In my last article I talked about the rise of online ‘trolls’ but something that has been around for much longer than trolls are perpetrators of hate crimes; either through the press or via the traditional old fashioned face to face method.

Unfortunately it’s something that goes on far too frequently and has probably even gone on in front of you without you ever realising. But what is a hate crime? And how is a hate crime any different from any other sort of threatening or violent behaviour?

In a previous life I used to work in a gay bar and you would get all walks of life through the door on any given night. Some nights, namely mid-week when drinking on a school night is usually a bad idea, it used to be fairly quiet and it gave you the opportunity to catch-up on any cleaning or get chatted up by the regulars. Well, they would try to chat you up… can’t blame them for trying right?

One night however a guy came in who, on the face of it, seemed like a general body from the street that was coming down to the local gay bar to escape the wife / girlfriend / home life; someone that you wouldn’t turn away or guess that they were out to cause trouble or had issues. As the night went on he became more and more frustrated and pushy with staff and customers so was eventually asked to leave. Upon leaving (after much protest and farting about) he proceeded to through all 16 odd stone of himself against the bar door in an attempt to break it down all the while shouting profanities. When that didn’t work, he moved onto the bin outside and tried to throw that against the bar windows.

Somehow he missed the windows (I’m still not sure how) and as if by magic (or really bad luck) managed to hit and dent the front bonnet of my car.

Now, anyone that takes any pride – at all – in their car would know the pain and distress that I went through in that moment. What had my car done to him? And how did he know it belonged to me? Or was it a case of “wrong place, wrong time”?

The police were called, he was duly arrested and statements were taken and on the whole the support the police provided was fairly helpful and engaging. However, when it came to processing the attack under a relevant law it was classed as ‘criminal damage’ and not as a hate crime. This baffled me somewhat as it transpires he wasn’t escaping the family home for evening but instead had just been ‘released’ from the local homeless shelter and was, by all accounts, looking for a target for his next attention fix. The argument at the time was that they didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute under hate crime legislation however there was more than enough for criminal damage and were more likely to get a positive result at the Magistrates Court.

In that regard they were correct, it went to court and he was forced into a programme, several hours community service and forced to pay mine and the bars repair bill and a small amount of compensation. While I don’t question the outcome (as he was made to pay) for me it raises questions of, well has the reporting of hate crime become a side thought because it just doesn’t lead to “justice”? In this instance, we were more likely to get “justice” by pursuing another criminal offence? What do you need to do therefore to prove that a crime is a hate crime?

Another example was of a local magazine (although the more accurate term is “local rag”) that usually printed ‘laddish’ type articles designed to make the lads laugh and girls look at the wedding and pampering adverts that were often in there. Usually it printed run of the mill every day jokes or funny stories, nothing that would cause mass offence. Except in one addition, the editor decided to print an article on “10 signs that you aren’t manly”, or something along those lines. One of which stated that if you looked after yourself, or went down the gym or took care of your appearance in any way you were clearly not worthy of the title ‘real man’, and was indeed a ‘homo’.

A few local LGBT groups, including myself as a private citizen and some friends, all wrote to said editor and asked, politely, that he issue a retraction and reconsider his general approach to the tone of his magazine. These emails and letters went ignored for a week or two until instead he chose to publish each and every one of them and add his own personal commentary about how we all lead sad lives and ‘trust the homos to get their knickers in a twist’.

Naturally we weren’t happy, even more so as he had just printed out letters with no prior notification or consent (Data Protection breach anyone?). We complained to the local police and were quoted some clause of the Hate Crimes law that said what he had done didn’t qualify as a hate crime. If I recall, they were trying to say that because he hadn’t targeted a person it didn’t qualify? But he was targeting a group of people? Surely that’s what a hate crime is? (Apparently not).

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We also wrote to the Press Complaints Commission who said that because he wasn’t registered into their “opt in” regulation that they couldn’t help or intervene. All we could do was encourage people not to buy the magazine and seek support from some of the shops that had the stands in the windows and doorways. We couldn’t stop him from circulating his nonsense but at least we stopped it being handed out in key places in town.

Apart from the incident at the bar I have never suffered a “major” hate crime against me. For this I am very appreciative, but I ask myself the question – what about all the times someone has called me “FAGGOT” or hurled abuse because I’m walking to the cinema holding my boyfriend’s hand? Technically would these be classed as hate crimes? They never cause offence to me personally because I don’t value or respect their opinion. Therefore it just washes right off my back. But when you see some of the nastiness in this country (or indeed the world), not only to the LGBT community but also ethnic minorities and social classes, you think why would you do such a thing? Where does that “hate” come from? What has caused you to hate in such a way?

Last time I checked the LGBT community wasn’t an historic empire that had occupied your lands, or been slave owners or even caused any wars. So what makes a “hate criminal” do the things he does? Should we feel sorry for them as they clearly have some deep rooted issue that uses any distinction as a scape goat to vent at?

I’ve always been curious about why people do the things they do. Why someone is shy, or why someone is confident. Sometimes its genetics, but sometimes it’s what their life has made them. And in these instances what sort of a life could create such a willingness to hate in such a way?

By the way, is it a crime to flirt with a police officer when he’s taking your statement? I didn’t mean to, he was just very nice and comforting in my time of need. I don’t think he noticed… well he didn’t arrest me or even ask me out for a drink. Which is a point, must work on my flirting strategy…

 

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Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you'd like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.