Monday, 19 March 2012

Independent: Hate crime legislation will not privilege gay people
19 February 2012 by Gabi Calleja, Malta Gay Rights Movement

Th.e article by Stephen Calleja entitled "Will homosexuals now be privileged?" (TMIS, 12 February), among other things asserted that introducing hate crime on the ground of sexual orientation would somehow privilege gay people over heterosexuals.

Let us start with the facts. Hate crime legislation already exists in Maltese law. It was transposed into Maltese law as part of the acquis communitaire when Malta joined the European Union in 2004. Currently, this covers the ground of race and ethnic origin. I am not aware of any previous statement by Mr Calleja condemning the introduction of this law claiming that racial minorities are privileged because of it or clamouring for its removal. Then again he might not be aware of it since he claims that the Prime Minister's announcement came like a bolt out of the blue. The implication that 'hate crime' was a term somehow invented by Lawrence Gonzi and not part of equality legislation in all EU countries, 11 of which also cover sexual orientation, is also somewhat confounding.

Contrary to Mr Calleja's claims, LGBT people have always been sceptical of declarations made by politicians since they have been let down time and time again.

What we do value are concrete actions. The Prime Minister's announcement would have been of very little import had it not been accompanied by Minister Chris Said's forwarding of MGRM's proposals to the Attorney General and what seems to be a sincere effort to take this matter forward.

The attempt to portray the discrimination experienced by LGBT people as a figment of their imagination is also deplorable. There is plenty of research to substantiate the claim that LGBT individuals are discriminated against in a range of spheres including education, employment, social security, housing, bars, clubs, restaurants and public spaces such as beaches and their own neighbourhoods. Most of these incidents go unreported and the perpetrators often walk away scot-free. One only has to look at the responses of a number of opinion writers and bloggers, as well as most of the general public, to the bus incident reported recently to conclude that when LGBT people stand up for the right to be themselves and refuse to submit to the double standards that straight people impose on them, they are unlikely to meet with unwavering support and are perceived as a threat to the status quo.

A survey conducted by the MGRM in 2008 found that 35 per cent of respondents avoided holding hands or kissing their partner in public due to fears for their safety while a further 41 per cent did so some of the time. This is not a concern for most heterosexual couples. No one batted an eyelid when Richard Edwards kissed his girlfriend on national television. This simple act is not yet possible for same-sex couples without making a conscious decision. To talk of privileging LGBT people in this context is ridiculous.

The second incident reported in the media that preceded the Prime Minister's announcement remains shrouded in uncertainty, not because it was exaggerated but because the facts are not yet clear and no journalist has so far managed to obtain first hand information from the alleged victims and perpetrators. In any case, whatever the courts may conclude, they cannot be found to be hate crimes since no such legislation on the ground of sexual orientation was in place when the incidents happened.

Mr Calleja alleges that the law should not distinguish between people. There are plenty of situations in which the law does so. Marriage is a clear example. Tax bands are another. So is anti-discrimination legislation in the field of employment, which covers the grounds of race, religion, age, gender, disability and sexual orientation. Should these too be done away with?

Hate crime legislation that covers the ground of sexual orientation will by definition also cover heterosexuals. If a heterosexual couple is attacked in a public garden then this is a crime. If the motive behind the attack is linked to their sexual orientation rather than robbery or random violence, then this will also classify as a hate crime. Similarly, if a gay couple are attacked, hate crime legislation will also come into play if the motive behind the attack can be linked to their sexual orientation. If a gay guy drops a glass of beer on a straight guy, hate crime legislation will only apply if his reaction is deemed to be different to that which he would have had should a straight guy have dropped beer on him. We fail to see the unfairness in this scenario. While such legislation might theoretically grant LGBT people the right to claim that they were victims of hate crime when they are involved in any incident, it is up to the police and courts to assess the merits of such an allegation.

No one is granting any right to same-sex couples to do as they please in public spaces. When a same-sex couple is judged to be acting indecently in public, and deemed by any observer to be breaking the law, the correct response is to call the police and not to take matters into one's own hands.

To conclude, the MGRM strongly supports the extension of hate crime legislation to include the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression and commends the government for taking steps to enact such legislation.

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