The reality of homophobic attacks and how to rebuild your queer confidence
A recent homophobic attack against a lesbian couple on a bus in London has made headlines across the world.
Their bloodied faces were a stark reminder of the potential for physical and verbal abuse that many LGBTQ people face in their daily lives.
At least 2-in-5 people who responded to the National LGBT Survey, which was published in 2019, said they had been either verbally or physically attacked because of their sexuality or gender identity.
What’s more, a joint report by Stonewall and YouGov, found that 4-in-5 anti-LGBTQ hate crimes go unreported.
Irrespective of the nature of an attack, the trauma that’s caused can have life-long consequences for LGBTQ people.
Speaking to Means Happy, some victims felt isolated and shame following such attacks, with some are still attempting to rebuild their lives today.
Ashamed and embarrassed
Matthew and his friend were attacked during a night out in Vauxhall, when two men followed them off the bus and threatened to slit their throats with a bottle.
“It was dark, and they got quite aggressive quickly,” recalls Matthew. “There was no delay in the threat of slicing our throats, so I was scared there’d be no delay in them turning violent.”
The attack came as a shock to Matthew, who says there was nothing to warn him that such an attack was imminent.
“There was nothing we’d done to provoke them,” he explains. “We were sat at the front on the top deck, we’d been quietly chatting away.”
Finding refuge in the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, Matthew says he didn’t report the incident until a year later: “I think I told myself it wasn’t worth reporting as it didn’t get violent and was only words.”
But it was reading about the importance of reporting homophobic attacks that prompted him to finally fill out an online form.
Matthew is not alone, however, with the LGBT National Survey finding that more than 9-in-10 of the most serious incidents are going unreported.
Since the attack, Matthew says he feels “more on guard” and became conscious of his mannerisms to not “appear gay” in certain situations.
As well as fearing for his life, Matthew says the incident had a deeper impact on his sense of identity: “I felt super ashamed and embarrassed of who I was.”
“I hated myself for feeling ashamed and allowing them to make me feel that way,” he reflects. “I was at university at the time and was still working out who I was, so it was definitely a knock.”
Not safe in their own home
Jacqueline – not her real name – says the homophobic attack that she and her wife faced in their own home left them feeling “scared and violated.”
“It sounded like our front door was going to break in,” she recalls of the night her drunk neighbour came to their front door. “It carried on and by this point he was shouting homophobic slurs.”
When the police arrived, the neighbour told them he wanted to kill Jacqueline and her wife, resulting in him being arrested.
The couple were forced to leave their home, but Jacqueline said the move didn’t erase the emotional impact of that night.
“The whole thing about being attacked in our home, our safe space, really troubled me for a long time,” she says. “I’m not sure I’m over it.”
Jacqueline says she would also get flashbacks and couldn’t go out alone in the dark for a while.
Similarly to Matthew, Jacqueline also became more guarded. “It’s gotten better, but any time I see a man of a particular build, I flinch.”
Speaking about the most recent attack on a lesbian couple, she said: “I was so sickened to hear of the recent attack, but not surprised at all.”
“We’ve definitely been on buses and trains, and decided to move to different seats because men just start talking to us,” recalls Jacqueline.
She also says she has stopped holding hands with her wife on the street, after being faced with homophobic comments on the street.
A torrent of abuse
After multiple attacks on her property, Theresa and her partner were left to navigate a particularly dark chapter of their lives.
It started with a bottle being thrown at her window, but this soon escalated to a concrete slab flying into her front room days later, and a rock through her car window.
“When this was all going on we felt terrified,” she says. “We couldn’t use the front room of our house and we would spend most evenings in the bedroom, watching the TV connected to the CCTV waiting for the next attack.”
Theresa’s partner subsequently took an overdose and was admitted to hospital.
“We couldn’t stay in the house and we were forced to move,” she says having spent several sleepless nights, while her wife recovered in hospital.
She says the attacks have left “permanent scars” on her mental health.
“I suffer greatly from anxiety and find it difficult to cope in busy noisy environments,” admits Theresa. “My partner is still very nervous if there is anyone in close proximity to the house.”
When it comes to her identity, Theresa shares the feelings of Matthew and Jacqueline – these attacks made her “a little more guarded” about expressing her identity openly.
In fact, she says she has become “increasingly concerned” about the number of attacks in the UK that have been fuelled by homophobia and transphobia.
“I have found myself becoming more concerned and paying more attention to my surroundings,” elaborated Theresa. “As if I’m expecting an attack or some kind of discrimination to happen.”
Despite being one of the most liberal and inclusive societies in Europe, LGBTQ people living in the UK are not immune to either physical or verbal attacks.
It seems clear that as well as being traumatic in the moment, these attacks can play a life-long role in a victim’s life; resulting in poor mental health and a sense of shame about who they are.
Most attacks go unreported, which means that a true sense of how far-reaching these crimes are remains unclear to authorities.
Moreover, online anti-LGBTQ abuse remains commonplace.
Munroe Bergdorf recently accused the children’s charity, NSPCC, of “bowing down to pressure from a transphobic lobby” after the LGBTQ activist was dropped by the charity.
Bergdorf and the NSPCC were bombarded by transphobic and misogynistic tweets, after it was announced the activist would be working with the charity on LGBTQ topics.
Until tighter legislation is brought into force, it could be argued that attacks, be it face-to-face or behind a keyboard, will remain something LGBTQ people will continue to face.
Where to access support?
Anybody who has experienced a hate crime, anti-LGBTQ or otherwise, should report this to the police.
For many people, this can be an extremely intimidating and fearful step to take, especially if they are worried about further repercussions.
Police forces across the United Kingdom should take hate crimes seriously.
However, if you’re still apprehensive about going directly to the police, or you’ve had a previous negative experience with them, you can report a hate crime online.
What’s more Galop, the LGBTQ anti-violence charity, may be able to provide you with additional information.
Local LGBTQ groups might be useful in helping you to meet others who have gone through similar experiences.
Pink Therapy can also help you access inclusive and non-judgemental counsellors in your local community, should you wish to talk things through.