Homophobia was behind one in seven hate crimes recorded in Avon and Somerset last year, figures reveal.
LGBTQ+ rights charities are calling for action to safeguard the community, as hate crimes based on sexual orientation have almost doubled in the last five years in England and Wales.
Home Office data shows Avon and Somerset Constabulary recorded 457 homophobic and biphobic hate crimes in the year to March – 10 fewer than the year before.
It means someone's sexual orientation was a motivating factor in 14% of the 3,351 hate crimes recorded in Avon and Somerset last year.
Charity Galop, which runs an LGBTQ+ hate crime helpline, said the pandemic has fuelled abuse, adding some callers said their attackers believe the outbreak to be a punishment for LGBTQ+ lifestyles.
Leni Morris, the charity’s CEO, said: “Lockdowns brought with them an escalation of abuse from homophobic and transphobic neighbours, with some of our clients experiencing break-ins and yet having few places to flee due to the restrictions.
“Around 70% of same-sex couples avoid holding hands in public for fear of attack, but social distancing has made same-sex couples visible in public – and this has indeed led to attacks.”
She added the crimes have long-term effects on victims, with some changing their behaviour to avoid being targeted again.
The figures show transphobia was a factor in 96 hate crimes recorded by Avon and Somerset Constabulary last year.
Police can record more than one motivating factor behind an offence.
In England and Wales, transphobic hate crimes more than doubled in the last five years, from 1,195 in 2016-17 to 2,630 last year, while sexual orientation crimes increased from 8,569 to 17,135.
The Home Office said that while the biggest drivers behind the rises were improvements in police recording and increased willingness from victims to come forward, the Government "could not be complacent", and a new hate crime strategy will be published this year.
Charity Stonewall says the true scale of hate crimes against LGBTQ+ victims may be much higher, due to many incidents going unreported.
Robbie de Santos, director of communications and external affairs, said the figures must be a wakeup call for addressing LGBTQ+ hate crimes.
He said: “From ensuring that LGBTQ+ hate crimes are properly recorded and prosecuted within the criminal justice system, to training police forces to understand LGBTQ+ hate crime and support victims and survivors, it’s vital that we all do more to tackle violence and hate directed at LGBTQ+ people.”
Excluding figures from Greater Manchester Police, which did not provide data for 2019-20, there were 115,000 hate crimes recorded across England and Wales in the year to March – a 9% rise from 105,000 the year before.
Around three-quarters of hate crimes recorded last year were racially motivated.
In Avon and Somerset there were 2,537 racially motivated incidents, 297 disability-related hate crimes and 135 offences linked to religion.
The Government said it is committed to tackling hate crime and recent efforts include working to improve recording of crime, funding for anti-bullying interventions in schools and producing resources to raise awareness of LGBTQ+ abuse.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “All forms of hate crime are completely unacceptable.
"The cowards who commit them should feel the full force of the law."