The Oxfordshire Homophobia Awareness Liaison Team (HALT) was formed in 1998 by members of the gay community who, according to the charity’s website, “felt the police were not treating homophobic hate crime adequately.” Since then, it has developed into a “multi-agency partnership” which works to make Oxfordshire a “safer and more inclusive community for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people”.
However, on 12th December the charity’s future was potentially called into question when HALT chairperson Cheryl Briggs posted on the Oxford University LGBTQ Society’s Facebook wall, saying: “It has been suggested that HALT is no longer needed in Oxfordshire. Can you give your feedback?”
Briggs continued: “The number of reported LGBT hate crimes goes up every year. Someone informed HALT that they have feedback from within the LGBT community in Oxford. First, most had had no experience of hate crime. Second, the LGBT community thought HALT was no longer needed.
“I don’t want to name the individual. It was not a survey as such, this person said they have spoken to a lot of people within the LGBT community and this is what they have found. They have asked for it to be discussed at the next HALT meeting in February.”
This statement came just a few months after the charity conducted a survey of homophobia in Oxfordshire, the results of which indicated that a high proportion of local residents have experienced a homophobic attack.
According to the survey, 40 per cent of people had experienced verbal abuse, with seven per cent reporting physical abuse. Of these two figures, a shocking 85 per cent did not report the incident(s) to the police or to any other agency. Only 33 per cent of those who did report their experiences felt that their case was dealt with fully.
One first-year gay student at Trinity College, who wished to remain anonymous, commented on the issue: “I do think it rather odd that the need for a charity such as this should be doubted, especially in the light of the survey they conducted.
“The results are scary. I had no idea that Oxford experienced such a high amount of homophobic abuse.”
The day after her message requesting feedback, Briggs posted again in the same Facebook group, saying: “Thank you everyone who responded with feedback on the importance of HALT. People want HALT to stay. HALT would like [to] up its profile and presence in Oxfordshire and get the LGBTQ community more involved.”
Speaking to The Oxford Student, Briggs gave her personal opinion on the issue: “Overall I received at least 20 replies from Oxford residents from all walks of life saying that HALT’s presence was necessary,” she said.
“I hope that HALT will be staying, as I believe it promotes public awareness of hate crime against members of the LGBTQ community, and indeed hate crime directed at any individual.”
Oxford University LGBTQSoc President Simone Webb expressed her support for the “continued existence” of the charity. “I think having a local anti-homophobia charity is always important,” she said.