Why do LGBT people put up with hate?

Equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the UK has improved dramatically in the last two decades. Discriminatory laws have been repealed, marriage equality for same-sex couples has been achieved, and equality legislation has given statutory protection from discrimination.

But equality under the law has not translated into a wholesale change in behaviour across society. Many LGBT people still face discrimination, abuse and even violence in their everyday lives, and measuring the scale of the problem, let alone finding effective measures to counter it, is complicated by the under-reporting of such incidents.

What is LGBT hate?

Police forces in England and Wales make a distinction between a ‘hate crime’ and a ‘hate incident’.  A ‘hate crime’ is defined as any illegal act that the victim or other persons perceive to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards an aspect of a person’s identity, such as being LGBT. A hate ‘incident’, meanwhile, is defined as any act, which may not be a crime, that is similarly motivated, and which may include:

  • Verbal abuse, such as name-calling

  • Harassment

  • Physical attacks such as hitting, punching, pushing, spitting

  • Threats of violence

  • Hoax calls, abusive phone or text messages, hate mail

  • Online abuse, for example on Facebook or Twitter

  • Harm or damage to property

  • Graffiti

  • Arson

Many of the above are clearly crimes, but others may be more ambiguous, with verbal abuse, harassment and online abuse in particular being potentially more difficult to categorise as a specific crime.

Together, ‘hate crimes’ and ‘hate incidents’ against LGBT people can be broadly categorised under the definition of ‘LGBT hate’.

What is the extent and nature of ‘LGBT hate’?

Police recorded crime figures provide the only official statistics on reported LGBT ‘hate crimes’.  In 2015-16 there were 8,052 recorded, including 858 listed as trans hate crimes. This represents a substantial increase in the last five years, with the total having risen from 4,658 recorded in 2011-12, of which 313 were trans hate crimes.

However, these figures are widely acknowledged to be a considerable underestimate of the true level of crimes committed.  The most recent analysis of the Crime Survey for England and Wales estimated that for the combined years 2012-13 to 2014-15 there were an average of 29,000 LGB hate crimes per year, more than six times the average figure of 4,807 per year in the recorded figures for the same period.

Looking at both ‘hate crime’ and ‘hate incidents’ reveals just how widespread LGBT hate is. A large LGB sample (not including trans people) was polled by YouGov in 2013. This research found that of the 2,500 respondents, 24% of gay men, 19% of lesbians and around 10% of bisexual people had experienced a hate crime or incident in the previous three years.  One in ten of these incidents involved physical assault, one in five involved the threat of violence, with the most common reported incident being harassment, insults and intimidation, reported by eight in ten LGB people.

This high reporting of incidents in surveys indicates the prevalence of such behaviour in society. Additional polling research by YouGov more recently found that half of people surveyed had heard offensive comments or language used against LGBT people in the previous year, and one in five admitted to making offensive remarks themselves.  Nearly two thirds of those who witnessed this behaviour did not intervene, and just 3% said they offered support or assistance to the person targeted. This research has prompted Stonewall’s ‘#NoBystanders’ campaign to encourage the public to call out and report hateful language when they hear it.

Why don’t LGBT people report incidents?

Clearly there is a significant problem of under-reporting of LGBT hate, specifically hate crime. The Leicester Hate Crime Project found in 2014 that the rate of reporting of LGBT hate crimes was significantly lower than the average for hate crimes. Just 14% of victims targeted for their sexual orientation reported their most recent experience of hate crime, compared to 24% overall, and up to 56% for those targeted because of their physical disability. The rate for trans hate crime reporting is around 30%.

These findings led the Equality and Human Rights Commission to fund further dedicated research from the University of Leicester on the barriers to LGBT hate crime reporting. This used targeted in-depth interviews with 50 LGBT people to identify the reasons why they do not tend to report incidents.

The study revealed that the process by which reporting of such crimes takes place was not widely understood, and it was felt ‘reporting pathways’ could be made easier to navigate. However, one of the main reasons for non-reporting was a perception by those targeted that their complaints would not be taken seriously by the police or result in any action. Linked to this was a feeling that reporting ‘everyday’ forms of verbal abuse and harassment would be a waste of police time and resources. Participants would only be likely to report severe or repeated incidents, notably those involving physical violence.

