Sian Gwenllian and Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru AMs
There has been a dramatic rise in the number of hate crimes recorded across Wales – and we need to act now to stop it.
The figures, released in the latest Hate Crime Statistics for England and Wales, show a 17% rise across Wales since last year.
In the last year alone, there have been almost 4,000 recorded hate crimes relating to race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and transgender people. Shockingly, that’s Wales’ highest figure yet and a near doubling of figures over the last six years.
One group of people targeted by hate crimes is the LGBT+ community who, over the past year, have experienced a 12% rise in hate crimes. Trans people have experienced a particular rise – with hate crimes in Wales doubling in the last year from 64 to 120.
One reason for that is the rise in transphobia in the media, and the figures show we need to act quickly to stop – and reverse – this worrying trend.
BME LGBT people are also hit by double discrimination. According to Stonewall, half of black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT people have experienced discrimination or poor treatment because of their ethnicity from others in their local LGBT community. This number rises to three in five black LGBT people and a third of lesbian, gay and bi people of faith aren’t open with anyone in their faith community about their sexual orientation.
The rise in these statistics could be a result of more people feeling comfortable enough to come forward and report hate crimes coupled with an increase in police departments reporting those crimes, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that we’ve got a serious problem on our hands.
Hate crimes do not exist in a vacuum.
Since the 2016 referendum, society has become more polarised. Political discourse has become more toxic. And when the Prime Minister of the UK himself can compare Muslim women who wear the burqa as ‘letterboxes’ and walk free from any reprimand or consequence, we know that we’ve got work to do.
Wales is not immune to this and these latest statistics show that our society is neither yet wholly tolerant nor fair. They show that prejudice is a problem.
And they show that despite the many gains Wales has made in terms of LGBT equality, we are not yet there.
Take what happened in Caernarfon, for example.
In July, a member of an LGBT club for young people (hosted by Caernarfon based charity Gisda) was subject to a homophobic attack and assaulted at a bus stop after leaving a session at the club.
Incidents of verbal abuse were also reported to the North Wales Police.
Soon after the attack, the youth club’s members said that they felt they couldn’t return to the youth club and had enough of the abuse they were receiving.
Social attitudes may have changed a lot over the past decades and although changes in law mean more schools and public services are taking notice of and are tackling anti LGBT discrimination, we remain in in a situation where young people do not feel they can be accepted for who they are in their own communities. They still have to face prejudice, abuse and hostility.
How can we assure young people that they will be accepted when they come out when we cannot protect them from hate crimes?
Since opening in 2017, Gisda’s LGBT youth club has flourished and is popular with more than 150 young members of the LGBT community. But, on this frontline there is a serious concern about the lack of resources needed to tackle immediate hate crime, and the inequality in support across Wales means that resources are patchy and subject to a ‘postcode lottery’.
Gisda’s LGBT youth club is the only one of its kind in the whole of Gwynedd. It is the only provision for young LGBT people in north west Wales and the only one that provides a space for members to communicate through the Welsh language.
Resources are needed to support schools, pupils and teachers in a campaign to raise national awareness, support to parents and siblings, and the individual in the middle.
The Welsh Government should invest in a review or a mapping exercise to assess what provisions are in each county, and then consult to set up what is needed.
And the Welsh Government, although well-meaning in its intent, has yet failed to truly grasp the need for a ‘root cause’ approach in tackling hate crime.
Their most recent proposals include additional funding to the National Hate Crime Report and Support Centre, a Minority Communities Grant and a national campaign scheduled for 2020.
Whilst these solutions are welcome in principle and seem good on paper, this ‘one-off’ funding method means that these solutions will only serve as ‘sticking plasters’ to a much wider problem.
The Welsh Government have a framework for tackling hate crime but we haven’t been updated on its progress for almost two years.
Meanwhile, preventative measures are needed to solidify the safety of our communities and to see hate crime figures drop permanently.
That starts in schools.
For example, lessons in relationship and sex educations would mean children gain a clear understanding of the diversity of healthy, social beings and relationships. They would learn about different types of families, friendships, professional relationships and sexual relationships as well as identity acceptance, tolerance, and inclusivity.
It’s crucial that this education is delivered to every child in Wales and that parents’ right to withdraw does not extend to this section of a child’s education. Schools must have the confidence to be able to deliver RSE lessons effectively.
But the real, long-term change can come from a better justice system.
The current ‘England and Wales’ criminal justice system is failing our communities and does not work for Wales. We need change – and full power and responsibility over criminal justice to create a fairer system to the benefit of all our communities and to enable us to build our own system in Wales that fits the needs of our citizens.
Wales could create a fairer, transformative system that would be a beacon for justice around the world and ensure an integrated approach to tackling LGBT hate crime and protect LGBT people in Wales.
For example, we could review hate crime laws so that hate crimes based on sexual orientation, gender identity or disability are treated equally to those based on race and faith, by making them aggravated offences. We could also train all prosecutors on anti-LGBT hate crimes on and offline, track successful prosecutions to develop best practice, and provide targeted support to victims.
We could also focus on tackling abuse online and develop training packages for frontline practitioners to improve their knowledge of online hate crime and their confidence in dealing with this form of crime.
We are far from the days of Section 28 and the anti-equal marriage lobby. But we still have so much more to do before LGBT people can feel safe and accepted without exception in Wales today.