Islamophobia or homophobia?

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'Gay Free Zone' stickers 'Gay Free Zone' stickers
Posted: Tue Mar 8 2011

Homophobic violence is on the increase in Tower Hamlets. Why are people afraid to discuss it?

To the gang who attacked me in Shoreditch; to the man outside my local pub who yelled 'queer' when I walked past with my ex-boyfriend; to the man who followed me home from the tube station, called me 'battyman' and threatened to kick my face in; to the religious fundamentalists who preach that gay people are less than human and should be killed. I would just like to say: sorry.

Sorry for walking down the wrong street, at the wrong time. Sorry for refusing to hide my love in public. Sorry for not conforming to your narrow view of masculinity. Sorry for thinking that we live in a society where your religious beliefs are not law.

Now, can we please have a proper conversation about homophobic violence? Because, quite frankly, I'm sick of it. Sick of hearing that friends have been intimidated. Sick of being told that parts of London are a 'gay-free zone'. Sick of the right-wing columnists who fan the flames of homophobia. Sick of the left-wing apologists who make excuses on the basis of culture or religion.

In the last few years there have been more and more reports of homophobic incidents in Tower Hamlets, often involving attacks on gay men by gangs of young Bangladeshis. In one case, a gay man was stabbed seven times and is now paralysed. When his Bangladeshi attacker was jailed, a gang stormed the George and Dragon pub, a popular haunt for the gay community.

A few weeks ago, for the second time, stickers appeared close to the George and Dragon and other gay venues in the area, quoting passages from the Koran and declaring the borough a 'Gay-Free Zone'. The stickers bore no clue as to who might be behind them, but some people questioned the authenticity of the flyers, claiming they were the work of an extremist right-wing group and were designed to incite Islamophobia. What we do know is that people passing through Whitechapel High Street are often handed leaflets containing homophobic sentiments. The real question is why so few people seem willing to talk about it.

When the problem in east London first began making headlines, a Guardian columnist argued that 'It is time for gay people to begin engaging with the Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets and not simply to see them as the colourful backdrop to their multicultural existence.' Yes, you read that right. Gay people brought this on themselves. Similar sentiments were expressed last week on Facebook. One gay man warned that 'we will reap what we sow', as if the problem was created by gay people and not, say, by Islamist extremists.

Officially, the East London Mosque is opposed to homophobia. In a recent press release, Dilowar Khan, the mosque's director, said: 'We stand together with our fellow citizens against all forms of hatred, including homophobia.' Yet the mosque has a history of hosting talks by homophobic preachers. The East London mosque told TO: 'In the past there may have been lapses where a third party organiser who hired our facilities allowed their guest speakers to make comments that were not in line with the mosque's own view. We have condemned such views that propagate hatred and intolerance. We now vet any speakers wishing to speak publicly at our venue.'

Despite fears of an increase in Islamophobia, there have been no reports anywhere of angry gays storming mosques or attacking Muslims. Instead, next month, there will be an East End Gay Pride event in the King Edward VII Memorial Park. In the meantime, it would be nice if we could all agree that the only people responsible for homophobic attacks are the perpetrators themselves, irrespective of their colour or religious beliefs. Sorry if that offends anyone.