A 20-year-old man in England was set on fire after being harassed about his sexuality in the early hours of Wednesday morning, according to local media reports.
Four men confronted the man and started following him as he was walking through the grounds of a church in the town of Stockton, The Hartlepool Mail reported. The men reportedly asked him about his sexual orientation before setting his legs on fire.
"He ignored them and continued onto Parliament Street. One of the men then approached him from behind and sprayed an aerosol can at the victims legs which he then set alight, causing burns to the victim’s calves," a policewoman told the newspaper, adding that police are treating the incident as a hate crime.
The men took off after the attack and police are still searching for the suspects. The victim needed skin grafts and is being treated at a nearby hospital, according to the BBC.
Last year, a government report found that hate crimes against LGBTQ people had risen drastically in England and Wales. There were 5,597 hate crimes targeting LGBTQ people 2014–15, according to the report, a 22% increase from the previous year. That could in part be attributed to victims being more comfortable with coming forward, local advocacy groups told The Independent, but it still suggests that LGBTQ people are experiencing many instances of discrimination and abuse.
“It’s shocking that in 2015 many lesbian, gay, bi, and trans people still face violence, intimidation and threats simply because of who they are. These figures show there is still much work to do before everyone is accepted without exception,” a spokesperson for advocacy group Stonewall told the newspaper.
In the U.S., the number of LGBTQ people injured in hate crimes rose from 23% to 31% between 2014 and 2015, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects' latest report. Hate crime homicides committed against LGBTQ people increased 24% between 2014 and 2015. But in America, the report found, the percentage of LGBTQ people who reported to the police after experiencing a hate crime dropped from 54% to 41%.