BLOG: Sheena-Marie Williams: “IDAHOTB highlights how much more we have to work on”

While the LGBT+ community and its allies across the globe are engaged in daily battles for justice and equality, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia is an annual opportunity to raise our voice together to highlight the violations of the rights of LGBT+ people and discrimination that we as a community still face.

To mark the occasion and shine a spotlight on why homophobic hate crimes occur, we spoke to academic, probation officer and an inaugural LCR Pride Award winner, Sheena-Marie Williams, about her Masters research into the topic.

Sheena, who is a local lead for Pride in Prison and Probation, was awarded the Michael Causer Award for Work to Tackle Hate Crime at the event in September 2019. She was recognised for her research, which attempted to identify why homophobic hate crimes occur and gather more accurate figures of those experiencing it. Crucially, this was also the first ever study about homophobic hate crime that asked heterosexual men for their responses.

“I was shocked that it had not been done before, if I am honest,” Sheena says. “The majority of homophobic hate crime (HHC) perpetrators are male. Therefore, why had no one ever thought to ask them for their views?”

Sheena also had an ambitious target for the scale of her research, aiming for a much larger number of respondents than had previously been achieved.

“At the time it was the largest LGBT hate crime study that solely concentrated on homophobia,” explains Sheena. “Some studies only asked 500 – 1,500 people. I aimed for a much larger sample.”

Through determination and tenacity, Sheena exceeded her goals and collected responses from more than 10,000 people. The research revealed that nine in 10 LGBT+ people had experienced hate crime due to their sexuality on at least one occasion – a staggering 92% of respondents.

The research data also revealed that heterosexual men are significantly more accepting of LGB women, a belief presumed due to the pornography industry, but now scientifically proven by Sheena’s research.

It also generated a list of reasons, garnered from both LGBT+ and heterosexuals, why they think people are homophobic. The most common answers were learned behaviour, social influences, religion, internalised homophobia and a lack of understanding.

Speaking of the importance of research in the fight against homophobic hate crimes, Sheena said: “It is important to continue to demonstrate how it affects victims. We need to use research to highlight the gaps in legislation, to generate new understanding, including why people commit these types of crime.

“Research can also assist in reducing concern and moral panics in our local or national LGBT community and/or support demands for change or to enhance legislation by providing the powers that be with evidence as to why change is needed.

“If one piece of research or engagement assists in changing one person’s perception of hate, meaning they no longer act in this manner or it is prevented to begin with, then each and every piece of research is worth its completion.”

Since her award win in September, Sheena has concentrated her role as a Probation Officer, as a local lead for pride in prison and probation and attended several events for LGBT History Month, including as a panel member for a live-streamed Ministry of Justice discussion.

After a holiday to South East Asia, spending time with her favourite animals, Elephants, in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, Sheena returned to work and the planning of her PhD, which is set to continue on the same lines as her Masters, but with an enhanced focus and larger scale.

“By the time I returned, I had a few weeks to get back into the swing of things at work. Then the pandemic hit. This will have an impact on the time I commence my studies, or will delay when I wanted to commence them. However, it will not derail my PhD.”

While not currently able to share full details of her PhD, which will be world first research, Sheena hopes that, on completion, it will provide a platform to allow greater understanding, change legislation and even have the potential to be a ‘handbook’ to support changes with many different areas of hate based behaviour in the future, including sentencing, judicial reviews and even governmental understanding.

“I am interested in helping to mould policy in the future and fight for changes in the way hate crime cases are presented in court where judges decide if a case is based on hate,” explains Sheena. “I believe if a case has been before a jury, the jury should decide on this factor, along with the accused’s guilt, not the judge.”

While Sheena believes that it is vital to fight against homophobia, transphobia and biphobia every day, she thinks that having IDAHOTB as a specific day to signify this work is helpful.

“It highlights the international awareness of hate crime and international acceptance for those who are LGBTQ+. It also encourages people to spread awareness of this by planning events or fundraisers.

“It is important to have a day to signify that the majority of this world is against homophobia, transphobia and biphobia. This day demonstrates that and allows us to celebrate the freedoms we now have, at times to the detriment of others before us.

“It also highlights how much more we have to work on, to change and fight for what is still needed in terms of these rights, freedoms and equality.”

If you are interested in responding to questions for Sheena’s future research, you can contact her on Twitter @floosiesheena


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