London

London bus attack: Arrests after gay couple who refused to kiss beaten

Melania Geymonat (right) and Chris Image copyright Melania Geymonat
Image caption Melania Geymonat (right) and her date Chris needed hospital treatment

Two women say they were subjected to a homophobic attack and left covered in blood after refusing to kiss on a bus.

Melania Geymonat, 28, said the attack on her and partner Chris happened on the top deck of a London night bus as they were travelling to Camden Town.

A group of young men began harassing them when they discovered the women were a couple, asking them to kiss while making sexual gestures.

Four male teenagers aged between 15 and 18 have been arrested.

They are being questioned on suspicion of robbery and aggravated grievous bodily harm.

Speaking about the attack, which happened in the early hours of 30 May, Ms Geymonat told BBC Radio 4's World at One she had previously experienced "a lot of verbal violence".

But she said she had never before been physically attacked because of her sexuality.

Image copyright Sfd
Image caption Ms Geymonat says she has not been able to go back to work since the attack

Ms Geymonat said: "They surrounded us and started saying really aggressive stuff, things about sexual positions, lesbians and claiming we could kiss so they could watch us.

"To ease the situation I tried to make some jokes, like Chris, wasn't understanding because she didn't speak English.

"She even acted as if she was sick... but they started throwing coins. The next thing I know Chris is in the middle of the bus and they are punching her.

"So I immediately went there by impulse and tried to pull her out of there and they started punching me. I was really bleeding."

Asked whether the attack left her less willing to hold hands in public, Chris, said: "I am not scared about being visibly queer. If anything, you should do it more."

But she added: "I was and still am angry. It was scary, but this is not a novel situation."

Det Supt Andy Cox described the attack as "disgusting".

Earlier, police said they were "following up" on CCTV footage of the assault.

Image caption Chris said she still feels angry about the attack

Ms Geymonat added that the gang of at least four men might have broken her nose during the ordeal, and stole a phone and bag from them before fleeing.

Both women were taken to hospital for treatment to facial injuries, but have now been discharged.

Ms Geymonat said one of the men spoke Spanish and the others had British accents.

Bus operator Metroline said there was CCTV footage of the attack and it was co-operating with police.

Prime Minister Theresa May said: "This was a sickening attack and my thoughts are with the couple affected.

"Nobody should ever have to hide who they are or who they love and we must work together to eradicate unacceptable violence towards the LGBT community."

Laura Russell, director of campaigns, policy and research at equal rights charity Stonewall, said the attack also showed "how much we still have to do for LGBT equality".

She said: "Government research found that more than two thirds of LGBT people said they had avoided holding hands with a same-sex partner for fear of a negative reaction from others.

"This attack is a reminder of why."

London mayor Sadiq Khan described the attack as disgusting and misogynistic, while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the assault was "absolutely shocking".

'Sobering reality check'

By Ben Hunte, BBC LGBT correspondent

This attack is a shocking reminder that even in one of the world's most accepting and celebrated cities, there is still work to be done to protect LGBT people from harm.

Figures from 2018 from the Met Police showed that attacks on London's LGBT community have almost doubled since 2014.

Last summer the government launched an LGBT action plan to improve the lives of LGBT people in the UK. Their research found more than two thirds of LGBT people said they had avoided holding hands with a same-sex partner for fear of a negative reaction from others.

As Ms Geymonat mentioned in her Facebook post, the start of June has seen the beginning of LGBT Pride month - a celebration recognised internationally since 1970.

With one of the biggest celebrations due to take place in the capital in just under a month, this is a sobering reality check of why Pride is still needed in 2019.

Siwan Hayward, director of compliance, policing and on-street services at Transport for London, described the assault as "sickening" and "utterly unacceptable", adding that "homophobic behaviour and abuse is a hate crime and won't be tolerated on our network".

Police are appealing for witnesses for the attack which happened at about 02:30 BST on a N31 bus in West Hampstead.

There were 2,308 homophobic hate crimes across London in 2018, compared with 2014 when 1,488 were recorded, according to the Met Police's crime dashboard.

Det Sgt Anthony Forsyth said there had been a "steady increase in the reporting of all hate crime", which was partly due to the "growing willingness of victims to report crime and the improved awareness by police".

Rise in homophobic hate crime

Offences recorded in London

Source: Metropolitan Police

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