A prominent chorister is optimistic that the UK is ‘on the right side of history’ despite rising levels of hate crime aimed at LGBTQ+ people.
Dr Hsien Chew MBE has been encouraged by young people engaged in music whose attitudes are an antidote to ‘bigoted narratives’.
Dr Chew has been able to take the pulse as the founder of Proud Voices, a network of LGBTQ+ choirs across the UK and Ireland.
But he cautioned that community’s fight for inclusion is a ‘continuous journey’ in the face of hate crime and ‘patchy’ wins.
Dr Chew, 50, spoke to Metro.co.uk to mark Pride month, which celebrates the community and the pivotal moment of the Stonewall riots in June 1969.
He will be joining the Pink Singers charity from London for a major parade due to bring sound and colour to the heart of the city on Saturday.
‘Inclusion for LGBTQ+ people is not a destination but a continuous journey,’ Dr Chew said.
‘While we have come a long way as a society there is still a long way to go.
‘An easy assumption to make is that cis gay men have now achieved a high level of societal acceptance, but peel back the veneer and underneath, the statistics reveal that homophobic hate crime is on the rise.
‘That it is under-reported, should come as no surprise given the recent inquiry which concludes that the Metropolitan Police are institutionally racist, sexist and homophobic. In addition, any wins for the diverse LGBTQ+ community have been patchy at best. For many under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, the changes can never be extensive or fast enough.
‘In some cases, it feels like we have been forced to take a step back.
‘Transphobic hate crime is surging, fuelled by the bigoted narratives promoted by some celebrities and parts of the press, and the backtracking of the government on reforms to the Gender Recognition Act.
‘It is no wonder that trans respondents in the most recent census have a markedly low life satisfaction when compared to the general population.’
Dr Chew’s comments are supported by Home Office figures showing sexual orientation hate crimes in England and Wales rose by 41% to 26,152 in the 12 months to March 2022. Offences recorded against transgender people rose by 56% to 4,355 over the same period.
Dr Chew, from Marylebone, London, has previously called for a more inclusive and tolerant society, including urging King Charles III to break with the royals’ traditional ‘reticence’ and speak out in support of the LGBTQ+ community. He spoke a few months after attending Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral in Westminster Abbey last September.
The chorister was invited along with around 200 others who were recognised in Her Majesty’s birthday honours in June 2022, where he was honoured for his services to the LGBTQ+ community.
‘Amidst all of the current gloom, however, light glimmers,’ he said.
‘There is an increasing awareness that conforming to societal expectations is no longer compulsory, and the act of questioning the straight jackets of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression leads to other assumed norms being challenged.
‘In that sense then, we are all a little “queer” whether or not we identify as being part of the LGBTQ+ community.
‘I am reassured by the young people I have met in our choirs. For many, labels are increasingly irrelevant: they understand the pitfalls of normativity, value fluidity and celebrate that queerness in themselves and in others.
‘It makes me optimistic that we are on the right side of history.’
Dr Chew hailed Pride month as the first celebration able to get underway with a full programme since the pandemic. In London, the festivities culminate with the rainbow-hued parade involving more than 600 LGBTQ+ community groups making its way through the city next Saturday.
‘The previous few years have been a time of trauma for all choirs, with an initial ban and then subsequent hurdles to both rehearsals and performances due to the pandemic,’ Dr Chew said.
‘We have barely had time to recover from what was truly an existential crisis, and it is natural that the focus for ourselves is on healing, ensuring physical and psychological safety, and nurturing growth.’
Dr Chew highlighted the more serious issues that underlie Pride, which has different meanings depending on the choir and location.
‘Several choirs in smaller towns, for instance, are part of the bedrock upon which Pride marches and festivals are built,’ he said.
‘Historically, many of our choirs trace their roots to gay liberation and the HIV/AIDS crisis, reflecting how music has always been used to mobilize a community. Their crucial visibility lets people know that LGBTQ+ people are everywhere. In metropolitan centres, and where Prides are more well-established, the discussion becomes more nuanced.
‘In London, for instance, there is justified anxiety about the commercialisation and pink-washing of Pride festivities, about whether enough has been done to include those who are marginalized even within our own community, about whether the current celebratory Pride adequately reflects its more radical political origins, and about more general concerns such as sustainability and security.’
Dr Chew also wants to promote what he describes as ‘intersectionality’ within the diverse LGBTQ+ community.
‘We are especially interested in building spaces which incorporate gender and racial diversity, in which trans people and people of colour can feel a sense of belonging,’ he said. ‘These individual choirs often take this message to their Pride committees and partner organisations to seek assurance that these values are addressed.’
The July 1 event includes Pride’s Got Talent, the annual parade, and a new human rights forum. One of the highlights of the rainbow month takes place with Stonewall also warning that hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people ‘have risen dramatically in the past few years’.
The antecedents of Pride show how such intolerance was confronted at another point in history when police raided the Stonewall Inn in New York.
The ‘public morals division’ descended on the gay bar to enforce ‘vice’ laws but hundreds resisted arrest and protests ensued.
Do you have a story you would like to share? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org