Sunday, 24 October 2010

Apathy or resistance?

One most telling thing about society these days is the "five-second memory" that is encouraged by TV, music videos, video games, and yes, dear readers, social network sites. This "Twitter generation" is actively engaged in snippets of nothingness, and reality matters less and less to some people. In the words of the late, great Dame Joan Sutherland "Them's my sentiments, anyhow..."

And so it seemed to us last night, as the combination of cold damp weather and "more important" stuff such as X-Factor or Strictly Come Dancing, or indeed sex'n'drugs'n'rock'n'roll, appeared to have reduced the number of people who bothered to come out for the "Say No To Hate Crime" rally and vigil. Ian Baynham's murder in Trafalgar Square was, I suppose, still in the news this time last year when 10,000 people turned up.

This year, the gay press is more interested in Joe McElderry [no disrespect meant to the young man by the way, just he really isn't that important!] and numbers were reduced to around 2,000 at the most - a fairly small gathering given the magnitude of the problem.

From politicians to pioneers, from Amy Lamé to Harvey Milk's nephew Stuart (founder of the Milk Foundation), we had speakers from all backgrounds and interest groups - Ian Baynham's sister Diana, Rikki Beadle-Blair, Paul Burston, Lynne Featherstone MP (Minister for Equalities), Peter Tatchell, gay Deputy Mayor of London Richard Barnes, Sue Sanders (Schools Out) and many others gave heartfelt speeches.

A gay brass band tootled from the back of the crowd, (almost inaudible to anyone near the speakers' stage incidentally), and an assembled gay chorus sang some songs of hope and sadness. We all had glow-sticks, some people lit candles. Yet despite messages of support from David Cameron and Ed Milliband, there were no front-benchers or leaders of political parties.

It is sad to say that this felt like a message of hope speaking out to only an interested few. The facts are terrifying. Hate crime is evidently on the increase:
  • 1,192 homophobic offences were reported in London in the year to September, up from 1,008 the previous year, a rise of 18.3%
  • 1 in 5 gay and lesbian people have experienced a homophobic hate crime or incident in the last three years
  • 3 in 4 did not report them to the police. Only 6% reported them to third parties
  • 7 in 10 did not report hate crime and incidents to anyone.
A list of hundreds of names of people who have been murdered because of hatred against their "difference" was read out after the silence at 8pm.

One speaker told possibly the most emotional story of all. Artist Paul Harfleet decided to instigate the "Pansy Project" in 2005, to plant a pansy at the site of each reported site of such a hate crime. Since his project began he has planted 10,000.

That is five times the number of people who bothered to turn up last night; despised, beaten or even murdered because they were gay.

I sometimes feel ashamed of what passes for the gay "scene". I am really proud of everyone involved in organising this important event, and everyone who showed up.

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