Merseyside Police and the Police Commissioner have united to urge people to speak out against hate crime at the Force's annual LGBTI flag-raising ceremony ahead of the annual International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT) on Tuesday, May 17.
IDAHOT, as it is commonly known, is held around the world on May 17 to commemorate the day in 1990 when the World Health Organisation finally removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.
For the 8th consecutive year, Merseyside Police raised the rainbow flag, sometimes known as the ‘freedom flag’, on Friday morning at 10am at police headquarters, as well as police stations in Liverpool, Wirral, Sefton, Knowsley and St Helens.
The flag, which has been a symbol of gay and lesbian pride since the 1970s, was lifted at a ceremony in front of representatives from Cheshire Constabulary, Homotopia, Royal Navy, the Police and Crime Commissioner, the Armistead Project, the Michael Causer Foundation, the Black Police Association and the Anthony Walker Foundation.
The event was also used to launch a Merseyside Police LGBT Allies programme aimed at supporting LGBT colleagues and putting the needs of the LGBT community at the heart of policing.
An LGBT Ally is someone who supports LGBT colleagues and puts the needs of the LGBT community and victims at the heart of policing. They will carry out a number of roles, including signposting staff who require support, and attending and promoting LGBT events.
The theme for IDAHOT 2016 has been selected as ‘Mental Health and Wellbeing’, to highlight and challenge the widespread characterisation of sexual and gender diversities as mental health issues. Mental health diagnosis can contribute to the stigmatisation and social exclusion of LGBT people, and affect their mental wellbeing.
Merseyside's Police Commissioner Jane Kennedy said: “In a world where homosexuality is still illegal in more than 75 countries and many gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people still live with oppression every day, the effect of hoisting the rainbow flag and seeing it fly proudly over Merseyside Police headquarters should not be underestimated. Flying the freedom flag is an act of solidarity, of support and of comradeship.
“It sends out a powerful message that Merseyside Police are committed to equality and diversity and, from the very top, recognise the needs of Merseyside’s LGBTI community and their own LGBTI staff. The Force’s LGBT allies programme is further evidence of this and I am delighted to be attending the launch.
“It’s my hope that by making such a visible statement every year, a powerful message is also sent out to the LGBTI community that Merseyside Police take incidents of hate crime very seriously, that they will investigate and they will prosecute those who have carried out acts of hate.
“If, for any reason, a person does not feel comfortable contacting Merseyside Police directly, I would urge them to contact Stop Hate UK. Stop Hate are an independent charity who offer support and guidance 24/7 to anyone affected by hate.”
Merseyside Police Deputy Chief Constable Andy Cooke said: "Flying the rainbow flag is an important visible sign of the police’s dedication and commitment to eradicating homophobia, transphobia and hate crimes against members of these communities.
"This forms part of our larger commitment to tackling hate crime in all its forms and we want the message to be clear to victims and offenders that offences targeting disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or Trans people will not be tolerated by Merseyside Police.
“Merseyside Police is continually striving to raise awareness of hate crime in all of its forms. We would always encourage victims and witnesses to report hate crimes to our specialist SIGMA hate crime investigation units who will treat each case with professionalism and sensitivity and provide on-going support as their case goes to court.
"The rainbow flag signifies pride, inclusivity and diversity and we are proud to be working closely with other agencies to change attitudes and promote differences while ensuring we treat all people fairly and equally in the communities that we serve."
The Deputy also urged anyone who, for any reason, did not want to contact the police to get in touch with Stop Hate UK. Stop Hate are a national charity who have been funded by the Police Commissioner, Jane Kennedy, to provide independent help and support 24/7 to all victims of hate crime.
Detective Constable Tracy O'Hara, who chairs Merseyside Police's LGBT network, added: "The fact that Merseyside Police are raising the flag again shows our commitment to eradicating hate and prejudice, it is part of our annual calendar and I am proud to work for an Organisation that makes a visible statement, year in year out.
"We are also very pleased to announce the Merseyside Police LGBT Ally programme, which will be a means of encouraging colleagues to be visible in their allegiance, raising the profile around LGBT matters within their workplace.”
Anyone with information on hate crime is asked to call in the Liverpool SIGMA team on 0151 777 4896 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111, or Stop Hate on 0151 343 4025. If you wish to speak to an LGBT member of staff, contact the network on 077 646 21 430 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
You can take part in the conversation on IDAHOT day next Tuesday using the hashtag #@may17IDAHOT