PinkNews.co.uk exclusive

A Liverpool city councillor claimed today that council authorities tried to bury a report which found that thousands of gay, lesbian and bisexual people were leaving the city because of the scale of homophobic violence.

Openly gay Liberal councillor Steve Radford said he had to appeal to the data protection information commissioner before he was given a copy of the damning report.

It found that 59% of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people had experienced homophobic crime in Liverpool and that bullied gay children were being victimised by teachers.

Councillor Radford is leader of the Liberal party, not to be confused with the Liberal Democrats, who have controlled Liverpool City Council since 1998.

The Liberal party was formed in 1989 by people who felt the SDP/Liberal merger that formed the Lib Dems would not keep the historic values of the Liberal party alive.

The Liberals have three councillors on Liverpool City Council.

“I was horrified by the report, but not shocked by the levels of homophobia,” Councillor Radford told PinkNews.co.uk

“I had two main concerns, firstly, in the small sample of recent school leavers, the few who were brave enough to seek support from teachers for bullying found they were treated like the problem.

“The second, and most alarming, aspect was the fact that of the 14% of people subjected to violence, 5% had been attacked by members of their own families, and 14% by immediate neighbours.

“It shows the endemic view in Liverpool and Merseyside that it is legitimate to attack gay and lesbian people.”

Councillor Radford said that the survey, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Safety in Liverpool was hidden from Citysafe Liverpool, a coalition of organisations working on crime prevention and reduction.

“In my view, this should have been on the front of the local press, and open to a public discussion about how to get Liverpool out of the dark ages with civic, educational and religious leaders.

“Instead, the council gave a sanitised version, not of the report, but of recommendations about what they planned to do in the wake of the report, at the Citysafe meeting on July 19 – Citysafe never saw the full report.

“I demanded a copy from the chief executive for four months, and after that I had to go to the data protection information commissioner to get a copy.

“I’m a city councillor, the co-chair of the Gay Business Association and I was a stakeholder in the report, and I had to go to the information commissioner to get a copy.

“Liverpool City Council had two options. They could have said ‘this is alarming, it must change’ or they could have buried the news.

“They chose to bury the news.”

The report found verbal abuse was the most common homophobic crime, followed by physical assault, threats of violence and vandalism.

Eight percent of the people polled had been sexually assaulted and 14% had had their lives threatened.

Councillor Radford said that the “stranglehold” the Catholic Church had on the city meant that the council decided “not to upset the real powers in the county” by revealing the scale of the problem.

He stressed as a Methodist, he was not being anti-religion, but wanted to speak against reactionary groups in the city.

“This would not have happened with any other religious or racial minority, this is a case of what I call institutionalised homophobia.

“People face abuse, prejudice and the need is about major political change in Liverpool,” he added.

The recommendations from the report, such as providing more funding for a safety initiatives, reconsidering the needs of community groups and better healthcare initiatives, were linked to a 2006 report which suggested creating a ‘Gay Quarter’ for Liverpool.

“It shouldn’t be creating a gay quarter, as this already exists, it should be, enhancing the gay quarter,” said Councillor Radford

“Setting it aside and making it exclusive seeds homophobic attitudes.”

Four key suggestions were: better policing, improving CCTV and lighting, and pedestrianising a street in the area and gating an alleyway regularly used as a cruising spot.

“We’ve been lobbying for both those for the past five years. If it had been the Duke of Edinburgh or the Catholic Church asking, they would have jumped circles.”

Councillor Radford praised the police for their effective service, but was scathing about the suitability of the other recommendations.

“The police is the only body that has made dramatic improvements, especially their hate crimes services. But gating alleyways were people go cruising – that will just move them to the next alleyway, it’s a waste of money.”

He also stressed that three streets should be partially pedestrianised instead of one.

Councillor Radford stressed the fact that Liverpool’s business community – especially hotels – were also concerned about the violence, and losing bright, young workers.

“Thousands are leaving for cities where they feel more welcome, we’re haemorrhaging thousands of artists, entrepreneurs, professionals.

“We need to break the stranglehold, the feeling that ‘they’re gay, what do they expect’ and ‘it’s always been like that’.”