IDAHO event - the Ceremony
7pm, 17th May 2006
Welcome to Aurora, Croydon Police’s Focus Group for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered people – and welcome to Aurora’s event for IDAHO, the International Day Against Homophobia.
This evening we’re going to concentrate on a very few Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered people who have been victims of hate crime across the world – a tiny fraction of those who have been attacked, tortured, persecuted and killed. Aurora is set up to deal with policing issues here in Croydon: as Aurora we can not deal with atrocities overseas. Then we shall observe one minute’s silence to commemorate all such victims across the world.
Then members of Aurora will commit themselves to a series of steps to address our, much smaller, related issues here in Croydon.
We begin in schools in this country.
Where words are in bold, below, a title was added to a display board. The board was divided in four quarters, each representing one of the minority groups Aurora commits to work for:
Darren Steele was a 15 year-old choir boy. His mother came home to find that he had hanged himself. A note by his body explained that he had killed himself because of the bullying that he was suffering at school.
At the inquest, Darren’s friends explained that he had been regularly taunted as a 'gay boy' and a 'poof' because he liked drama and cookery. He had been systematically punched, verbally abused and even burned with cigarettes by other students over five years.
He never told a teacher.
For Amy Vickers it seemed unlikely that she would complete her GCSEs. She had to change schools twice after other children found out that she was a lesbian.
She said "I had dog shit and eggs put into my bag, abuse written across my locker … Anything I didn't put in my locker would be covered in graffiti. I had words spray-painted onto my jacket. I had kids telling me that they were going to beat my head in.
"I got into a couple of fights, and had bruises and cuts around my eye. I had a bottle smashed over my arm at one point. One day in the middle of a cookery lesson I even had knives thrown at me. But I never told the teachers why it was happening because they'd tell my parents."
We continue in Jamaica, the Caribbean and Africa
JAMAICA, the CARIBBEAN and AFRICA
Brian (that’s a pseudonym) is 44 and a very quiet gay man from Kingston, Jamaica. The reggae star Buju Banton, 32, is an avowed homophobe whose song Boom Bye-Bye decrees that gays "haffi dead" ("have to die"). On June 24th 2004, Banton and 13 others forced their way in to Brian’s house at gun point and viciously beat him and five other men, leaving him half blind. After international protest, Banton was eventually charged in autumn 2005, but in January this year a judge dismissed the case for lack of evidence. This is typical of such cases in Jamaica.
Steve Harvey at age 30, was a leading Jamaican AIDS activist. Through Steve's immense courage and dedication he played a pivotal role in ensuring that safer sex information and condoms were available to all Jamaicans. Last November, at one in the morning, on the eve of World AIDS day, gunmen forced their way into his home, took him to a remote rural area where they shot him in the head and back in an execution-style killing.
Brian Williamson was a founder member of the Jamaican LGBT Forum, J-FLAG, and one of the few individuals prepared to speak publicly about matters concerning the gay community. He was stabbed to death on June 5th 2004, in his own home, and a crowd even celebrated over his mutilated body.
Perhaps most disturbing of many anti-gay assaults have been acts of mob violence. In 2004, a teenager was almost killed when his father learned his son was gay and invited a group to lynch the boy at his school.
A young man, Nokia Cowan, was chased through the streets by a mob yelling ‘batty-man’ and chased off a pier into Kingston harbour, where he drowned.
Months later, witnesses say, Jamaican police egged on another mob that stabbed and stoned a gay man to death in Montego Bay.
Vigilante action against gay people is often reported, as is ill-treatment or torture by the police in Jamaica. Gay men and women have been beaten, cut, burned, raped and shot on account of their sexuality. The well attested cases are only the tip of the iceberg.
A similar situation applies in many other Caribbean countries.
Fanny Anne Eddy a lesbian activist from Sierra Leone, was staying late to catch up on work in the LGBT office, when she was horrifically attacked, raped and murdered.
On April 6th 2006 Ryan Smith and Dick Jefferson, a CBS news reporter and a senior news producer, were singled out, attacked and beaten on their heads with tyre irons amongst shouts of anti-gay abuse, on the Caribbean Island of St Maarten.
Many African countries also experience similar levels of hatred: In February, for example, Zoliswa Nkonyana, 19, was beaten to death by a mob with bricks and clubs near Cape Town because she came out as lesbian.
IRAN and ASYLUM
Now we turn to Iran
We’ve heard of Mahmoud Asgari, 16, Ayaz Marhoni, 18, who were convicted for having a gay affair when they were both in their early teens. (They were not for alleged rapes and other alleged gay activity.) They were publicly hanged in Mashhad, Iran, last July.
