Spain seeks answers after spate of homophobic attacks
More than four decades after Spain lifted laws that made homosexuality illegal and 16 years after becoming a pioneer in introducing same-sex marriage, an increase in hate crimes has sowed fear in its LGBT community.
The issue was brought to the fore by the brutal murder in July of a 24-year-old man, Samuel Luiz, who died in hospital after being attacked by a mob outside a nightclub in the city of La Coruña, in the northwest of the country.
The Home Office has since reported that hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation increased by 43% in the first half of this year, compared to 2020 (although crime rates were generally low last year, due to the pandemic, hate crime rates have relatively low).
“You now think twice before holding your partner’s hand when you are in certain streets or public spaces,” explains Ronny de la Cruz, spokesperson for the Madrid organization COGAM, which promotes LGBT rights. “It wasn’t that long ago that you didn’t even care about that.
A demonstration against homophobia is scheduled for Saturday in Madrid. Another took place on Wednesday. “I did not come out of the closet to be put in a coffin”, could one read on one of the banners of the protester.
The left-wing coalition government responded by setting up a commission to develop a strategy to combat hate crimes. After his first meeting on Friday, he agreed to take action to tackle the problem within the country‘s police force.
Describing his Socialist Party as “a wall against intolerance”, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez tweeted: “This government is working for a diverse and free country”.
Socialists have been closely associated with LGBT rights. While in government in 2005, they passed a law allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt children, becoming the third country in the world to do so after the Netherlands and Belgium.
Under Sánchez, a new bill was prepared, named after the late socialist gay rights activist Pedro Zerolo. Now awaiting passage by Congress, the bill aims to protect Spaniards from different types of discrimination in various fields.
However, while there has been widespread condemnation of attacks such as the one against Samuel Luiz, the issue has generated a bitter political debate.
Left-wing parties have accused far-right Vox of implicitly encouraging hate crime with its Islamophobic rhetoric and demands to withdraw subsidies from LGBT and feminist groups.
Speaking about the wave of homophobic attacks, Home Secretary Fernando Grande-Marlaska, who served as Spain’s first openly gay senior judge, warned that Vox “is on the borderline of what is appropriate by our standards democratic ”.
The junior coalition partner of the socialists, Podemos, was more vocal in blaming Vox. Accompanying a compilation of comments from far-right party politicians on Twitter, including that so-called same-sex conversion therapy should be allowed and that heterosexual couples should be given priority over same-sex couples when it comes to adoption , Podemos said, “Hate speech creates hate crimes. . “
Vox responded by accusing the left of exploiting hate crime attacks for political gain. He also threatened his accusers with legal action, targeting “everyone from the most anonymous Twitter user to the political activist disguised as a famous journalist.”
News this week that a gay man told police he had been attacked by a gang in central Madrid and tortured with a knife amplified the controversy and sparked the organization of Wednesday’s protest. However, things took a bizarre turn when the alleged victim admitted that he had lied and that the injuries were inflicted with his consent.
Although the protest took place, the revelation was a setback for those campaigning and emboldened Vox, whose leader Santiago Abascal described it as “a crass lie fueled by the government and its media minions. “.
Yet the possible causes of the recent upsurge in hate crimes continue to be a topic of discussion. A claim by Vox that the phenomenon is linked to the arrival of undocumented immigrants has been discredited by government statistics showing that the typical attackers in these cases tend to be Spanish.
Ronny de la Cruz of COGAM says homophobia has become more noticeable since the end of last year. He believes the pandemic was a contributing factor, fomenting the radicalization of young men who spend a lot of time at home on the internet.
Additionally, he highlights the echo chamber effect of social media and its tendency to amplify the views of like-minded individuals.
However, he also blames the right for more traditional media in Spain, which he says has “normalized” political messages identifying the LGBT community as problematic.
“They don’t say ‘Let’s go out on the streets and kill gay people’,” he said. “But what they say is that we are a privileged group and that the legislation concerning us should be lifted and so on. It all has an effect.