Anti-harassment clauses exclude sexual orientation
London – 1 December 2009
“The Equality Bill is far from equal. While guaranteeing protection against harassment to other vulnerable social groups, it denies this protection to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. We are explicitly excluded from the anti-harassment clauses of the bill, clauses 28, 32, 33, 34 and 82,” said Peter Tatchell of the LGBT human rights group OutRage!
He was commenting ahead of the Report Stage of the Equality Bill, which is tomorrow, Wednesday 2 December.
“The government is promoting legislation that discriminates against gay people and it is thwarting amendments by allowing only one day for MPs to debate the entire Equality Bill,” added Mr Tatchell.
“This bill denies protection against homophobic harassment by school authorities, by the owners and managers of properties and by the providers of services. Similar harassment is outlawed on the grounds of age, disability, race, sex and, in some instances, on the grounds of gender reassignment. But in no case does the legislation offer protection against harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation.
“This omission gives a green light to homophobes. Under this proposed law, they won’t face sanctions for anti-gay harassment.
“The Equality Bill is supposed to harmonise and standardise all equality laws, so that everyone has the same rights and protection. Sadly, it perpetuates discrimination based on sexual orientation and, in the case of schools, on the grounds of gender reassignment.
“Since this bill was intended to ensure comprehensive legal equality, all forms of harassment should be covered by its clauses. There should be no exemptions.
“Contrary to claims that it consulted widely, the government failed to consult the two LGBT organisations that assist most victims of homophobic and transphobic harassment: GALOP and OutRage! We have plenty of casework evidence to show that homophobic harassment is a significant problem and that it should be specifically outlawed by the Equality Bill.
“Government Ministers Harriet Harman and Maria Eagle justify the exclusion of LGBT people from the anti-harassment clauses with the argument that we are protected under general anti-harassment legislation. However, the same general protection exists for other vulnerable communities, yet they are included in the bill. They get double protection. Why?
“Labour is specifically excluding harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation. This differential treatment is wholly unjustified.
“There are broad anti-harassment laws that protect women, black, elderly and disabled people, yet these social groups are also explicitly protected under the anti-harassment provisions of the Equality Bill, while LGBTs are not. Why the double standards? What happened to the level playing field and equal treatment that was promised when this bill was first tabled?
“The government seems to be saying that a gay person who is homophobically harassed can secure protection under general anti-harassment law, but if an ethnic minority person is racially harassed they should be protected under both the general laws against harassment and, in addition, under the Equality Bill. Labour is creating a two tier legal system and denying equal protection to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
“Members of the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights support extending anti-harassment protection to cover sexual orientation and gender reassignment.
The JCHR report is here:
“LGBT organisations like School’s Out are campaigning against homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools, some of which is perpetrated or tolerated by school staff, according to a Stonewall survey of LGBT pupils.
“By excluding protection against harassment in schools on the grounds of gender reassignment and sexual orientation, this legislation is sending a signal to schools that the harassment of LGBT pupils need not be taken seriously.
“Exempting schools from the anti-harassment clauses is particularly shocking and unforgiveable, given the widespread bullying of LGBT pupils. We urge the government to amend the Equality Bill immediately.
“The Equality Bill has the overall good intention of harmonising and equalising all equality laws, to create a level legislative playing field. But this positive goal is undermined by the anti-harassment exclusions and is compounded by the government’s anouncement in November that faith schools will be allowed to teach sex and relationship education in accordance with their own religious values, which often include the idea that gay people are sinful, unnatural, immoral and inferior human beings.
“Such values reinforce homophobia, which can lead to homophobic harassment and discrimination,” said Peter Tatchell of OutRage!
The discriminatory clauses of the Equality Bill:
Clause 28 – Provision of services – Ban on discrimination, harassment and victimisation (denies protection against harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation).
Clauses 32, 33 and 34 – Disposal and management of premises by landlords and freeholders etc. – Ban on harassment (denies protection against harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation).
Clause 82 – Schools – Ban on harassment (denies protection against harassment on the grounds of both sexual orientation and gender reassignment).
OutRage! – The LGBT Human Rights Campaign