To Russia with Love – Four in Ten LGBT Peer Support Group Speak Out About Rising Homophobia and Transphobia in Russia

Stephen Fry’s recent open letter to David Cameron and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) describing the worsening situation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people in Russia as reminiscent of Berlin circa 1939 and the persecution of the Jews has brought international attention to this issue. Calling for the Sochi Winter Olympics in February 2014 to be moved, Fry outlines how Putin’s attack on gay people is against the Olympic oaths for which the games are meant to promote – humanity, peace, anti-discrimination.

In June of this year, Putin introduced the ‘anti-propaganda’ law which forbids the promotion of non traditional relations  to young people with punishment by large fines and imprisonment. What this has meant in practice is that speaking the word ‘gay’ is now a criminal act. LGBT people risk loosing their jobs, gay people are censored from public life, trans people are targeted by gangs of men and there has been a shocking rise in assaults targeting LGBT people. Most troubling of all are the stories of neo-Nazi groups posting videos and photo’s on the internet of shocking abuse of young gay men who are subjected to public humiliation, abuse and torture, leaving them traumatised, leading to a number of deaths from suicide and as a result of their injuries.

We often think that, in the UK with an equal age of consent for gay people, laws banning the discrimination of LGBT people, civil partnership rights and soon to be enacted same sex marriage, that equality for LGBT people here is certain. However, the fact of the matter is that LGBT people in the UK, and in London in particular, still face high levels of hate crime.

GALOP, a leading LGBT community safety charity, recently released new research findings that showed that there were over 1000 homophobic crimes in London in 2012/13 and 50 transphobic crimes. Although this represents a large reduction on previous reports of homophobic and transphobic incidents, the British Crime Survey still shows that 1 in 8 LGBT people experience hate crime. GALOP’s findings also showed that almost two thirds hate crime don’t get reported.  Overall, there has been a slight drop to 43% of homophobic crimes which are solved and a very poor 6% of transphobic crimes.

What is most concerning about all this – the rise of homophobic and transphobic crime in Russia and the on-going high levels of hate crime here is the impact this has on LGBT mental health and wellbeing. Four in ten LGBT people will experience mental health problems in their lifetime – against one in four of the general population.

The irrational fear and hatred of LGBT people, the rise in attacks, the state sanctioning of discrimination against LGBT people, the outlawing of talking about being LGBT, or that LGBT people have equal value to heterosexual people, we all have personal experience of this to a certain extent. We are acutely aware of how this contributed to our own deteriorating mental health and wellbeing and sense of isolation as a result of stigma and discrimination.

We are speaking out about this issue because we want LGBT people, where ever they are, to live free from discrimination, homophobia and transphobia. We hope that by bringing attention to this issue, not only are we raising awareness of the plight of our brothers and sisters in Russia, but we are also bringing attention to the issue that homophobia, and transphobia – whether its violence targeted at LGBT people, or simply making us invisible – contributes to negative mental health and wellbeing and we urge you to stand with us and challenge this were ever it takes place.

Four in Ten is SLaM’s LGBT Peer Support Group which meets every Tuesday evening between 5.30pm and 7.30pm. It is open to all LGBT people with mental health problems.

The Four in Ten Project is a three year LGBT Equalities Project led by Metro Centre and funded by Maudsley Charity to improve the experience of LGBT service users at SLaM.

To find out more contact Peter Vittles on 07711 376 258 or email peterv@metrocentreonline.org

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