LGBT+ people should not have to live in fear

Community in Ireland continues to experience verbal, physical and sexual harassment

Ireland’s journey towards equality includes the recent passage of the marriage equality referendum, and the introduction of legal gender recognition for trans people in 2015. LGBT+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and other) people are increasingly represented among the nation’s public figures and politicians, through our media outlets, and among the countless people who have come out in their schools, universities and workplaces.

In fact, a large majority of the Irish public now believe that LGBT+ people are and should be free to live their lives as they wish.

But they can’t. In spite of our inclusive attitudes towards LGBT+ people, there are still some among us who consider it their right to target people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Experience on the ground, confirmed by national and European research, shows that the LGBT+ community in Ireland continues to experience verbal, physical, and sexual harassment.

Almost every LGBT+ person who has engaged with the Call It Out campaign tells stories of intimidation, harassment, and violence perpetrated against them, or their friends

The latest research illustrates the gulf between how the wider public views homophobia, biphobia and transphobia and how the community itself experiences it. Many Irish people don’t realise that LGBT+ people are likely to change their behaviour in public out of fear. Even more do not view anti-LGBT+ violence as a serious problem at all.

Where lesbian and gay men's identities are disentangled, we find differences in attitudes to each which speak to gay men's greater risk of violence

Yet, almost every LGBT+ person who has engaged with the Call It Out campaign tells stories of intimidation, harassment, and violence perpetrated against them, or their friends, in one form or other. Many have experienced such behaviour their whole lives often beginning in childhood or adolescence.

That the majority of people are quietly confident Ireland’s LGBT+ community generally lives free from harm while, simultaneously, members of that same community will check their behaviour as a matter of routine, spotlights a signal gap in understanding within Irish society.

Our research with LGBT+ people, tells us that violence is not experienced uniformly across the community. Gay men and transgender people are among the most frequently targeted. Certainly, our work found a difference in public attitudes to specific sections of the LGBT+ community.

Where lesbian and gay men’s identities are disentangled, we find differences in attitudes to each which speak to gay men’s greater risk of violence. Gay men attracted less empathy than lesbians across a number of scenarios and people reported being less likely to intervene on their behalf.

Victims of crime

Trans people attract high levels of empathy as victims of crime, but people were more positive towards having lesbians, bisexual people and gay men as neighbours compared to trans people, which internationally we understand to relate to a lack of opportunities for positive engagement.

Many of the LGBT+ people we spoke to questioned whether the Irish public would welcome calls for further attention to be paid to LGBT+ issues

Clearly, we need to address both the commonalities and the specifics of homophobia, transphobia and biphobia. We need to promote the positive participation of trans people in public life to bridge this distance, and we need to attend to what our differing views towards gay men and lesbians tells us about the gendered ways in which we approach crime victims.

Many of the LGBT+ people we spoke to questioned whether the Irish public would welcome calls for further attention to be paid to LGBT+ issues following the degree of public engagement that led to the swift progress of the past five years.

They fear that further activism could provoke a backlash from a wider community that may feel its has given LGBT+ people everything they have asked for in terms of equal rights and now they are coming looking for more.

They are also concerned that the level of public scrutiny of LGBT+ people’s lives, such as that during referendum campaigns, can be damaging for LGBT+ young people and their families.

Further positive developments

There are, however, real opportunities for further positive developments. Our research found high levels of empathy with LGBT+ victims of crime - with people, on average, stating that they would likely intervene on behalf of someone who was subject to criminal behaviour as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

This finding highlights an encouraging desire to safeguard equality and justice when confronted with hostility or bias towards LGBT+ friends, colleagues, family members and even strangers.

The Call It Out campaign is asking people to call out homophobia, transphobia and biphobia wherever they encounter them, and help fully realise the Ireland we envisioned in 2015.

Calling homophobia, biphobia and transphobia what they are, empowers those who support LGBT+ people and shows Ireland’s growing LGBT+ community that they live in a country that welcomes them in.

Dr Amanda Haynes is a senior lecturer in sociology works and member of the hostility research group at the University of Limerick. Ellen Murray is policy and research officer for Transgender Equality Network Ireland