Many gay and lesbian people in South West England are living in constant fear of discrimination and abuse, according to a regional survey by a local LGBT charity.

According to figures published by Equality South West (ESW), based in Taunton, at least one in eight LGBT people have been subject to some form of abuse in their workplace. The report also says that several move home, or between jobs, in order to avoid being harassed or targeted in anyway, while others take up self-defence lessons in order to ward off the threats of violence in the streets.

A spokesperson for the charity, Brenda Weston, said that the figures would have been higher were it not for the fact that LGBT people do not prefer to reveal their sexuality at work. “Many of the responses paint a disturbing picture of the degree of prejudice that is still evident in much of the South West. That people feel obliged to move house, move job or even take up self-defence lessons simply to avoid or deal with harassment shows there is a lot of work still to be done in our so-called tolerant society,” she added.

Ms Weston spoke of a transgender man in a hospital who overheard nurses talking about ‘non-essential surgery’ and ‘uncharted territory,’ and of other cases when no appropriate action followed from the management after reporting harassment and abuse at workplace.

The survey, titled Pride, Progress and Transformation, is the result of a six-month study by the charity. It received more than 350 responses, making it the largest of its kind in the region. The charity is calling on employers to be aware of their duties under the existent equality laws, and to do their utmost to protect their employees from harassment and abuse in the workplace.

But the problems of harassment are not confined to workplaces, with only 60 per cent of respondents saying they felt “very safe” in their own homes, and one in six reporting some form of abuse in their local areas. More than two-thirds of the respondents had experienced physical or psychological abuse in the previous two years, but had not reported it to anyone. Of those who did report it, however, two thirds said they were happy with the response.

Exeter played host to one of the largest gay pride parade in the region yesterday, and the celebrations are meant to last through the weekend.