Javad was a 28 year old gay Iranian male. Pictures and a video of his partner and him attending a party, with gay friends, fell into the hands of the Iranian government. After this, out of fear of being tortured, imprisoned and put to death he fled to the United Kingdom.
Javad arrived at Oakington, UK and applied for asylum. In December the British government denied his refugee status.
Hussein Nasseri, an unsuccessful gay asylum seeker, committed suicide by firing a gun between his eyes. The inquest found that he shot himself rather than be sent back to his native Iran, where he feared he would be executed under Sharia law.
In 2005 at least two more gay Iranians committed suicide as they faced deportation back to Iran. Others have been sent back, without legal representation.
There are far too many similar stories to list today.
And lastly we look at three murders, two in Guatemala and one in the USA
We remember two transgendered sex workers shot in Guatemala. (In many countries it is common for people who are desperate to change gender, to resort to sex work as the only way they can raise money for medical treatment – a situation not unknown in this country.) Both were shot in the head, one fatally, by men believed to be local police, according to Amnesty International. This is only one in a string of murders of transgender people in Guatemala. It is government authorities that have failed to protect transgender people, and appear to be directly complicit in their deaths.
On October 4th, 2002, in Newark USA, Gwen Araujo was murdered. As a transsexual teenager she was ostracised because she was different. Her mother said she had “no place to work, to learn, to worship”. That night four men in their 20s discovered that the 17-year-old girl was biologically male. They began to slap, punch, kick and hit Gwen with a soup can and a frying pan. They bound her with rope and carried her from the house into the garage, where one strangled her.
For some years now the transgendered people, known as Hijras and Metis, have been targeted by the police of Nepal. On January the 3rd four metis were attacked and severely beaten by four uniformed officers shouting “Metis! Kill them!” On March 14th, in Kathmadu, 26 metis were rounded up and charged with causing a public nuisance. By the 16th they still had not had access to lawyers. The Blue Diamond Society has repeatedly documented police abuse of transgendered people. Several staff members have been arrested and detained by Kathmandu police. One officer expressed the attitude "Acid should be put on the faces of the hijras: they don't deserve to live."
The most difficult part of drawing up these examples has been to cut out enough names and to remove harrowing details in order to make it short enough.
And now we join with IDAHO events across London, all over the country and in over thirty countries across the world. We shall commemorate this small sample of a couple of dozen people whom we’ve heard about. But we shall also pause to commemorate the hundreds and thousands of people across the world, who suffer persecution and death because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered, as we observe one minute silence now.
S i l e n c e
As we said at the beginning, Aurora can’t take on these causes that are outside Croydon, and outside the UK. But we can take up some of these causes as they affect policing here in Croydon.
So we’re going to commit ourselves to work on four areas.
We may fail on some of these. We may start in one direction, learn more, and change to doing something different. On some we may not have the time or resources.
But on the other hand we’ve done a lot already. We got the ‘Which Loo?’ guidelines endorsed by the Met! We got a discreet reporting system going in cruising grounds (outside Aurora, but we started it), we’ve got the answers on the transsexual issue with Clause 22 of the Gender Recognition Act and it’s on the website. We’ve even got some gay Muslim input to Aurora.
So we’re going to have a go!
First we will work to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered pupils in our schools.
A survey in 1994 revealed that gay kids of school age are experiencing more violence than any other part of the gay community.
Half of the under-18s surveyed said they had been violently attacked for being gay and 40% of these attacks involved four or more attackers. 60% had been harassed, 40% had faced threats or blackmail, and 90% had been verbally abused.
Gay school children may well be right not to go to their teachers for support. The University of London produced a report on secondary school teachers and their experience of homosexual pupils and bullying. It found that 82% of teachers were aware of gay name-calling at their schools and 26% were aware of violent incidents against gay kids. But only 6% of schools had any policy targeted at young gay men and lesbians.
We heard about the death of the pupil Darren Steele. Darren Steele's Headmaster said "The real tragedy is that Darren's parents, the school and his grandparents were not aware of his suffering."
The police will make sure that Croydon schools officers are aware of the voluntary groups and youth services in case any relevant issues arise during schools involvement/talks, and community members of Aurora will promote the current London Bully Watch scheme to schools, and will consult with youth organisations like Schools Out!, NRG and Mermaids, to see what more we can do to reduce bullying in schools.
Placing of commitment cards to work with schools
Black Minority Ethnic people
We’ve heard of Steve Harvey, Fanny Anne Eddy and the JFLAG activists in Jamaica, and we believe that black LGBT people experience exceptional levels of prejudice here in Croydon. There is no adequate research into this, and anecdotal evidence is not representative.
But Aurora will work to diversify its membership; to this end, community members of Aurora will also seek to work with bodies like the Black Gay Men’s Advisory Group, and the Metropolitan Community Church to see how we can better address the gay policing issues of black-minority-ethnic communities in Croydon.
