Rise in Homophobic Hate Crimes by Religious Extremists

The Gay Police Association is under police investigation, after it exposed a big increase in homophobic hate crimes perpetrated by religious extremists.

The Guardian – Comment Is Free – 6 September 2006


Leaders of the Gay Police Association (GPA) have been receiving death threats after their organisation published an advert exposing a 75% increase in homophobic hate crimes perpetrated by religious extremists.

The death threats appear to be coming from faith fanatics. One of the threats was sent to the Chair of the GPA, Inspector Paul Cahill. It said: “Be on notice that your days left on this earth are limited.Homosexuals everywhere will tremble at this powerful message and repent of their perverted lives.”

The GPA advert has reportedly prompted thousands complaints to the Metropolitan Police by supporters of religious pressure groups, as well as by die-hard fundamentalists. They have expressed no concern about the death threats but they want the ad banned and are demanding the prosecution of the GPA. The Met is now investigating whether the GPA advertisement constitutes an anti-religious hate crime. It has referred the complaints to the Crown Prosecution Service.

In Tony Blair’s Britain , telling the truth about religious extremism now merits a police investigation. Perhaps we should not be shocked. After all, the government has given religion the green light. Labour routinely bends over backwards to appease faith groups. It consults them on all major policy issues, promotes faith schools and charities, and regularly schmoozes religious leaders at Downing Street receptions. Human rights and civil liberties organisations get no such privileged access or support.

Not surprisingly, god-squad fanatics think they can get away with trying to suppress the factual exposure of their bigotry. They want to deny to the GPA the freedom of speech that they so vociferously demand for themselves. In the twisted minds of these zealots, their anti-gay hatred is an expression of their right to free speech, but anyone who condemns their homophobia is guilty of a hate crime against their faith.

The GPA is a staff association for serving police officers, with official recognition by the police service and the Home Office. It’s advert was originally published in The Independent newspaper, and has recently been reproduced in the new issue of Gay Humanist Quarterly.

The advert is headlined with the words: “In the name of the father.” It depicts a pool of blood next to a Bible. The caption reads:

“In the last 12 months, the Gay Police Association has recorded a 75% increase in homophobic incidents, where the sole or primary motivating factor was the religious belief of the perpetrator. Verbal abuse and physical assault against gay men and women is a criminal offence and should always be reported to the police,” the copy urged.

The statistic for the big rise in faith-based homophobic crimes was based on reports to the GPA’s helpline. Ironically, many of the complaints were from police officers who had been subjected to homophobic abuse and harassment by fellow officers who hold religious views that condemn homosexuality.

Some fundamentalist members of the Christian Police Association (CPA) and the Association of Muslim Police (AMP) are accused of ostracising and disrespecting gay officers, and of stirring up homophobic hatred.

This has worrisome implications for the promotion prospects of gay officers under the command of homophobic religious officers, and also for gay members of the public. It is hard to see how devoutly religious policemen and women who hold anti-gay views can deliver fair, impartial policing to the lesbian and gay community.

Despite the furore over the advert, the GPA is refusing to recant. It has hit back at its critics, accusing the Christian Police Association of being in breach of police equal opportunities rules which prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

The GPA’s national coordinator, Vic Codling, told BBC News that they are in dispute with the CPA after a gay Christian police officer was refused membership of the CPA unless he agreed to abstain from sex and become celibate.

“Black or female police officers wouldn’t be asked to be ‘less black’ or ‘less female’ in order to join staff associations, so why should gay or lesbian officers?” said Mr Codling.

The GPA insists it is not anti-religious. It’s objection is to the religious homophobia of some officers and the way their prejudices are interfering with their job and resulting in discrimination. Moreover, the CPA’s discriminatory stance emboldens and encourages other, more aggressive anti-gay bigots, according to the GPA.

“Some homophobes look around for excuses and see the CPA’s position and it gives them support,” added Mr Codling.

“The police wouldn’t accommodate the discriminatory values of the BNP, so why are they accommodating the values of the CPA, simply because they’re based on faith?” he queried.

Gay human rights group OutRage! has written to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, calling on him to “not give in to the demands of these religious zealots for the censorship and prosecution of the GPA.”

The OutRage! letter to Sir Ian Blair states:

“We urge you to oppose any disciplinary or legal action against the GPA, to defend the right of the GPA to report the facts about religious-inspired homophobic hate crimes, and we appeal to you to speak out against the rising level of attacks on the LGBT community by religious extremists,” wrote OutRage! organiser David Allison.

Sadly, it is not just religious extremists who are the problem. Almost every week there are denunciations of lesbian and gay people by mainstream priests, rabbis and imams. The leaderships of the Catholic and Anglican churches have been particularly vociferous in endorsing homophobic discrimination. The Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, Mario Conti, last week defended the right of fire fighters to discriminate against gay people by refusing to hand out safety literature at a gay pride event. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has demanded that the Church of England be given exemptions from new laws prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination in the provision of goods and services, such as shops, hotels, schools and so on.

The rise of harsh, zealous religious beliefs, particularly among fundamentalist Christians and Muslims, is a worrisome trend. The religious outcry against the GPA is symptomatic of this new and growing theocratic tendency.

“Thousands of fundamentalists from different faiths have reportedly written to the police, urging the prosecution of the GPA,” said Ramzi Isalam, Religious Affairs spokesperson of OutRage!. Mr Isalam was himself a victim of religious-motivated homophobic death threats by Islamic fundamentalists in his homeland of Algeria.

“These people to want to suppress the facts; apparently believing that religion should be above and beyond criticism.

“We are very disturbed by the rising levels of abuse, threats and violence inflicted on the lesbian and gay community by people of faith. Religion is being abused to justify prejudice and hatred, when it should be a force for love, tolerance and harmony.

“It is quite sick to see religious individuals and groups attacking the GPA for voicing a legitimate concern about an undeniable fact: the rapid raise in religious extremists committing homophobic hate crimes. It is a pity that faith leaders have not taken a public stand against the perpetrators. Where are the condemnations from churches, synagogues and mosques? Why don’t they condemn their followers who have committed these homophobic hate crimes? If their faith is all about love, as they claim, it is a pity they show so little concern for the victims of homophobic hate crimes. When did we ever see religious protests following the assault and murder of gay people?” queried Mr Isalam.

Mr Isalam is right. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have a right to live in a safe environment, without abuse, discrimination, threats and violence. No one should be immune from criticism; especially when their criminal hate crime behaviour is violating other people’s human rights.

The GPA has shown the courage that we expect of all police officers. It has stood up to bullies; in this case bullies who claim they represent some deity.

The GPA has done everyone a favour by highlighting the link between fundamentalist religion and homophobic hatred and violence. The advert’s simple graphic illustrated the suffering gay people have endured, and are enduring, as a consequence of the preaching of clerics who claim a divinely ordained right – in the name of god, allah, jahweh and other assorted deities – to condemn people of whose sexuality they disapprove.

The GPA deserves an award for raising awareness of homophobic hate crimes perpetrated by religious fanatics. The grave issues highlighted by its advert need to be addressed, not rejected, ignored or censored.