Homophobia in our society is alive and kicking, and motivates as many acts of anti-gay and anti-lesbian violence today as it did almost 10 years ago.

That’s the message from a new government report on homophobic violence, titled You Shouldn’t Have To Hide To Be Safe, released on Tuesday.

The report, funded by the Attorney-General’s Department and the Network Of Government Agencies (NOGA): Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Issues, surveyed over 600 members of our community about their experiences of homophobic abuse and violence. It provides the most comprehensive snapshot of the issue since a New South Wales police survey conducted in 1994.

Around 85 percent of participants in the new survey said they had ever been subjected to homophobic abuse or violence, while 56 percent of respondents reported such an incident in the past 12 months. These figures are almost directly comparable to the 1995 report -“ a finding described as shocking by Labor MLC Jan Burnswoods when launching the report.

While we note the progress we have made, it is very disappointing to note that many people feel as vulnerable as they did 10 years ago, she said.

Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Rob McGrory said that the level of violence against lesbians and gay men had remained at alarmingly high levels since this sort of hate violence was first documented in NSW.

Clearly the strategies that the NSW government has employed in the last decade have failed to stem the tide of homophobic hate in our community, McGrory said.

The results of the survey confirm the high rates of violence that our Lesbian and Gay Anti-Violence Project takes reports on every day, ACON president Adrian Lovney said. We hope that in another 10 years’ time we are not commenting on a report that shows levels of homophobic violence remain the same.

Steven Drew, acting director of the Crime Prevention Division within the Attorney-General’s Department, said there were no easy solutions to the problem of homophobic violence.

At the end of the day, we’re trying to get people to change some very long-held beliefs, values and prejudices, he said. These are behaviours and attitudes that take a very long time to shift, so it’ll take another 10 or 20 years to have a significant result in that area.

Drew also pointed to one of the survey’s more positive results: an increased level of confidence among community members in reporting incidents of homophobic harassment to the police. Eighty percent of respondents were prepared to report such an incident, which was a marked improvement on previous surveys, he said.

The report has also broken new ground by exploring the complexity of responses to homophobic violence in our community. Focus groups were conducted with gay men and lesbians from indigenous, Asian and Middle Eastern backgrounds, as well as gay and lesbian parents and people living in Western Sydney.

Researcher John Schwartzkoff said the survey on which the report is based was distributed basically as wide as we could find ways of doing.

When asked whether the report might overstate the prevalence of homophobic abuse and violence in our society (because of the self-selecting nature of the survey), Schwartzkoff said he didn’t think this was the case.

I don’t think there’s any reason to doubt the reliability of the broad statistical information that’s come out of the survey, he said. Apart from anything else it’s well and truly consistent with what other surveys elsewhere in Australia have shown, and it’s comparable with various North American and British studies, so there’s nothing at all unusual or out-of-the-ball-park about our results.

If anything, I was surprised that there were 15 percent of gay men and lesbians who reported not having experienced abuse -“ if anything that seems to me surprisingly high, Schwartzkoff said.

The government is now seeking community responses to the report.

Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convenor Somali Cerise said, It is time for the NSW government to show leadership by initiating a whole of government response to the issues raised in the report. It is quite clear that in areas such as education, particular attention is needed so that we can develop a community that respects and promotes diversity.

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