Placing of commitment card to work for BME lgbt people
As Aurora we cannot act for those who are executed in Iran, Iraq or in other countries. But we are concerned about asylum seekers and the apparent failures of the asylum system here in the UK, and the fast track system in particular.
In this country the plight of asylum seekers becomes a policing issue, not just because of the numbers of rejected asylum seekers who kill themselves, but because of those who hear that their cases may well not be heard fairly, and three quarters of whom ‘disappear’ and subsist as an unrecorded, disenfranchised subgroup that cannot work legally or access public services, the police or the justice system.
LGBT people in this country have a very positive relationship with the police, but in other countries this is not the case. When writing up the stories we heard earlier it was not possible to remove several instances of police in many countries being a large part of the problem. In Croydon particularly we need to build bridges between our own Division and the LGBT asylum seekers who will often be terrified of the police.
The police will explore ways to increase their
knowledge of immigrant groups in Croydon, this will include those who
could be classed as LGBT, and community members of Aurora will investigate
ways to increase the confidence of gay asylum seekers in the police
and to prevent them being victimised, exploited or otherwise falling
outside the justice system,
Placing of commitment card to work for BME lgbt people
We’ve heard of transsexual sex workers, and of the American teenager Gwen Araujo, of murdered transsexual people in Guatemala, and the Hijras in Nepal. Aurora has been working on the safety from violence of transsexual people and promoting the legal facilities that allow transsexual victims anonymity in court.
Aurora is committed to increase the safety of transgendered
people in Croydon, and, to this end, community members will attempt
to deal with two more transsexual safety projects in the coming months.
Placing of commitment cards to work for transgendered people.
Thanks to everyone one who has taken the trouble to attend. In a few moments we shall be photographed and then some of us will be going upstairs to room F9 where we shall start thinking about how we’re going to do the things we’ve committed to – amongst other LGBT police things. You are very welcome to join us, and some of you who would not normally be here have some very relevant contributions to make.
Finally we’re supported in this IDAHO event by
Schools Out! – the national group on LGBT issues in schools
The Croydon LGBT Forum – a voice for LGBT people
The Croydon Area Gay Society – for gay men and women
Friends of the Firebird – transgender support group and website
Scrap Heap – the group for gay men over forty
Gemini – the transgender self-help group
Gay Surrey the umbrella group for Surrey
The Surrey and London Association of Gay Organisations
NRG – the local LGBT youth group
And local gay and straight-friendly venues:
Bar 68 – Brigstock Road – Thornton Heath
The Sun bar – London Road, West Croydon
Café Lava – Westow Road, Crystal Palace
We’ve had messages of support from Andrew Pelling:
Upon the second IDAHO let us all strive for a society full of tolerance and free from homophobia.
Labour MP, Andrew Pelling.
The following from our Conservative MP, Malcolm Wicks arrived after the ceremomy:
“Two things are important: first, that our police service is sensitive to the needs of the whole community; second, that all of our citizens, regardless of their race, religion, gender and sexual orientation, are free to go about their lives in peace, from of harassment and free of abuse.
“I therefore welcome the work of Aurora."
Labour MP, Malcolm Wicks
The Croydon Area Gay Society sends Aurora following message:
Good luck for the next twelve months in eliminating homophobia from Croydon. Hopefully in the not too distant future, through efforts by groups like yours, being lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgendered will cause as little comment as being left-handed does now.
The UK has a vibrant and thriving lesbian and gay community, one of the best in the world, and many of us are enjoying freedoms that seemed impossible ten years ago. However the International Day Against Homophobia is an important reminder that people routinely face persecution and even death because of their sexuality in many parts of the world. Some of those are lucky enough to escape and find their way to this country, only to find a complicated asylum system and little support or understanding of their issues. There is now an underclass of LGBT asylum seekers in the UK, too afraid to ‘come out’, with no resources, little help and who are often forced to live in isolated and hostile communities. It is very appropriate that Aurora have highlighted the plight of these people, given that the Immigration department is based in Croydon. We all have a duty and responsibility to ensure that we stamp out homophobia wherever it exists and adequately protect those that seek our help”.
- from Mark Watson the founder of the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group, and recently our councillor.
From NRG, our lgbt youth group:
NRG supports Aurora’s focus on bullying in schools. As a youth group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, our members are all aware of the issue even if they have not been victims themselves. It is one of the main issues for members of NRG and it has a dramatic effect on their health and well-being.
Wishing the Aurora event good luck from the members and staff of NRG Croydon
As we end by thanking the organisations that have supported us, I want to add my own, very sincere thanks to those who've come out this evening - some coming a long way out of their way - to support us by being here.