Councillors in the East London borough of Tower Hamlets say that the public gallery in the council chamber is becoming increasingly filled with supporters of Mayor Lutfur Rahman, who are shouting homophobic abuse.
Writing in his Telegraph blog, Andrew Gilligan said that the borough are coming to know the hecklers as “‘Lutfur’s crew’ or ‘Lutfur’s army’ – and they appear to specialise in a particular form of abuse towards the Mayor’s opponents.”
Mayor Rahman, who was elected last October, was previously thrown out of the Labour Party owing to his connections to the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), an extremist Muslim group.
Speaking to Mr Gilligan, Councillor Peter Golds said: “It has started really since the mayoral election . . . beforehand there may have been the odd comment, but never anything like this . . . it is horrible, absolutely bloody awful.”
Councillor Golds confirmed to Mr Gilligan that he had been a victim of homophobic verbal abuse from spectators in the public gallery at the council’s abortive budget-setting meeting on February 23. He said: “A prominent supporter of Lutfur Rahman with a very distinctive voice kept calling out ‘Mrs Golds! Mrs Golds!’ when I spoke.”
He also said another Rahman supporter had called him a “poofter.”
On LabourList this week, Councillor Rachael Saunders said that Mayor Rahman has refused to condemn the abuse. In some respects this is not surprising, as he is still allied with the IFE, of the hardline East London Mosque, which reportedly gives a platform to homophobic preachers, one of who staged a ‘Spot The Fag’ contest at the mosque back in 2007.
Mr Gilligan wrote: “I’ve seen Lutfur’s little helpers in action a few times myself. On polling day in October they hung around in large groups outside several polling stations, and you had to run a gauntlet of them to vote. I overheard one of them scolding a Bengali woman voter for her ‘improper dress’. They were also present in force at the last council meeting I attended, in October – aggressively, though not at that stage, homophobically, heckling.”
Earlier this year, stickers quoting the Koran appeared around Whitechapel district of Tower Hamlets declaring it a “gay-free zone”. The East London Mosque and the Mayor Rahman later condemned the stickers in a joint statement with a local interfaith forum and a gay group, stating that matter was being treated as a homophobic hate crime.
Police had received ten reports of homophobic or transphobic incidents in Tower Hamlets by the middle of February this year. Seventy-four were reported in 2010.