LGBT self-defence workshops gaining popularity as hate crimes continue to rise

Organisers of self-defence classes for LGBT+ people say they have noticed a “substantial increase in demand” as the rate of hate crimes continues to rise.

Martial arts like Krav Maga and jiu-jitsu are reportedly being tailored to members of the LGBT+ community, who face a heightened risk of physical attacks out in public.

Some workshops, such as Shaan Saar in Orlando, Florida, were established as a direct response to attacks against the LGBT+ community.

The group was founded after the 2016 mass shooting at Pulse gay nightclub, which killed 49 people. Its instructors teach Krav Maga, a self-defence technique used by the Israeli Defence Forces.

“Krav Maga was actually created for this very purpose during World War II, as a way for those persecuted during the Holocaust to resist, protect themselves and survive,” the group’s co-founder Renee Rose told NBC.

“What we teach at Shaan Saar is specifically adapted for the LGBT+ community, women and violent crime survivors – those who experience hate crimes and need something that goes beyond what martial arts schools are capable of teaching.”

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Courses are specifically designed to “address the neurobiology of an attacker” and have been developed alongside trained trauma therapists to offer compassionate, superior quality instruction.

Transgender people in the US are at particular risk of violence, with 19 trans people known to have been murdered so far this year. Almost all the victims were transgender women of colour.

“The community wants to be proactive and not wait for the worst-case scenario,” Rose said. “It’s a practical preparedness, and the classes and events we host have become increasingly popular, especially as trans crime continues to rise.”

LGBT+ violence is also on the rise in Brazil after “proud homophobe” Jair Bolsonaro became president in 2018. Rio de Janerio’s Piranhas Team, a self-defence group started by LGBT+ activists, noticed a significant uptick in members after the election.

Founder Halisson Paes told NBC: “We used to have two classes with about 10 people in each. After the elections, this number increased to five classes, also with about 10 people in each.”

study recently published by the Brazilian Forum of Public Security found that LGBT+ murders rose from 99 in 2017 to 109 last year. A separate study by Grupo Gay da Bahia put the number closer to 320.

Paes believes self-defence classes create a sense of empowerment that “stops people feeling hostage to fear”.

LGBT+ activists protesting against the then-presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who led an aggressive campaign against Brazil’s LGBT+ community (Cris Faga/NurPhoto/Getty)

“People don’t want to be helpless in the face of rising violence,” he said. “Violence against LGBT+ people in Brazil has increased as hate and prejudice have proliferated – this has increased the fear felt by LGBT people.”

Techniques like jiu-jitsu that use the attacker’s strength against them are becoming increasingly popular, according to Ronan Winters of the UK’s only LGBT-dedicated martial arts club.

The studio, Ishigaki Jujitsu, seeks to give LGBT+ people the confidence and tools to protect themselves in potentially dangerous situations.

The club’s website says it promotes a “safe and tolerant environment” for LGBT+ people, noting: “It’s not as safe out on the streets of London as any of us would like.”

Winters said: “People are quite often surprised that a LGBT+ martial arts club exists at all. We frequently get people saying to us they would have joined years ago if they had known it existed.”