by New Worker
SEVERAL hundred people gathered in Trafalgar Square at dusk last Friday for the third annual Vigil for Victims of Hate Crime to the strains of Offenbach’s Barcarolle, played by members of London’s three LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) choirs (London Gay Men’s Chorus, Pink Singers and Diversity Choir) and the London Gay Wind Orchestra.
The event, organised by 17-24-30 in partnership with the Harvey Milk Foundation, was a commemoration of all the victims of hate crime, whether to do with race, gender or religion but in particular those who have been persecuted for their sexual identity.
And the event marked the second anniversary of the murder of Ian Baynham, an openly gay elderly man who was knocked to the ground and kicked to death by thugs shouting homophobic abuse.
Speakers included Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone, Beverley Smith on behalf of the Disability Hate Crime Network, former Labour London Mayor Ken Livingstone and Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate Brian Paddick.
Elly Barnes, a music teacher, spoke of her work to introduce LGBT awareness into Stoke Newington School and later other schools in the London Borough of Hackney.
LGBT pupils in many schools suffer a miserable time as the butt of homophobic gibes. Barnes began by getting the word “gay” banned as a pejorative and at the same time teaching positive images of gay people and encouraging the celebration of diversity.
Now the school is LGBT friendly and she is spreading the word to other schools, where she encounters teachers who were unaware that the notorious Section 28 (a law banning the teaching of anything to do with homosexuality in schools) has been repealed for many years.
“All schools have a duty to protect young people – so for goodness sake head-teachers, you have no excuses, you have all the legal back-up you need to bring equalities to the forefront of your agenda, in fact you don’t need that as it is just the right thing to do! – do it tomorrow, you will be saving lives,” she concluded.
Another strong speaker was Stuart Milk, nephew of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician in America to seek election and succeed, in California, when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
Milk served almost 11 months in office and was responsible for passing a stringent gay rights ordinance for the city. On 27th November 1978 Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, another city supervisor who had recently resigned but wanted his job back.
Despite his short career in politics, Milk became an icon in San Francisco and “a martyr for gay rights”, according to University of San Francisco professor Peter Novak.
Stuart Milk told the people gathered in Trafalgar Square that LGBT people did not want to be “tolerated” – “a negative word suggesting something unpleasant” – they wanted their diversity and of all kinds of human diversity to be celebrated.
At 8pm there was a two minutes’ silence followed by the reading of a list of names of victims of homophobia.
The event concluded an hour later to the strains of Over the Rainbow.
Similar events were held all around Britain and the world, including a small event at the Occupy the London Stock Exchange encampment at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Mark Healey, organiser of the London event said: “We had a good turnout again this year, although I did expect more people following three high profile attacks in central London. The attack on Philip Salon that left him hospitalised for several weeks, the attack on the barman from Half-way 2 Heaven, and the brutal gang attack on the gay couple holding hands on Charing Cross Road.”