Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A chance to outlaw homophobic hatred

The Parliament is one step away from finally placing homophobic hatred on a par with racism or religious hatred. Fergus Shanahan in the Sun doesn't like that.

Some may recall the homophobic campaigns run by the Sun in the not-so-distant past, including that of labelling HIV 'the Gay Plague' and the one about the 'Gay Mafia running the country' in 1998. You may also recall the Sun's false allegations about Elton John. They only stopped when they were forced to pay £1m in damages. Overall, they did more to stigmatise gay people and those with HIV than any other publication in Britain.

It's no surprise then that Fergus Shanahan, their most right wing columnist, is lashing out at the currently debated Coroners And Justice Bill. Some MPs are lobbying to include Clause 58 - which would extent the offence of incitement to hatred to the area of sexual orientation, placing homophobic hatred on a par with the areas of racism or religious hatred.

Shanahan is being deliberately misleading. Even though the promoters of the Bill have repeatedly clarified that Clause 58 will not be aimed at those who tell jokes, Shanahan dribbles that "Labour are bringing in a law to ban comedians from any politically-incorrect behaviour that might offend gays", with the added populist touch that "[f]or Matt Lucas, there will be NO more gays in the village".

Except that Shanahan is talking bollocks. Unison and Stonewall, both campaigning for the legislative protection against homophobic hatred, explain that the new offence "will only refer to acts of serious hatred against individuals" with regard to their sexual orientation and "with a high threshold for prosecutions which must be approved by the Attorney General and heard before a jury".

The Crown Prosecution Service recently confirmed a new rise of homophobic hate crimes across the UK.

Look at the words spouted by some fundamentalist Muslim hate preachers like Abdul Muhid or Arshad Misbahi who openly call for the murder of homosexuals. Look at all the ‘murder music’ songs inciting the killing of 'queers' by individuals like Buju Banton, Beenie Man and Bounty Killa, all encouraging and glorifying the shooting, burning, hanging and drowning of gay and lesbian people. They are sold in record shops and aired on the radio.

Would the same approach be allowed if people incited violence against black or Jewish people? Would Shanahan and his Tory mates in the House of Lords cry foul on the basis that innocent jokes and "gentle comedy" were at danger of being banned? Would they clutch at 'freedom of speech' in the same way?

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