Underlying these factors was the depressing finding that LGBT people had ‘normalised’ the abuse they suffered, to the extent that they felt it was ‘part and parcel’ of being LGBT.  When asked if they had experienced LGBT hate crime, the overwhelming majority of respondents answered ‘no’. But when asked if they had received verbal abuse, the majority of the sample could recall multiple incidents. Extracts from the interviews included stoical sentiments from those resigned to receiving abuse, with comments like “you just become kind of numb to it, don’t you?” and “you just put up with it.”

The background of bigotry

The ‘normalisation’ identified in this study is a worrying background to attempts to eliminate the negative attitudes and bigotry against LGBT people which lead to hate crimes. It should not, however, come as much of a surprise, given the prevalence of anti-LGBT attitudes to which people are exposed from an early age.  Surveys show the majority of LGBT young people experience bullying in schools, ranging from name-calling to physical assault, a fact confirmed by teachers – 86% of whom in secondary schools report that students in their schools are bullied, harassed or called names for being – or being perceived to be – LGBT.  

The trend to simply ‘put up with it’ also begins early, with 72% of young people who said they had been victim of LGBT bullying saying they hadn’t reported it to anyone at the school, and a similar proportion saying this was because they “didn’t think it was worth reporting”, followed by an expectation it would not be taken seriously. The same study found this replicated amongst young people who had experienced hate crime and abuse outside of school, 88% of whom did not report it, and for the same reasons.

The background of bigotry and discrimination in society exacerbates the unwillingness to report incidents of LGBT hate, with the Leicester study finding a sizable number of respondents citing a fear of being ‘outed’ if they make a formal report, and the implications for them if their family or colleagues found out about it. In a further sign that LGBT people expect discrimination and hostility, many report feeling the need to alter their behaviour, in order to avoid drawing attention to themselves or placing themselves in situations in which they might be targeted.


Under-reporting of hate crime and incidents is an established issue for all groups targeted, but it seems to be a particularly acute issue for LGBT people. There have been practical recommendations made for improvements to ‘reporting pathways’, to make it easier for LGBT people to report incidents. But unless they feel it is worthwhile and appropriate to do so, it is hard to see such improvements having an effect on the fundamental problem.

Many LGBT people (myself included) have come to accept the uncomfortable reality that discrimination and prejudice against them continues to exist, to a degree that impacts upon their daily lives. The evidence suggests that as long as the rest of society tolerates the underlying attitudes which lead to hate incidents, LGBT people will see their experiences as normal, and continue to ‘put up with’ them.

Nigel Fletcher is Head of Research at Bright Blue


The Gender Recognition Act: Recognising transgender people

In the final two months of 2015, two transgender women were found dead in male prisons. There has been significant debate about whether they were suitably placed. These women were initially placed in male prisons because they did not possess a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), which would have allowed them to be placed in the prison estate of their acquired gender.

Guidelines for England and Wales currently state that prisoners should normally be located in the prison estate of their gender as recognised by UK law. Under the Gender Recognition Act (2004), transgender individuals can apply for a gender recognition certificate (GRC) in order to change their legally recognised gender. While the original legislation was welcomed by most transgender organisations, in recent times the procedure for acquiring a GRC has attracted significant criticism. Many transgender organisations argue that the process is too expensive, that it is offensive to transgender people, that it allows spouses too much control over their partner, and that it prevents young people from seeking recognition.

The cost of the GRC

Currently, the government requires transgender people who are applying for a GRC to pay a fee of £140. This fee has been criticised by a number of transgender organisations. For example, both Stonewall and the National Union of Students (NUS) have raised concerns that the cost may prevent transgender people from seeking legal recognition of their acquired gender.

In response, the Government has argued that many GRC applicants are either exempt from the fee or receive assistance with the fee, due to their personal financial circumstances. Nonetheless, a Women and Equalities Select Committee report into the subject urged the Government to consider removing the fee.

