By Rachel Savage
LONDON, June 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Violent attacks on two LGBTQ+ couples have focused attention on a rise in homophobic hate crime in Britain amid a heated debate over whether schools should teach children about same-sex relationships.
Lucy Jane Parkinson reported being knocked over by a stone thrown from a moving car while kissing her girlfriend Rebecca Bantavala in the southern city of Southampton, where they were performing an LGBTQ+ play.
The attack on Saturday came less than two weeks after two women were punched and robbed on a London bus in what police called a "disgusting" homophobic assault. One of the victims said the attackers had tried to force them to kiss each other.
Photos of the two women with bloody faces went viral and sparked widespread condemnation on social media.
The number of hate crimes recorded by British police against lesbian, gay, and bisexual people rose 27% to 11,638 in the year to March 2018, according to the most recent official data.
Parkinson said such attacks happened "all the time" and this only made news headlines because the couple were in theatre.
"It needs to stop because there's nothing wrong with us," Parkinson told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Monday, adding the attackers needed education not punishment.
"We want to talk to them," Parkinson said. "What we need to do is re-educate and open up a dialogue and a conversation. That's when we'll make a difference."
Police said the incident was under investigation, but no arrests or charges had been made.
Five boys and men aged 15 to 18 have been arrested over the attack on the bus, London police said in a statement.
The age of those arrested for the London attack showed the need for LGBTQ-inclusive education, said Linda Riley, the publisher of Diva, a magazine for "women who love women", who also gives talks in schools about diversity.
Lessons that teach children about the existence of families with same-sex parents have been the subject of weeks of protests by religious parents in a predominantly Muslim area of Birmingham, Britain's second-largest city.
Some religious parents and faith schools want sex education and teaching about LGBTQ+ relationships to stay optional, with more than 100,000 people signing a petition earlier this year arguing for the "fundamental right" to opt out of such lessons.
"I'm absolutely horrified when I talk to the children how many of them think it's ok ... to use homophobic slurs," Riley said. "After talking and learning about LGBTQ culture they change their minds."
(Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage. Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)