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Gay teen spat at and threatened in the street in Tonbridge

By Tonbridge Courier  |  Posted: August 14, 2012

targets:  Tonbridge couple Simon Bennett (left) and Reece Heron (right) have suffered verbal abuse and been spat at in Tonbridge High Street  TWPL20120806B-005_N

targets: Tonbridge couple Simon Bennett (left) and Reece Heron (right) have suffered verbal abuse and been spat at in Tonbridge High Street TWPL20120806B-005_N

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A GAY man from Tonbridge has spoken out in a bid to halt the verbal abuse he suffers when he walks through the town with his boyfriend.

Shop assistant Reece Heron, 18, says he has been shouted at, spat at, threatened, followed and, in one bizarre example, had a sausage roll thrown at him while with partner Simon Bennett.

The Peach Hall resident told the Courier: "It happens all the time. Me and my boyfriend walk down the High Street holding hands and we get all these eyes and people shouting abuse and stuff. People shout names like 'shirtlifter' and other horrible words.

"I don't know why they find us offensive – it's our lives, not theirs. It makes us feel so hated."

Mr Heron said he and Mr Bennett has been together for three months and rarely encountered the problem elsewhere.

"In Tunbridge Wells it's fine, no-one says a word," he said. "But in Tonbridge it's totally different. It's like that space in between makes all the difference.

"I have other gay friends here who don't really show it – they say to us we are brave for showing it. But it's a normal relationship, why would I want to hide it?"

On Monday afternoon, the Courier accompanied the couple for a walk along the High Street to see the extent of the problem.

In just eight minutes, we counted five examples of what could be termed homophobic abuse, from people simply pointing and jeering to an aggressive verbal outburst by a middle-aged man.

Aged in his 40s, shaven headed and wearing a polo shirt, the man called them "poofters" and gesticulated to the couple from across the street as he demanded: "Come here."

For Mr Heron and 18-year-old Mr Bennett, of Belgrave Road, Tunbridge Wells, this is an all-too-frequent occurrence.

On their way to meet our reporter, they claimed to have been verbally abused three times, with one man in his 20s shouting: "I hope you die of AIDS. Come here, I'll smash your face in."

But the problem is not confined to young men, according to Mr Heron, who aims to leave the town he has called home since the age of seven as soon as possible.

"It's every age from about 11," said the former Hayesbrook and K College student. "We get quite a few old people telling us we are disgusting. We also met two young women pushing buggies who told us we should be ashamed of ourselves. It's constant and it's getting to the point where I fear we might get beaten up.

"If anything did happen to hurt either one of us we would go straight to the police, but with verbal abuse it's hard to do that. We would feel a bit stupid reporting some name-calling."

James Lawrence of lesbian, gay and bisexual charity Stonewall said his organisation had worked hard to make sure the law took homophobic hate crimes and incidents seriously.

He said: "We strongly encourage victims of such incidents to report them to the police. This will help the police to respond and target their work more effectively, and create a safer community for everyone."

Inspector John Phillips said: "There are a range of agencies that offer support to victims of hate crime and we have specially trained officers to investigate hate crime offences.

"I would urge anyone who feels they have been a victim of a hate crime, or who thinks they might have witnessed one, to report it to us and to be confident that we will take it seriously and investigate it sensitively."

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  • jamessands  |  July 01 2013, 2:06PM

    What. A. Joke.

    |   -1
  • jonbon57  |  August 15 2012, 7:29PM

    This is pure harassment and there are laws against such behavior. It is up to the police to be pro-active and identify the perpetrators of this vile bigotry and bring them to justice. It just goes to show you how much straight people take for granted. It is unimaginable that any straight couple would be subjected to such abuse for simple holding hands walking down their local high street. Why are some people so insecure in themselves that they need to vilify others? If this had been racial abuse.......

    |   3
  • jonbon57  |  August 15 2012, 7:24PM

    This is pure harassment and there are laws against such behavior. It is up to the police to be pro-active and identify the perpetrators of this vile, bigotry and bring them to justice. It just goes to show you how much straight people take for granted. It is unimaginable that any straight couple would be subjected to such abuse for simple holding hands walking down their local high street. Why are some people so insecure in themselves that they need to vilify others? Now, if this had been racial abuse...

    |   3
  • Craigthatsme  |  August 14 2012, 5:59PM

    Hasn't the High Street got CCTV? I bet if Inspector John Phillips takes a look, he will see homophobia.

    |   8
  • jjswin  |  August 14 2012, 1:24PM

    This kind of homophobia is not acceptable - a couple holding hands is not rubbing anything in anyone's face. It's 2012 in the UK, for goodness' sake! Well done boys - it might not seem much, but you're helping to normalise 'hand-holding' - something that many gay couples might not feel brave enough to do. Thank you x

    |   22
  • CocteauT  |  August 14 2012, 1:13PM

    Report it to the police. What these people are doing is classified as hate crimes.

    |   15
  • simonton  |  August 14 2012, 9:43AM

    disgusting behaviour from the general public in tonbridge, they really should grow up and realise what life is like out there, rather than shuffling aimlessly up and down that cesspit they like to call a high street

    |   18

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