Two men were injured last weekend after the second homophobic attack in south London in six days, prompting politicians and campaigners to blame a rise in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric.
Michael Smith, 37, a teacher, and his partner, Nat Asabere, 41, a dancer and talent scout, were waiting for a bus on Saturday night in Brixton after attending Black Pride when they were punched repeatedly by a stranger. Smith was left needing stitches to his lower lip and Asabere has suffered headaches since.
The previous Sunday, two men were stabbed just over a mile away in another homophobic attack outside a Clapham nightclub.
Police think it is unlikely that the attacks are connected. In a statement, the Metropolitan police said: “The incident is being treated as a homophobic attack. Officers are keeping an open mind. However, at this time they are not treating this incident as linked to another incident in Clapham High Street on 13 August.”
Asabere told the Guardian that and he Smith were waiting for bus to Soho in central London where they planned to see a drag act. He said: “We were chatting away and there was a guy behind me who obviously overheard our conversation. All of a sudden, he whacked me at the back of my head. Then he started having a go at Michael, slapping him around the face and then punching him on the lip.”
He said the couple escaped a further beating by running on to a bus. When they realised how badly Smith was bleeding, they got off the bus and took a taxi to St George’s hospital, Asabere said.
After receiving several stitches and a tetanus shot, he was told he would be left with a scar. “The scar I will get will not be a negative token but a sign of strength and perseverance,” Smith wrote on a JustGiving page.
Both described the attack as “horrible”.
Asabere said: “It happened so quickly. It was definitely a homophobic attack. He didn’t say anything, but you could tell by the evil look on his face.
“I am not going to let anyone take my sexuality away from me or Michael’s sexuality, we are human beings. It really, really upsets me that this is going on. There are just some horrible and mean people out there. This has to stop. We should be able to be who we want to be. And people need to respect that. We are just living our lives.”
Senior politicians linked the attack to a rise in homophobic comments in the media.
Writing on X, formerly Twitter, Labour’s Ben Bradshaw said there had been a 41% increase in homophobic attacks and a 56% rise in transphobic attacks in the last year. “A direct result of the licence given to transphobes and homophobes by too much of our media and politicians,” he wrote.
The shadow environment secretary, Luke Pollard, said: “My thoughts are with the injured in another homophobic attack in south London. Hate is rising but love is still love.”
In another post on X, Zack Polanski, the Green party’s deputy leader and a member of the London assembly, said: “I left Black Pride on Sunday holding my boyfriend’s hand having had a wonderful day … This couple ended up in hospital because politicians are stoking up culture wars of bigotry when physical violence can be just one step away.”
The former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s Peace and Justice Project said: “The sharp rise in hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people in the UK is the result of the climate created by the government and media who seek to divide our communities.”
And the Scottish National party’s John Nicolson posted: “Politicians and media outlets which stir up transphobia bear a grim responsibility for the upsurge in hate crime.”
Colin Macfarlane, a director at the charity Stonewall, said: “It’s horrifying to see yet another violent homophobic attack on the streets of south London, not even a week removed from the last. LGBTQ+ people deserve to feel safe to go about our daily lives, but incidents like this are on the rise and often in places where LGBTQ+ people congregate. We all need to do our part to challenge the rise in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, so this violence doesn’t become the new normal.”
Police are urging anyone with information about the attack to call 101 and quote reference number 8673/22AUG.