UK

LGBT equality plan: 'I panic when she reaches for my hand'

LGBT couples describe they feel how holding hands in public puts them at risk of homophobic abuse Image copyright Getty Images

It feels natural, for most people, to reach for their partner's hand or give them a quick peck on the lips in public.

But as some LGBT couples have been telling the BBC, these small acts of love can mean becoming a target of homophobic abuse.

A national survey of 108,000 LGBT people has revealed more than two-thirds avoid holding hands in public.

And 5% reported having been offered "gay conversion therapies".

The government has announced it will now ban "conversion therapy", a move welcomed by the people we spoke to.

Rebecca, not her real name, said that a violent incident in Liverpool city centre a few years ago had left her too afraid to hold her girlfriend's hand in public.

She and her partner, who are 26, were attacked by a group of girls.

"I don't know if that fear will ever go away. I just feel like someone will say something or do something," she said.

"We do kiss or hug in public sometimes but it's rare. It does really upset me but I don't want to ever get used to it because I don't think it should be like this."

Reacting to the announcement of a £4.5m plan to improve the lives of LGBT people, Rebecca said she was sceptical about how committed the government was but glad the issue was being taken seriously.

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Media captionA government survey suggests 40% of LGBT people face abuse

Meanwhile, in Brighton, one of the UK's most gay-friendly cities, Mark Tidmarsh said he never holds hands in public with his husband, who he has been with for 25 years.

"I've had abuse in the street from tourists or groups of lads. I just don't feel comfortable being affectionate in public," he said.

"If parting at an airport or station, we might have a quick kiss but that feels like I'm making a statement. I feel like people think less of me if they see me."

Mark said this may be partly due to his age - at 53, he is part of a generation living with the legacy of experiencing widespread homophobia in the 1970s and 1980s.

Image copyright Mark Tidmarsh
Image caption Mark says he never holds hands with his husband

Seeing younger gay people happily "out" in public and feeling equal to anyone else was "wonderful", he said.

But he added: "I don't have much hope in the government plan, because we had to fight for rights every step of the way. They didn't just hand them over. But I do hope they can ban conversion therapy."

Many people who got in touch said how they behaved in public depended on where they were - urban areas felt safer, whereas more caution was needed in small towns or rural areas.

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Lissy, 25, said she and her girlfriend were frequently honked at by passing cars and some men shouted sexual comments or threats, particularly outside of London.

"People shout, 'Lesbians,' or worse. We will hold hands or kiss in open places, where there are lots of witnesses, but we avoid it when it gets dark," she said.

Lissy was brought up in a small village and when she sees some people there, she has to "fight the urge" to drop her girlfriend's hand.

"When people target us, it reminds me that we're not considered normal. It jolts me, reminding me that I can't be comfortable in public with my girlfriend," she said.

She added that more investment in services for LGBT teenagers was needed, a suggestion that Alex Hall, in Peterborough, agrees with.

Alex, 24, said the man he was currently dating recently asked whether he would be happy holding hands outside the home.

Image copyright Alex Hall
Image caption Alex, from Peterborough, feels less safe there than in London or Cambridge

"It says something that he needed to ask at all," he said.

"My answer is, 'No,' particularly in central Peterborough, which doesn't feel safe. Most straight couples wouldn't even think about having that conversation," he said.

But Alex was optimistic about the future, saying things were improving for LGBT people though he worried about "slip-back".

"We need communities committed to driving progress forwards," he said.

By Georgina Rannard, BBC UGC and social news

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