On Monday 26th October this year a large gang of youths surrounded and attacked a 22 year old gay man, James Parkes, as he left a bar in Liverpool City Centre. He was left with serious head injuries.
The attack is being treated by Police as a homophobic hate crime and some arrests have already been made.
This was not the first attack of its' kind. Recently another gay man was beaten to death in Trafalgar Square London. Going back further there have been many other such atrocities, including the murder in Liverpool of Michael Causer last year.
Liverpool's Lesbian and Gay community is holding a vigil in the city on Sunday November 1st as the nation increasingly wakes up to the reality of homophobic violence.
In my official capacity as Chair of the North West Region's Equality and Diversity Group I agreed with my associates that I would make this statement of support to the organisers of the vigil.
A statement of support from the Chair of the North West Equality and Diversity Group, Christine Burns MBE, on the occasion of the vigil against homophobia in Liverpool, Sunday 1st November
The North West Equality and Diversity Group (NWEDG) – a network of more than a hundred public private and third sector organisations from all parts of North West England – deplores the senseless and hate motivated attack on James Parkes last Monday, 26th October.
The North West's public agencies have a strong record of promoting the equality and safety of all our 6.9 million citizens, and recognising the value that their immense diversity brings to the character and success of our region.
That includes the estimated 612,000 people who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Trans.
Regional Equality and Diversity Strategy
As Chair of NWEDG, and as a lesbian woman with an open and proud trans history of my own, I am doubly glad (and conscious) of the commitment I see all the time from my colleagues in the Regional Leaders Board (4NW); the Regional Development Agency (NWDA); Government Office North West (GONW); our strategic health authority NHS North West; and the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
That public commitment is reflected in the Regional Equality and Diversity Strategy, which clearly identifies the goal of reducing all hate crime as one of our three key priorities for strategic action.
No place for hate
Hate crimes – whether against ethnic minorities, disabled people or those who are gay lesbian bisexual or transgender – are the extreme expression of senseless intolerance and discrimination.
These heinous acts can have no place in a modern, plural society – a. society which is fast becoming even more diverse.
There will be more old people, more short term economic migration, more ethnic minorities and mixed marriages, and more openness and confidence about people's sexuality and gender identity.
It's not always that the population itself is changing. It's that people like myself can now be open and honest about who we are and share our experiences of life with our friends, neighbours and colleagues.
We say to those who are uncomfortable with these shifts "get over it!"
In fact I would go further and say that as a region we must embrace and capitalise on our diversity.
There is considerable evidence that if we are positive about diversity and at the same time move towards greater equality, then the North West – its communities and individuals – will be more prosperous and have a better quality of life.
But we also need to understand why hate crimes still exist.
It's 40 years since homosexuality was decriminalised. Many centuries have passed since England first became a multicultural country – a country of Romans, Angles, Normans, freed slaves and protestant refugees. And all that was even before the industrial revolution!
Hate crime and discrimination begins – like all intolerance – with fear of difference and our own insecurities.
That fear is fanned by ignorance and frequently, but not always, poverty.
It gains strength from a culture where bullying is all too common, and where the majority are sometimes too ready to sit on their hands and stay silent.
Not isolated cases
This week's attack on James Parkes is unfortunately just one of many. I'm conscious that this same weekend there will be another vigil taking place in London because of the recent murder of Ian Baynham. In Liverpool we also remember the murder of Michael Causer. And, later this coming month, there will be vigils all around the country (and the world) marking the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance.
The attacks on James (and Michael) are perhaps most poignant because they happened in our own back yard – in a region where we like to think we have a particular grasp of tolerance and welcoming difference.
The public shock should mark a turning point here in the North West - away from being silent on this issue and towards "equality activism".
Schools have a duty
Schools have a major role in ending the bullying culture and educating children and young people about difference. That must include teaching our children about all types of difference – LGBT included.
The excuse offered by the notorious Section 28 is no longer there. Teachers have a duty to no longer ignore homophobic attitudes, but to deal with them.
Promoting a positive message
The annual celebr8 (don't discrimin8) initiative, which is now in its third year, promotes positive messages about equality and diversity.
Just this week, in fact, we've agreed to support 12 community projects promoting community cohesion, respect and understanding.
That includes one in merseyside. And our second major annual Equality and Diversity conference is to be held this year in Liverpool, on November 11th.
It's not impossible
It's easy, on occasions like this week, to feel helpless and disempowered by the sheer horror of events. The idea that a gang of youths could pour such hate upon a young man like James is beyond comprehension for many of us.
Some might therefore wonder whether the kinds of strategic actions I've talked about can ever bring about the required change of attitudes and behaviour.
As someone who has campaigned in the past for changes that were once considered impossible, I believe that we can change our society to bring an end to senseless hate crime.
But the change starts when we recognise that it's not someone else's job. We all have a part to play. So let's all collectively send a message to the bigots, the bullies, the racists, the homophobes. We say "No to hate crimes in the northwest"
Christine Burns MBE
Chair, North West Equality and Diversity Group
29th October, 2009