8 Oct 2007

At last incitement to gay hatred to be made a criminal offence

Nearly two years after the heinous murder of 24 year old Jodi Debrowski on 14th October 2005, there has never been a more salient time for Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary to announce that a new offence of incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation will be introduced in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. He added that he would consider similar protections for trans and disabled people. UNISON, LGBT Labour and Disabled Groups have long campaigned for the recognition of incitement to hatred against LGBT and disabled people and this move is more than welcome and overdue.

Whilst many police forces recognise homophobic and transphobic hate crimes against lgbt people, there are have been no specific criminal offences based on hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation and therefore offences are dealt with under the ordinary criminal law.

Jodi Dobrowski was 24 when he was brutally beaten to death in a homophobic attack. His killers were sentenced to murder and ordered to serve not less than 28 years in prison. This was a landmark case in Britain, where Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 was utilised in sentencing the killers. This Act empowers courts to impose tougher sentences for offenses motivated or aggravated by the victim's sexual orientation in England and Wales. But still other murders have taken place. On 30th January 2007, Malcom Benfold, a 57 year oold gay man was beaten to death in Blackpool after suffering severe head injuries. His 23 yeard old murderer, had gone out to gay bash homosexual man and received a life sentence and ordered that he must serve at least 18 years in prison.

On making today's announcement, Mr Straw said "It is a measure of how far we have come as a society in the last ten years that we are now appalled by hatred and invective directed at people on the basis of their sexuality," and "It is time for the law to recognise this."

Some religious groups claim their members could face seven years in jail for expressing their views about homosexuality under the proposed new legislation. The Christian Institute claim that the proposed incitement law restricts free speech, targets Christians and will stifle debate about homosexuality. It objects to the extension of incitement to racial hatred laws to sexual orientation as "homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle. " Christians are already protected from incitement to religious hatred by law. These are the religios groups that held placards up at Pride saying we will all burn in hell and took their children to vigils shouting abuse and showing hatred towards lgb people duting the debate on the goods facilities and services regulations debates.

With the increase in fascism and attacks from the far right all across Europe, there is no better time than now to send a message that incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation will not be tolerated.

For more details of the Governments announcement on the proposals to outlaw incitement of hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation see BBC News.

In memory of Jodi Dobrowski Born 1981 Died 14 October 2005.

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