Partygate has been heckling this week – but aside from the ongoing rush over who ate what cake and where, that was also, as it increasingly is, a big deal for desperately dark news.
We had a conviction in the case of Dr Gary Jenkins, who, if you’re not familiar, was brutally murdered in Cardiff’s Bute Park last summer.
An openly bisexual man, Dr Jenkins had apparently gone to the park to meet men, as he often did, when two adult men and a teenage girl attacked and robbed him, shouting homophobic slurs as they did.
He died of his injuries about two weeks later.
The court heard how the trio specifically targeted Bute Park because of its nighttime cruising scene, with one of Jenkins’ attackers calling it a “dirty park”.
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If the details of this attack weren’t scary enough for LGBTQ people to read, a secondary blow came with the words of prosecutor Dafydd Enoch QC, who told the jury in his opening speech: “Preferences (of Dr. Jenkins) would be his undoing. .
“By engaging in this activity he made himself desperately vulnerable and he was an easy target as he wandered around Bute Park.
“By its nature, the activity in which it engaged was risky.”
These comments, based on familiar prejudices about the sex lives of gay and bisexual people – only deviant, slutty, “dirty” – were rightly labeled as homophobic and victim-blaming, but they also raised a broader question about the criminal justice system.
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I’m going to preface this next little nugget with this: I’m by no means an expert on queer history and culture. I’m just a queer person, with queer friends, speaking from my own experience and vast knowledge.
So if what I’m saying is a bit basic, unfortunately, I’m a bit basic myself. Sorry!
This isn’t the main point I want to discuss, but it clearly bears repeating that the sexual and romantic lives of LGBTQ people are often different in character from those of straight people, and – not always, but frequently – necessarily.
If you grew up absorbing the message that your sexuality and/or gender identity is abnormal, a cause for embarrassment, “disgusting” – Section 28 was only lifted in 2003, remember – exploring and becoming comfortable with this part of yourself can carry extra weight with it.
Even if you’re confident enough to be open about it – as I am and as Dr. Gary Jenkins obviously was – feelings can fluctuate. It’s a complicated thing.
(That said, I didn’t know Dr. Jenkins – so please don’t think I’m pretending to explain this obviously much-loved man or his life here.)
Anonymous, casual sex — besides being, you know, fun — allows for pressure-free intimacy. In short: human beings enjoy sex widely, sometimes without strings, and it is deeply normal, beautiful and healthy.
Ideally, this fact would be taken for granted in the year of grace 2022, but we know that is not the case. Our society has a strange relationship with sex in general, and we see this play out in the way sex workers are still treated and talked about.
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What does it mean, then, when the very person working to secure a conviction for a homophobic murder expresses feelings rooted in the same prejudices that motivated the attack? Where do LGBTQ people go when they need help?
Who can we trust?
Because this really isn’t an isolated incident – Watch how the police handled the so-called “Grindr Killer” case.
Stephen Port drugged, raped and killed four young men with GHB (commonly known as “the date rape drug”) in London for 16 months between 2014 and 2015.
He had met his victims on Grindr, a gay dating app, and hired at least one 23-year-old fashion student, Anthony Walgate, as a sex worker.
Port made no particularly clever and elaborate effort to cover up his murders.
In the case of Anthony Walgate, he had simply dumped the young man’s body in the street outside his house and told the police he had just found it there. When the police discovered he was lying, he told them Mr Walgate had overdosed on drugs and no further action was taken.
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Port’s other victims were also dumped a few yards from his home, but again none of their deaths were considered suspicious. It took extensive pressure and research from families and friends of the victims for police to investigate the related deaths.
Anthony Walgate’s mother, Sarah Sak, says police inaction stems from homophobia. She said Hello Brittany recently: “Listening to all the officers, I realized that whatever I did, they wouldn’t investigate.
“Nothing would have made a difference.
“They just weren’t interested.”
As it later turned out, Port had already drugged and raped at least seven other young men, sexually assaulting others. They came forward after learning of his arrest.
An investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct found ‘systemic failings’ in the Metropolitan Police, and an inquest jury ruled last month that those errors ‘probably’ contributed to the victims’ deaths by Stephen Port.
Despite this, no officers were sacked and five of the seventeen disciplined for performance failures were subsequently promoted.
This week also gave us a sickening report from the IOPC documenting racist, misogynistic and homophobic bullying and harassment by officers at Charing Cross Police Station in London.
With that in mind, is it any wonder that around 81% of LGBT people don’t feel comfortable reporting hate crimes they’ve experienced to the police?
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It’s a problem that keeps coming up – whether it’s homophobic attacks, violence against women, or hate crimes based on race, religion or ethnicity – the harms are under-reported and ignored, as many recognize that our current model of justice is more likely to harm them than to help them.
When trying to find solutions to violence, we turn first to the police and prison systems – right now we hear about making misogyny a hate crime, for example.
But when these institutions reveal themselves to be hotbeds of violence and prejudice, how can they solve these problems in society at large?
This is a thorny but vital question.
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