“The government is thwarting attempts to amend the Equality Bill by allowing only one day for MPs to debate the entire legislative proposal. It is cutting short the democratic process to force through legislation that denies LGBT people protection against harassment,” said Peter Tatchell of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) human rights group OutRage!
He was commenting ahead of the Report Stage of the Equality Bill, which is today, Wednesday 2 December.
“Many concerns about this bill, including the exemptions granted to religious bodies, will not be adressed,” warned Mr Tatchell.
“The government is using parliamentary bulldozer tactics to ensure that the concerns of the LGBT community are overridden. They may not even be discussed.
“The Equality Bill is far from equal. It discriminates against LGBT people.
“While guaranteeing protection against harassment to other vulnerable social groups, it denies this protection to LGBT people. We are explicitly excluded from the anti-harassment clauses of the bill – clauses 28, 32, 33, 34 and 82 (see below).
“There is no 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. 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 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, also 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.
“”The government claims that it consulted widely and that no one offered any evidence that harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation was serious problem that needed to be included in the bill. This is not true. The government consulted only with the lobby
group Stonewall, which does not deal with individuals suffering homophobic harassment. It failed to consult the two LGBT organisations that assist most victims of harassment: GALOP and OutRage! We have plenty of casework evidence to show that anti-gay 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.
OutRage! is not alone. Members of the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, such as Evan Harris MP, support extending the anti-harassment protection in the Equality Bill to cover sexual orientation and gender reassignment.
“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 school authorities 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.
These failures are 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!