Homophobia 'not being reported'
Eight out of 10 people who experienced homophobic discrimination in the last year did not report it, the Equality Commission has revealed.
Michael Wardlow, chief commissioner, said there were still significant levels of prejudice against members of the gay, lesbian and bisexual community and that just 44% of people were aware the law could protect them against intolerance on the grounds of sexual orientation.
"The highest level of negativity was reserved for the smaller minority of people who struggle with their gender identity - trans people. Everyone has the same rights under our equality and hate crime laws to lead a life free from discrimination, abuse or harassment. But prejudice is still rife," said Mr Wardlow.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland said there were 246 homophobic incidents in the past year - a rise of 46 (23%) on 2012. The number of homophobic crimes also increased by 20% from 120 to 149 in 12 months.
Incidents described as transphobic jumped from four to 15 over the last year and there were a further six transphobic crimes - a 100% rise from the three the previous year.
The Equality Commission said it received more than 3,000 queries a year from people who believe they have experienced unfair treatment, however only about 2.5% concerned sexual orientation and even fewer related to gender identity.
"We have already recognised the need to take special measures to address under-reporting of sexual orientation discrimination here in Northern Ireland. We recently launched a new suite of digital resources for the LGB community under the SoMe (Sexual orientation More equality) brand," added Mr Wardlow.
A dedicated website, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube campaign has been launched as part of the Equality Commission's outreach programme to raise awareness of the issue.
"We recognise the particular sensitivities around dealing with discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. We know that we need to make particular efforts to reach out to LGBT individuals who may feel that they are totally alone and that they have no recourse against unfair treatment. These are the people who could really benefit from our staff's advice, support and experience. And individuals can be reassured of receiving a confidential and supportive response when they seek our help."
The Equality Commission is also to host its first drop-in clinic for anyone seeking discrimination advice. The event will take place this Wednesday as part of Anti-Homophobia Week.