Homophobic attack victim frightened to go out in home town
An Enniskillen man has said he will never go out in his home town again after a violent homophobic attack.
Retail worker Dean Wheeler (23) said he was walking home from a night out in the early hours of Sunday, April 8, when an unknown man shoved him to the ground and kicked him in the ribs and head.
"I was going out to the shop when I heard 'queer boy' being shouted at me," he said. "I just ignored it and went to get a taxi. I was told it would be over an hour and I live 15 minutes away so I thought I'd just walk.
"After that, I heard 'faggot' being shouted and the next thing I know I was shoved to the ground and kicked in the ribs and head while they called me an 'HIV ridden b******', and all this."
Dean didn't see the face of the man who attacked him, the last thing he remembers is a passer-by saving him.
"Another man came out of nowhere and just ripped him off me. The next thing I remember was waking up at home the next morning," he said.
"I'll never go out in this town again, never. If that man hadn't have helped, God knows how far it would have gone."
He continued: "My family, friends and work colleagues are raging about it, disgusted this could happen in this day and age."
Addressing his attacker directly he said: "How do you live with yourself?"
Dean came out as gay around two years ago and despite the support of his friends and family, he was subject to name calling and vile online abuse.
"My family and friends have always known, to be honest," he said.
"Most people in the town were all fine but I got people making fake accounts on Facebook and telling me I'm going to die from HIV and things like that. I pass these people off because I don't care about their opinion, but it's different when somebody actually hit me because I'm gay."
Ulster Unionist councillor Robert Irvine condemned the attack.
"Anything like this where somebody picks on another for an outlook that is not their own has to be condemned," he said.
Aisling Twomey, of the Rainbow Project, provides support to victims of hate crimes.
"Hate crime robs people of their confidence, their independence," she said. "Under-reporting remains a key issue in tackling anti LGB&T hate crime in Northern Ireland."
Sinn Fein MLA Colm Gildernew has condemned the attack
“I am saddened by the news that a young man was attacked late on Sunday in a homophobic hate crime. This is totally unacceptable and I condemn it outright," said the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA.
“It's a very sad reality that homophobic and transphobic hate crimes continue to be committed in our society. Sinn Féin encourages people to report any such incidents to the PSNI.
“There can be no tolerance of homophobic, transphobic or other hate crimes and victims should feel confident that when they contact police that their concerns will be taken seriously and responded to appropriately."
Mr Gildernew said work still needed to be done to help the LGBT community.
“More work need to be done to break down the barriers faced by the LGB and T communities," he said.
“One of the ways this can be down is by ensuring that all citizens regardless of race, religion or sexuality are equals in the eyes of the law.
“Sinn Féin remain committed to ensuring rights and equality for all.”
Aisling Twomey, Advocacy Officer for The Rainbow Project said such attacks had a huge impact on their victims.
"Hate crime robs people of their confidence, and their independence. Under reporting remains a key issue in tackling anti LGB&T hate crime in Northern Ireland. The Rainbow Project, supported by the PSNI, developed the Northern Ireland LGB&T Advocacy Service to help the LGB&T community feel more confident in reporting crimes," she said.
"The Advocacy service supports victims in reporting hate crimes and incidents to the Police and also works with them to meet their wider needs including sign posting into other services. There is absolutely no excuse for someone being targeted because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
"We put the victims at the heart of everything we do, which is why we are working closely with statutory partners such as PSNI to support victims of LGB&T hate crime. I would encourage any person experiencing persecution as a result of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity to report it to the PSNI and if they don’t feel comfortable with the police, then they can speak directly to myself at the Rainbow Project."