending the time to make sure we are getting it right for minority groups who are affected by crime.

As we enter a post-lockdown Scotland, in the coming weeks and months, we are looking to recruit more volunteers who reflect the diversity of our population.

By doing all of this, we are hoping to play our part in tackling hate crime and giving support to our LGBT friends throughout the country.

The Scottish Government has put its Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill out to consultation which is looking at existing laws that protect certain groups of people from hate crime by updating existing laws and pulling them all together. Victim Support Scotland is supportive of the zero tolerance approach to hate crime by the Scottish Government and across criminal justice agencies. We, alongside our partners, know all too well of the harmful impact that stirring up hatred has on individuals and marginalised communities and are intrigued to know if this will contribute to a better future for the LGBT+ community in Scotland.

There’s no doubt that June 2020 has been a challenging month that has served as a stark reminder of Pride’s origins as a protest led by trans people of colour. But let’s remain hopeful that we can improve things for Scotland over the coming year giving us much to celebrate Pride with, in person, in June 2021.

Mike Findlay is head of communications and external affairs at Victim Support Scotland

Have you experienced a hate crime? Victim Support Scotland’s free confidential helpline (0800 160 1985) operates Monday to Friday 8am-8pm, and support is also provided through an online through a webchat facility.

 

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