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Why celebrating diversity will help stop hate crimes

Research carried out by The Rainbow Project indicates that 39% of lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) people have been the victim of some sort of crime in the last three years, with 10% of LGB people being the victim of one or more homophobic incidents in 2009.

These attacks vary in their nature, with 29% of those experiencing homophobic hate incidents in the last three years being physically injured.

An attack on an individual because of their sexual orientation has devastating effects on those targeted; they begin to feel isolated within their own community and fearful of future attack.

The attack in Foyle at the weekend is deplorable.

The Rainbow Project has been working in partnership with the PSNI, Community Safety Partnerships, the Department of Justice and District Policing Partnerships over the last number of years to tackle the issue of homophobic hate crime.

Work in the Foyle area around this issue has been particularly successful in reducing the incidents of homophobic hate incidents over the past number of years, with recorded attacks numbering 90 and above per year, falling to single figures each year since the establishment of ‘A Partnership Protocol’ (aka The Foyle Protocol) |in 2005.

The Foyle Protocol is an inter-agency partnership established to reduce the number of homophobic hate incidents in Derry City Council area, increase the confidence of the LGB community in the ability of the PSNI and other agencies and improve the quality of service to the LGB community from the PSNI.

There is no doubt that the PSNI and other agencies have shown a firm commitment in the Foyle area to tackling and eradicating homophobic hate incidents with their engagement and enthusiasm for the partnership.

The Foyle Protocol is a particularly good model of practice |and we have recommended to |the PSNI that they replicate it across each of the other seven policing districts.

However, one attack is still one too many.

While we have moved on considerably in Northern Ireland in |terms of legislative protections, the focus of LGB rights in Northern Ireland has now moved on to |tackling the hearts and minds |of our society.

Recent research carried out by the Institute of Conflict Research found that those who held the most bigoted views towards LGBT people in Northern Ireland were those who said they did not know or had not met someone who was same-sex attracted.

Changing people’s attitudes is evidently a community/good relations issue and we have called on OFMDFM to reflect this in the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration Strategy that is to be published for consultation soon.

I am hopeful that the work The Rainbow Project is doing |will continue to produce results; the only way we can move forward as a society is to begin to celebrate the diversity that exists and promote a truly shared future in which everyone is valued |as equal.

John O’Doherty is director of the Rainbow Project, which works to improve the physical, mental and emotional health of gay, bisexual and non-heterosexual men in Northern Ireland. The Rainbow Project has centres in Belfast and Londonderry

Belfast Telegraph