The offensiveness of the GRC process

In order to have their transition legally recognised, transgender individuals are required to have, or have had, a documented mental-health diagnosis of gender dysphoria. Generally, transgender rights organisations object to this requirement on two grounds. First, they argue that it is offensive to transgender people because it classes their gender identity as a mental disorder. For example, Peter Dunne - a New York University law school researcher - argues that “the continued ‘pathologisation’ of transgender identities [treating them as a disease or disorder] through the 2004 Act causes significant offence and distress”. Second, it is argued that transgender people are forced to wait for significant time periods and travel long distances in order to gain medical documentation of their transition. For example, Pink News have highlighted the case of Sue Parscoe, who was forced to wait for two and a half years for her first NHS assessment appointment at Leeds Gender Identity Clinic.

The Government have signified some willingness to relax the requirement for a mental-health diagnosis of gender dysphoria. Appearing before the Women and Equalities Select Committee, Caroline Dinenage MP, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Women, Equalities and Family Justice, stated that the original Gender Recognition Act was groundbreaking. It made the UK one of the first countries to legally recognise transgender people’s acquired gender. Because of this, there were few international points of comparison for British lawmakers to consider. Nonetheless, Dinenage states that the UK Government was willing to learn from other countries, such as Ireland, who do not require a medical certificate.

Spousal consent

Following the legalisation of same-sex marriage, marriage is considered to be either a contract between two people of different sexes or two people of the same sex. Because of this, the law requires both participants of the marriage to consent to the status of a marriage being changed - either from different sex to same sex or vice versa. Therefore if one party transitions, the other, non-trans party must give their consent before the acquired gender can be legally recognised.

This proviso - which is frequently described as the spousal veto - has been hugely controversial. The Gender Identity Research and Education Service (GIRES) argues that the spousal veto signifies that the government believes that the rights of transgender people are less important than the views of non-transgender people. In addition, many transgender organisations argue that the spousal veto gives spouses undue influence over their partner. This could be particularly problematic if a transgender individual is engaged in an abusive relationship. Transgender organisation RISE has argued that abusive partners are frequently extremely controlling and that the spousal veto provides them with a tool to exercise this desire to control.

In response, the Government has argued that the spousal veto is necessary because a marriage constitutes a contract between two people. In order to make a change to that contract then the consent of both parties should be required. Caroline Dinenage MP has argued that “for some people, they married a person; they did not marry a man or a woman, for others, [acquiring a different gender] might make a difference”. Nonetheless, while spouses are able to veto the legal recognition of transgender people’s acquired gender, they cannot prevent individuals from undergoing any other stage of the transgender process, such as undergoing hormone treatment.

Age limit

The process to acquiring a GRC requires transgender individuals to be at least 18 years of age before their acquired gender can be legally recognised. This requirement has proved controversial. Figures show that the number of children seeking medical treatment for gender dysphoria increased fivefold between 2010 and 2015. The Scottish Transgender Alliance has argued that the Government should allow 16 and 17 year olds the right to have their acquired gender recognised, and that the government should open up a “youth route” for children to have their transition legally recognised. This view was largely supported by the Women and Equalities Select Committee who also called on the Government to allow 16 and 17 year olds the right to have their acquired gender recognised. The committee also suggested that the government should consider allowing children the ability to have their gender recognised.

However, while some evidence suggests that children have a relatively stable gender identity from early age, other research suggests that children’s gender identity can be somewhat fluid. For example, Research has found that of children who reported transgender feelings but did not receive medical or surgical treatment, between 70% and 80% of them spontaneously lost those feelings. This finding raising serious questions about whether children can accurately identify their gender.


As the number of transgender people increases in the UK, the need for a fair procedure for legally recognising changes of gender also increases. The issue is particularly crucial because most prisoners are placed in the prison estate of their gender as recognised by UK law. Transgender rights organisations have raised a number of reasonable criticisms of the current procedure for gaining a GRC, particularly around cost and spousal consent. Yet, other issues remain controversial. Particularly so is the question of whether children should be able to transition and, if they do, whether the state should recognise it.