Open and Transparent Quality Mark 2016/17 and 2017/18

Having pride in our rich diversity

In her latest blog Alison talks about diversity events across the peninsula and encourages reporting of hate crime

I’ve written countless times before in this column about how we engage with our communities, the importance of reaching all kinds of people and making sure it’s done meaningfully. And, as a new engagement season got under way with Exeter Pride at the weekend, I don’t feel any differently.

In fact, in a time when opinions seem to be increasingly polarised, events like pride and respect festivals which bring people together to celebrate our differences as similarities are so important.

This year marks 10 years of pride in Exeter and I can’t help but think how things have changed in our attitudes as a society in a relatively short period of time. It really wasn’t that long ago that homosexuality was illegal in the UK. Until 1967 LGBT people struggled to be accepted and were treated differently, I still find it hard to believe there are places in the world where loving someone of the same gender remains illegal.

I am very proud of how far we have come as a society in accepting others for who they are and who they want to be with, but there is always more work to be done. Hate has no place in our community.

This year we’ve seen extreme examples of hate all over the world with the attempt to reintroduce the death penalty in Brunei against LGBT people, bombings in Sri Lankan churches and open gunfire at mosques in New Zealand to name a few. And, there are examples closer to home as well – last year a man attempted to start a fire at the synagogue in Exeter. I utterly condemn all these abhorrent acts of violence.

When people choose to target others because of their sexuality, the colour of their skin, their gender, a disability, religious belief or even the country where they are born – community groups, youth leaders, charities, volunteers and many other right minded people will join forces, strengthen their resolve and to call-out those actions. I have seen lots of examples where this is true.

I feel incredibly heartened by the reaction of our communities and those around the world in the face of these horrible attacks. Locally, Exeter showed it would not back down in the face of intimidation as messages of support for the synagogue and Jewish community came in from Exeter Cathedral, from Exeter Mosque, from county hall, from police headquarters and from many other sources.

The message was always the same – tolerance and mutual respect are the hallmarks of a civilised society – behaviour like this will not change our view that we can and should all respect each other in peace.

This is why I will always support diversity events in Devon and Cornwall. So far this year we have 15 of these events scattered across our two counties. Importantly, this year Torbay has a brand new event called Into the Mix encompassing celebrations of faith, race, sexuality, disability and more. This family-friendly event will be colourful, vibrant and will promote understanding between all communities living in the bay.  It’s taking place on Saturday, July 6, on Torre Abbey Green and will be free to attend.

I am so proud to say that my office played a key part in making this happen and in July we will have the biggest celebration of diversity in Torbay for many years. There is still work to do and I know that the police are looking long and hard at how they can help schools, colleges and universities to encourage their students to report hate crime.

Often young people are reluctant to report incidents for fear their concerns will not be taken seriously and the police are committed to working with educational establishments to make sure their staff have the right training to identify and report hate incidents and so they consider reporting a positive thing for their organisations.

If you are a victim of hate crime, or if you know somebody who has been, then please do not be silent. The police will listen to you, you will be believed and the crimes committed against you will be investigated. You can report crime online via the Devon and Cornwall Police website, by emailing 101@dc.police.uk or if you’d rather not speak to the police you can report hate crime via Stop Hate UK.

Alison Hernandez