Homophobic and transphobic hate crime recorded by police in the UK rose sharply after lockdown restrictions were eased, hitting their highest monthly level since the pandemic began, new analysis shows.
At least 14,670 sexual orientation hate crime offences were recorded from January to August 2021, compared with 11,841 in the same period of 2020 and 10,817 in 2019.
While offences averaged 1,456 a month from January to April this year, they jumped to 2,211 on average from May to August.
There is a similar trend for transphobic offences, which averaged 208 a month from January to April, but 324 for May to August.
The figures were obtained by the PA news agency, based on freedom of information responses from 37 of 46 police forces.
Charity Stonewall described the rise as “worrying” and said the figures are a “stark reminder” that LGBTQ+ people are “still at risk of attack because of who we are”.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) strongly encouraged victims to come forward and said officers are highly trained and will “treat everyone with respect and dignity and handle cases sensitively”.
Lockdown restrictions such as social distancing and the closure of shops and hospitality were in place across the UK for much of the first three months of 2021.
Restrictions were then eased in stages, with almost all lifted by the end of June – the month that saw the highest volume of homophobic (2,389) and transphobic (371) offences for any calendar month across all three years.
This equates to around 80 and 12 offences a day respectively – roughly double the 38 and six per day in January.
Organisations said more research is needed but there could be many reasons for the rise, including more opportunities to report offences as restrictions loosened, an increased number of people being out and about, and the reopening of the night-time economy.
Other factors could be more interaction with support networks who encourage victims to come forward; attacks that were motivated by the pandemic itself; and the higher profile of the LGBT community in June, which is Pride month.
The figures also show:
– Twenty-four forces recorded their highest monthly number of homophobic offences since the start of 2019 during the period May-August 2021.
– Some 2,129 transphobic offences were recorded in January to August this year – well above the equivalent period in 2019 (1,602) and 2020 (1,606).
– At least 6,985 homophobic hate crimes classed as violence against the person were recorded from January-August 2021 – almost matching the whole of 2019 (7,078) and close to the 2020 total (7,944).
– Violent transphobic crimes are also on course to exceed previous years, with at least 1,207 recorded to August 2021 compared with 1,216 and 1,354 for all of 2019 and 2020 respectively.
Leni Morris, chief executive of Galop, the LGBT+ anti-abuse charity, said it launched its hate crime helpline in February 2021 “because we saw a real impact on the community from the pandemic itself”.
She said same-sex couples were more visible when out in public during periods of restrictions, and others faced “escalating violence” when locked down with homophobic or transphobic neighbours.
Did you know we can offer support wherever you are based in the UK if you've experienced anti-LGBT+ hate? Our wonderful Hate Crime team can talk to you about your options and rights.#TogetherAgainstHate#HCAW2021 pic.twitter.com/FdoH6xPubO
— Galop (@GalopUK) October 9, 2021
She told PA: “What we saw in the pandemic was LGBT+ people experiencing forms of abuse and violence that were either exacerbated by the pandemic itself or caused by it.
“We have some people who were victims of abuse and attacks because of being blamed for the pandemic itself, either because perpetrators thought the pandemic was an act of God – because of the existence of LGBT+ people – or because of the community’s association with the last major pandemic in people’s minds, and that’s the HIV Aids pandemic.”
She added these crimes are under-reported, with some victims not seeing the point in reporting frequent attacks, not wanting to antagonise perpetrators and worrying they may experience further prejudice.
Eloise Stonborough, Stonewall’s associate director of policy and research, said the figures are unlikely to present the full picture due to under-reporting, and that it is vital hate crimes are properly recorded and prosecuted.
She said: “LGBTQ+ people have struggled throughout the pandemic, with many not having access to vital support networks and spaces during lockdowns.
“It’s always worrying to see an increase in anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime, particularly at a time when our communities were more isolated than ever.”
The figures for 2020 show a similar rise after the end of the first lockdown, with homophobic offences averaging 1,236 a month from March to May, then 1,840 from June to August.
Offences in the non-pandemic year of 2019 also show seasonal variation, but in 2020 and 2021 the contrast between winter and summer is much sharper.
Many forces told PA that increases in hate crime can reflect improvements in how they are recorded and greater public awareness of how to report offences.
Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, the NPCC lead for hate crime, said: “We will always pursue action against perpetrators of hate crime where there is the evidence to do so.
“The public will understand that we must prioritise our finite resources towards those who face the most imminent threats of harm.
“Unfortunately, sometimes the evidence is scarce and there are no witnesses to the crime.
“Particularly in recent years, and with more people moving their abuse online due to pandemic restrictions, it may be the case that a suspect cannot be identified because of anonymity online, and a charge cannot be brought.”