Newly published statistics show that homophobic incidents are on the rise in the Derry and Strabane policing area.
The Rainbow Project, a health organisation that works to improve the physical, mental & emotional health and well-being of LBGTQ people in Northern Ireland, said Derry should be recognised as a welcoming city for all.
However, members of the LGBTQ community continue to face discrimination on a daily basis.
When comparing the current and previous 12 months, six policing districts showed an increase in the number of homophobic incidents and homophobic crimes.
Homophobic incidents rose from 267 in 2017/18 to 281 in 2018/19 and the total number of crimes increased from 163 to 201.
In the Derry City & Strabane policing area there was a rise from 23 incidents in 2017/18 to 27 in the past year.
Of those incidents over the last twelve months just 17 of these homophobic incidents were recorded as crimes whereas in the previous year, although fewer incidents were reported, 19 homophobic crimes were found to have been committed.
Belfast City policing district, which accounts for around two in five homophobic incidents and crimes recorded in Northern Ireland, showed an increase of 18 in both incidents and crimes.
Aisling Twomey from the Rainbow Project commented: "LGBT people still face stigma, harassment, and violence in our everyday lives. Whilst there has been no better time to be LGBT - these types of incidents are still occurring on a daily basis. This is not an increase in the level of crime but it is an increase in the number of crimes being reported to the PSNI.
"Whilst figures released show an increase in the incidents and the issues that people are facing. It would be naïve to suggest that these are an accurate picture of what is happening in the city. According to researched carried out by the Rainbow Project, over 64% of crimes and incidents are not being reported to the PSNI. Under reporting remains a key issue in tackling LGBT hate crime in Northern Ireland.
"Hate crime robs people of their confidence and their independence.
"The Rainbow Advocacy service has been put in place to support LGBT people, who naturally and understandably are fearful of the consequences to themselves and the perpetrators of homophobic or transphobic hate incidents.
"We work in conjunction with them making sure that victims are supported and get access to the justice through criminal justice partners such as the PSNI and Public Prosecution Service. There is absolutely no excuse for someone being targeted because of their gender identity or sexual orientation."
A hate crime is any violent or non-violent incident perceived to have been committed against a person or property on the grounds of their disability, race or ethnic identity, their religion or beliefs, their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The PSNI recognised that hate crime is underreported and encouraged victims and witnesses in Derry to come forward
Chief Inspector Rosemary Thompson said: “Police in Derry City & Strabane take hate crime very seriously and actively investigate all incidents reported to us.
“However, we know hate crime is underreported and we know there are a variety of reasons why victims and witnesses are reticent about coming forward. I want to assure people the Police Service of Northern Ireland will do everything it can to ensure everyone, from whatever background, can live free from prejudice, fear and discrimination.
“In Derry City & Strabane we are always keen to work with partners in the community to raise awareness, and do what we can to encourage people who are victims of a hate crime to report it.”
She continued: "For example, last year, police participated in a service-wide event held in the city’s Guildhall, themed ‘Engaging with Diversity’, which was a platform event for National Hate Crime Awareness Week.
“We hope by taking part in events like this, and by working with partners throughout the year, people will have the confidence to come to us when they are being victimised, and to know they will be supported.
“It’s important to state that while the provision of statistics may set some context for the wider community they provide little, if any, comfort to individuals victims of crime.
“Hate crime in all its form is wrong and, to help stop it, we need people to report it."
For anyone affected by issues raised in this report there are a number of ways to do that in Northern Ireland: You can ring the non-emergency number on 101 and select option 2 or alternatively, members of the public can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.
You can also report online via the PSNI website - https://www.psni.police.uk/crime/hate-crime/hate-crime-reporting) or through the independent charity Crimestoppers (https://crimestoppers-uk.org/give-information/give-information-online/
In an emergency always ring 999.
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