More than eight out of 10 gay people in Northern Ireland have suffered verbal or physical harassment, new research has revealed.
Neil Jarman, Institute of Conflict Research
A report by the Belfast-based Institute for Conflict Research found that "homophobia and discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people is still regarded as normal and justifiable by many in Northern Ireland.
"For many it is still a respectable and acceptable prejudice."
The report, published on Tuesday, showed that 82% of gay people had suffered harassment.
It also suggested that more than half of those questioned had been the victims of violence.
In the past six years, five gay men have been murdered in Northern Ireland but the report showed that many homosexuals were reluctant to seek police assistance.
"Just 42% of those who experienced harassment had reported it, partly because of a belief that officers were homophobic themselves," the report said.
Neil Jarman, acting director of the Institute for Conflict Research, said he hoped the report would now be acted upon.
"There is a need for a broader debate around homophobia within Northern Ireland, to recognise the issue as a serious and significant problem and to recognise that it is something that needs to be addressed not just by the police service, not just within the education system but within all sectors of society," Mr Jarman said.
Based on a survey of 186 people, the report claimed that most of incidents were carried out by groups of young men in their teens or 20s.
It called on the government to initiate a campaign aimed at raising awareness about homophobic violence.
One suggestion was the setting up of a new task force to deal with the issue.
The report also called for the inclusion of homophobic harassment in any new hate crime legislation.
It also called for increased training for police officers and people working in the public sector to reduce homophobia.
Inspector Robin Dempsey of the PSNI Community Involvement Branch said that while there had been increased training on gay-related issues, it would be impractical to bring 9,500 officers into the classroom.
"We have minority liaison officers in every police area and they received training last year on sexuality awareness and will pass it on," he said.
He added that the force had clear guidelines for officers to follow in recording homophobic incidents. It was also developing a cultural awareness guide which
highlighted gay issues.
"I'm not saying we are doing all we can," he said.
"We are certainly aware there needs to be more done but you can't take every police officer out of the street. It isn't practical."