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‘Society is not as accepting as people make out’ - Romford Pride organiser says LGBT community faces abuse online and in the streets

PUBLISHED: 12:00 19 August 2020

LGBT+ people in Havering still face abuse, says Romford Pride organiser. Pictures by Ellie Hoskins and James Stanislas.

LGBT+ people in Havering still face abuse, says Romford Pride organiser. Pictures by Ellie Hoskins and James Stanislas.

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Gay people are being jeered at in the street, while Romford Pride has been attacked by some residents as an “outrage”, according to organisers.

Romford Pride organiser Stephen Freeman. Picture by James Stanislas.Romford Pride organiser Stephen Freeman. Picture by James Stanislas.

In response, Romford Pride is launching a campaign which event manager Stephen Freeman said would boost the visibility of LGBT people in Havering, especially those from under-represented groups.

He said organisers particularly want to tackle hate crime – which, according to official statistics, has doubled nationally against gay people in the past five years, and trebled against trans people.

“I myself have not reported some – for example, being abused in the street,” he said. “That happens often enough. People jeering at LGBT people for holding hands with their partner. That is very prevalent within the community. It often attracts some sort of remark.”

A common criticism of Pride events is that they are no longer needed, said Stephen – but LGBT people still face opposition.

According to TheyWorkForYou, Labour's Jon Cruddas (left) has consistently voted for equal gay rights, but Conservative Andrew Rosindell (right) has consistently voted against. Pictures: Parliament.According to TheyWorkForYou, Labour's Jon Cruddas (left) has consistently voted for equal gay rights, but Conservative Andrew Rosindell (right) has consistently voted against. Pictures: Parliament.

In June, Romford’s Pride team published a press release containing just some of the online abuse they had recently received.

Residents described Pride as an “outrage” which was “damaging the new generation of youth”. They said LGBT people should not have the right to march, describing it as “attention seeking” and “a load of b****cks”. Posters said they would “never” support the Pride march and demanded a “straight pride parade” instead.

Attitudes like this leave some minority groups within Havering’s LGBT community – such as black and trans residents – “under-represented” due to increased fear of coming out, said Stephen.

“We have a venue at Pride supply a gender-neutral toilet,” he said. “Even about that, we get comments, like people don’t want their children using that toilet. People think the LGBT community is full of paedophiles... Society is not as accepting as people make out it is.”

Unlike Romford Pride 2019 (pictured), this year's event was forced online by the coronavirus pandemic. Picture by Ellie Hoskins.Unlike Romford Pride 2019 (pictured), this year's event was forced online by the coronavirus pandemic. Picture by Ellie Hoskins.

Havering Council has been “extremely supportive” of Romford Pride, he said. But in 2018, the authority attracted the attention of the gay press, when leaked emails showed it had resisted flying the rainbow flag for LGBT history month.

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Of the borough’s three MPs, two have been in office for almost 20 years, during which time Parliament has repealed Section 28, introduced civil partnerships and legalised equal marriage.

But according to TheyWorkForYou, an online database of MPs’ votes, Havering’s two stalwart MPs have opposite records on equal gay rights.

Labour’s Jon Cruddas is listed as always supporting equal rights, voting in favour 21 times. But Tory Andrew Rosindell is listed as never supporting gay rights, voting 13 times against – including the above mentioned three decisions – and missing another nine ballots.

Mr Rosindell said the website was “terribly misleading”, telling the Recorder: “I do not consider that I have ever voted against ‘gay rights’... I have always been an advocate of fair and equal treatment under the law for all people.”

Asked why he voted against equal marriage in 2013, he said he had wished to “defend the rights of Christians and those people of faith to uphold their beliefs.”

He said: “I do not believe that politicians should interfere with and attempt to redefine ancient customs, traditions and ceremonies, most of which are based on religious foundations and have been in existence through the ages.”

In response, Stephen said: “Some legalities have changed and society is more accepting, thankfully, than even ten years ago.

“But when there are local MPs saying quotes such as this, it feels as if we are still going backwards.

“If you were to do a survey asking if LGBT people feel safe holding hands with their partner in public, a lot of people, such as myself, would not feel comfortable. Until that changes, there a lot more work that has to be done.”

The answer, said Stephen, is visibility – but as Pride was forced online this summer by covid-19, the community had even less visibility than usual.

In the coming weeks, Romford Pride’s #wepridetogether campaign will survey LGBT residents about what issues matter to them.

“We want Pride to be shaped around the community; what people’s needs are and how they’ve changed – especially now, with the pandemic,” said Stephen. “For example, a lot of hate crime has moved online. There’s still a lot of work to be done. I think it’s something that’s going to take many, many years.”


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