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'We had bottles thrown at us, a woman spit on us': Six in 10 LGBT people avoid holding hands in public

Three in 10 people avoid certain locations for fear of being assaulted, according to a new survey.

SIX IN 10 members of the LGBTI+ community in Ireland avoid holding hands with their partner in public and three in 10 avoid certain locations for fear of being assaulted, according to a new survey.

Over 2,300 people in Ireland were among 140,000 people across Europe who took part in the largest international LGBTI+ survey of its kind, which was carried out by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA).

The number of people who avoid public displays of affection or going to certain areas in Ireland is largely in line with the European average.

In one case study, a 19-year-old transgender man said he and his then-boyfriend were attacked for holding hands in public.

“We had bottles thrown at us, a woman spit on us, and a good few people make comments like ‘you two shouldn’t be holding hands’,” he said.

A 17-year-old girl said fireworks were thrown at her and her girlfriend on one occasion as they held hands walking down the street. “Homophobic slurs were also shouted in this attack,” she recalled. 

Some other figures from the Irish survey include:

  • 37% of people said they were harassed the year before the survey. The EU average is 38%.
  • 11% of respondents had been attacked in the five years before the survey. The EU average is 11%.
  • 17% of people went to the gardaí to report physical or sexual attacks, compared to 14% of people across the EU who went to the police.
  • 11% of respondents reported their discrimination experiences to an equality body or another organisation, the same as the EU average. 

Despite these issues, a large percentage of people (77%) said prejudice and intolerance against the LGBTI+ community has dropped in Ireland in the last five years. This is much higher than the EU average of 40%.

One in 10 people here believe the situation has become worse in the last five years, compared to 36% across the EU.

Two-thirds (67%) of people in Ireland believe the government effectively combats such prejudice and intolerance, compared to just 33% in the EU.

‘Very dire’ situation

Speaking to about the results, Juul van Hoof, Programme Officer at the FRA, said the situation is “still very dire” for many members of the LGBTI+ community in the EU. 

She said respondents in countries such as Ireland and Malta – where legislation supporting the rights of the community has been introduced in recent years – generally reported that things had improved in the last few years.

“Countries where there has been law reform and public discussion, respondents perceived more improvements,” she said, adding that Ireland and Malta often fared better than the EU average in relation to this.

“There is big difference between different countries,” Van Hoof added.

Despite the introduction of legislative and policy measures, “not a lot has changed or things have gotten worse” in some countries since the last survey was carried out in 2012.

For example, over half of people in Ireland (59%) believe that violence against members of the LGBTI+ community has decreased in the last five years. However, 73% of respondents in France and 66% of people in Poland believe that violence has increased in their countries.

Van Hoof said that the general public in Ireland “might not have an idea what is happening” for LGBTI+ people, presuming that the situation is fine after the introduction of the marriage equality and gender recognition acts in 2015.

Van Hoof said that post-marriage referendum in particular, some people may “think ‘it’s all rosy now, people have their equal rights and we can move on’, but at an individual level, people are still being harassed and violently attacked”.

The European Commission is due to launch its LGBTI+ Equality Strategy this year.

Van Hoof said all EU countries need to work towards “building zero tolerance to violence and harassment” against members of the community, adding that they “should be able to move around without fear”.

She said, as well as policy changes, this will require making it easier for victims of crime to report it, training police forces, and increasing public trust in organisations such as the police and bodies that investigate claims of discrimination.

90381707 People at Dublin Castle celebrating the marriage equality referendum passing in May 2015. Sasko Lazarov / Sasko Lazarov / /

Van Hoof noted that the level of both physical and sexual violence experienced by trans and intersex people is higher that in the community in general.

One in 10 respondents (11%) in the EU said they were physically or sexually attacked because of their sexuality or gender in the five years before the survey; this figure increase to 17% among trans people and 22% among intersex people.

“[Intersex people] experience more harassment and physical violence or sexual attacks – one in five, double that of other groups in the community. That’s quite a figure, policy makers need to address this,” Van Hoof told us.

Coming out

Just over half of people surveyed in Ireland (53%) said they are open about their sexuality and gender, slightly higher than the EU average of 47%.

However, many people still struggle with coming out.

One 17-year-old boy from Ireland who is bisexual said he has “been in the closet ever since I was 13″.

“Since then I was afraid to come out because of being afraid that my family would reject me, fear that I would be kicked out, fear that I would be met with verbal/physical violence from my peers,” he stated. 

Reflecting on her time in school, a 19-year-old bisexual woman said she was “bullied for being ‘lesbian’ in school and lost friends because they thought that I would fall in love with them because I like girls”.

“I have to hide my sexuality from family due to fear of financial and emotional repercussions,” she added.

A 22-year-old gay woman said she doesn’t “feel comfortable or safe being open about my sexuality or identity in Ireland”.

Among people aged 18-24, four in 10 (41%) hid the fact they were LGBTI+ while in school, down from 47% when the previous survey was conducted in 2012.

Among people aged 15-17 years, 32% said they are hiding their sexuality or gender in school. This is in line with the EU average of 30%.

However, many people said they feel supported and protected while in school and that the situation is improving.

Over four in 10 (44%) of LGBTI+ students aged 15-17 said that in school someone “often or always supported, defended or protected their rights”, slightly lower than the EU average of 48%.

Almost seven in 10 people (68%) teenage respondents in Ireland said their peers or teachers “have often or always supported LGBTI people”, slightly above the EU average of 60%.

Just under half (45%) of teenagers said their school education at some point addressed LGBTI+ issues positively or in a balanced way. Across the EU, 33% of teens felt this way.

‘People are ridiculed and attacked’

Speaking about the results of the survey, FRA Director Michael O’Flaherty said: “Too many LGBTI+ people continue to live in the shadows, afraid of being ridiculed, discriminated or even attacked.

Even though some countries have advanced LGBTI equality, our survey findings show that overall there has been too little real progress, leaving many LGBTI people vulnerable.

O’Flaherty called on policy makers across Europe to “take note and do more to actively promote full respect for rights of
LGBTI people”.

Helena Dalli, European Commissioner for Equality, said that “despite the important steps forward” in recent years, “LGBTI+ people still report high levels of discrimination”.

“More worryingly, we have recently witnessed within the EU anti-LGBTI incidents such as attacks on prides, the adoption of ‘LGBTI ideology-free zone’ declarations, fines for LGBTI-friendly advertisements and others.

“Everybody in the European Union should feel safe and free to be themselves,” Dalli added.

The survey was carried out in 2019 and covers the EU 27 Member States, the UK, Serbia and North Macedonia. For the first time, it includes experiences of intersex people and young LGBTI+ people aged 15 to 17.

More information can be read here.

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