Reports of homophobic crime in the West Midlands have increased, according to new figures.
But officials believe the rise - the West Midlands Crown Prosecution Service has processed 26 cases this year compared with 18 last year - is due to more people coming forward to report hate crimes rather than more taking place.
This month is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender month and sees the launch of a West Midlands CPS action plan aimed at monitoring cases and their progress, and a seminar on Monday on legislation affecting that community.
Jayne Salt, the West Midlands CPS homophobic crime co-ordinator, said: "There have been a growing number of crimes we've processed from March 2005-2006.
" We are noticing an increasing number of cases.
We hope it is an indication of greater confidence in the criminal justice system rather than increasing offences."
Hate crime, she said, was still severely under-reported to police and prosecutions suffered from a larger than normal risk of collapse.
While more than 90 per cent of general cases have a "successful outcome" at court, with hate crimes the figure stands at 71 per cent, as witnesses are more likely to retract statements or fail to turn up at court. In a survey of 2,500 lesbian and gay people in 1999, 66 per cent of them said they had been victims of a homo-phobic incident.
"As a category of hate crime it is under-reported because of the special fears victims have," said Ms Salt.
"Of that 66 per cent, only 18 per cent had reported it and 70 per cent said they would be afraid to report it in the future.
"The main reasons given were lack of confidence in the criminal justice system and the fear of being charged with a minor offence arising out of the circumstances. Another fear is being forced to come out when they are not openly living as a member of the gay community. Also there is the fear of retaliation.
"The other reason is an acceptance of violence and abuse because it has come to seem like the norm."
Many of the cases Ms Salt handles involve lesbian and gay people being the target for abuse as they go into or come out of gay clubs.
"The biggest problem really is encouraging people to report the incident in the first place," she said.
"A lot of that goes back to the time when homosexuality was illegal.
"We can only do that by raising public confidence and building links with the gay community."
Being aware of the heightened sensitivities around hate crimes is one way which Ms Salt thinks confidence in the system can be improved.
"Treating people differently inadvertently or using the wrong terminology is one of the things we can avoid," she said.
"For example some lesbians do not like to be called 'gay' whereas most homosexual men prefer to be called gay and not homosexual.
"The easiest way is just asking how they would like to be addressed." ..SUPL: