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Posts Tagged ‘hate crimes

Free speech, sodomites, and you

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I live in the American south, the land of bigotry, bumpkins, bourbon and yes, Bibles.  Hailing from such a conservative area, “queer” and “faggot” are words I’m deeply acquainted with.  Being told I’m responsible for the decline and fall of Western civilization is as much a part of my daily routine as putting the kettle on or having a shower.  I don’t particularly enjoy any of this, but I recognize the fact that, living in a democracy, the bigots I encounter have every right to express their views.  When possible, I engage said bigots in a constructive dialogue about homosexuality.  Other times I simply stick up a middle finger and continue walking, my head held high.  Living in a democracy, that is my right.

This is the responsibility and burden of democratic societies.  Even odious, hateful opinions can be freely expressed without hesitation and without fear of persecution.  All citizens, regardless of ideology, have a right to speak their minds.

That is, unless Labour has its way. The government is fervently attempting to pass a law which would ban incitement of homophobic hatred, which is odd, considering Parliament passed the same law last year.  In fact, what Labour is attempting to do is delete a protection in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 which reads:

the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.

Labour MPs are attempting to eliminate such language–and with it, any guarantee of religious freedoms–from the Coroners and Justice Bill.  This is a complete violation of the civil liberties of evangelical Christians and conservative Muslims and should outrage all Britons, regardless of sexual orientation.

I’m a gay man, and I’ll be the first to admit that being called a godless sodomite is downright hurtful and utterly offensive.  However, there is no inalienable right (to borrow a phrase from my American heritage) against being offended.  If anything, the inalienable human right is the freedom of expression, to pronounce your views, no matter how atrocious and deplorable, without the fear of persecution.

It’s this right that Pauline Howe, a 67-year-old grandmother, thought she was exercising when she wrote to her local authority, the Norwich Council, complaining about a gay pride parade on the grounds that the “perverted sexual practises” of “sodomites” are responsible for “the downfall of every empire.”  I admit, if I saw Mrs Howe, I would tell her exactly what I think about her opinion and where she can put that Bible.

Because that’s my right, the same as it is Mrs Howe’s right to express her odious views.  Freedom of speech doesn’t just protect those you agree with.  More importantly, it protects the rights of those you disagree with.  The freedom to speak your mind about any deeply held convictions you have, regardless of how offensive they are, is the hallmark of a liberal democracy.  As a human being, you possess an innate right to express yourself.

Any society which begins to legislate thoughts and feelings–no matter how disgusting–is a society dangerously on the verge of losing its liberties.  We look back on the trial of Oscar Wilde, who was prosecuted for “gross indecency” and who had to defend his works against accusations of “perversion” with a level of disgust rightly deserved by such fascist laws restricting one’s ability to love and express the truth within you.  Yet here we are, in 2009, with the shoe on the other foot, doing the same thing.  Only this time, instead of legislating against gays, we’re legislating against Christians, Muslims, and any pious citizen who dares be publicly critical of homosexuality.

Ed West put it brilliantly in his 28 October blog at the Telegraph:

Hating cannot [be] a crime, because it’s an emotion, not an action, and those who wish to make emotions and thoughts criminal are the enemies of freedom and liberal democracy. They are the ones creating a form of theocracy, in which we are punished for thoughts, rather than actions.

Those actions are what we need to be worried about.  As I reported following the assault of James Parkes, the 22 year old trainee cop who was brutally attacked in Liverpool in what police are calling a homophobic hate crime, violence against the LGBT community is on the rise.  Rather than focus on curbing this disturbing trend, Labour is intent on criminalizing speech.  Lord Dear, the crossbench peer and respected former chief constable, wrote in The House Magazine this past July that the judgment of police officers will be severely restricted, should the new law pass:

An officer is bound to record and fully investigate the incident, even if he is pretty sure it will never lead to a conviction.  Such is the wooden, automatic response demanded of our police  officers, who are already dogged by targets and discouraged from thinking for themselves.

What this essentially amounts to is a “boy who cried wolf” syndrome, where the police are busy investigating ever claim made by any offended gay or lesbian person, even if no true hate crime has been committed.  More importantly, it diminishes the effects of true homophobia–the assault on James Parkes, the murder of Michael Causer–which hinders any progress gay and lesbian Britons hope to make.  It is impossible to achieve social equality at the expense of our opponents’ legal equality.    All this does is foster resentment, winning us few allies in the process.

Homophobia is a real issue in Britain.  In a poll published last year in the Observer, 24% of Britons said they would recriminialise homosexual sex.  However, by prohibiting this 24% from speaking their minds, this government is only worsening the situation by ramping up the animosity they feel toward LGBT people.  Not only that, but if they can no longer publicly speak their minds, the gay and lesbian community loses a valuable chance at having a constructive exchange with homophobes and heterosexists, making it that much harder to win the hearts and minds of these people.  Instead, we drive their homophobia underground, where it can pass undetected, festering like an open wound on society.

Currently, in the United States, there is a movement away from pretending we are “color blind” and engaging in a frank, honest discussion about race and racism.  The same can–and should–be done regarding homosexuality and homophobia, but laws such as this make it that much difficult to truly engage in any meaningful conversation.  Without such a conversation, homophobia will continue to flourish.

Perhaps, more importantly, though is the fundamental right all Britons possess.  It wasn’t but a few decades ago that gay and lesbian people were the ones being silenced and oppressed.  Now, Labour is guilty of doing the same thing to those who disagree with homosexuality.  Whatever their reasons, these people feel as strongly in their position as I do in mine, and they should have the freedom to express it openly.  Turnabout is fair play; as I have every right to criticize their religion, they ought to have every right to criticize my sexual orientation.

Restrictions on freedom of speech should concern all free-thinking democrats, as any infringement upon the liberties of our neighbors is a potential infringement upon the liberties we ourselves enjoy.  LGBT Britons know what it is like to be intimidated to speak your most personal truths, and I should hope nobody would inflict such fear on another human being, no matter how vehemently we disagree with them.

I’ll throw Labour a bone and say their intentions are noble, but misguided.  Instead of focusing on criminalizing the words being spoken, we ought to focus on changing the minds being lost.  After all, it was the virtues of democracy, including freedom of speech, that advanced the cause of LGBT rights.


Brown, New Labour fail as homophobic hate crimes increase dramatically

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A month or so ago, I announced my next research project would be on the role Section 28 played in reigniting the gay rights movement in the late 80s. To my chagrin, I was met by two responses from LGBT Britons: a collective yawn coupled with a resounding scoff. I was told Section 28 hadn’t effected anything, wasn’t worth researching, and that there was now no homophobia in the UK. One follower of mine on Twitter went so far as to say the only problems a gay Briton has are ones brought upon himself.

However, for those paying attention this year, the notion that gay Britons are immune to homophobia and violence has been utterly shattered. Last August, 18 year old Michael Causer, of Liverpool, died following a homophobic attack in late July. In November of last year, David Cooper, 28, was beaten to death at his flat in Woolwich after a night of drinking in Soho. Back in March, 59 year old Gerry Edwards and his partner were the victims of a hate crime at their own flat; Edwards died as a result of stab wounds. In July, Edward Highwood, 79, was murdered at his home in Greenwich in what neighbors fear was a gay hate crime. And two weeks ago, 62 year old Ian Baynham was beaten to death in Trafalgar Square after a woman shouted homophobic slurs at him.

Now, in a hospital in Liverpool, trainee cop James Parkes, 22, fights for his life after being beaten by a gang of youths on Stanley Street, the heart of the city’s unofficial gay district. He had been enjoying a night out on the town with his partner and friends.  Police suspect the attack on Parkes, too, is a hate crime.

james parkes

James Parkes, 22, was attacked after a night out with his partner and friends. Police suspect the attack on Parkes, too, is a hate crime.

This disturbing trend in homophobic assaults and murders is something the British public can ill afford to ignore. I fail to understand the absence of a collective outrage. When Jan Moir’s infamous column regarding Stephen Gately’s death appeared in the Daily Mail, Britain erupted in a firestorm of controversy. But though her words were odious and offensive, Jan Moir didn’t actually kill Stephen Gately. Instead, as Janet Street Porter pointed out in her own column in the Mail, being gay did kill a man the week Mr Gately died, but it wasn’t Mr Gately: it was Mr Baynham.

Now, it looks as though we are yet again prepared to turn a blind eye to the blatant homophobia LGBT Britons face. This is a serious national issue which must be addressed. Britain must face the ugliness of its own reflection in order to make change.

For it is not simply hate crimes against gay men which is the problem; indeed, such crimes are only a symptom of a wider issue facing the country. Mr Causer was killed by two teenage men. Mr Cooper was murdered by a 19 year old Algerian asylum seeker. Mr. Baynham was attacked by two female teenagers. And now Mr Parkes fights for his life because of a violent pack of unforgiving youths. All this in addition to 2008’s horrendous epidemic of knife crime, perpetrated largely by teenagers.

Cases like these, as well as those of knife crime victims Rob Knox, Ben Kinsella, and Jimmy Mizen, amongst dozens of others, underscore two paramount needs. First, we must endeavor to understand what about our culture has led youths to see violence—regardless of whether the crime is a homophobic beating or a youth-on-youth stabbing—as socially acceptable. Then we must strengthen laws designed to combat such violence so as they serve not only as a vehicle to punish such offenses, but as a deterrent to their ever being committed.

Ben Kinsella

Sixteen year old Ben Kinsella was stabbed to death last year


On both these counts, Gordon Brown and the Labour government have failed miserably. Since Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, instances of both homophobic hate crimes and knife crime have risen substantially. Though Jack Straw and his ilk insist that Labour is “tough on crime,” every time you open a newspaper you’re hearing of another violent attack perpetrated by a British youth.

Let us not kid ourselves—the policies of this government have a major correlation to the epidemic of violence facing the nation today. If we are completely honest, we will acknowledge that a good portion of these crimes result from the lack of assimilation of immigrants, who often come from impoverished, war-torn areas where violence ins the norm.  Consequently, they live in urban ghettos and find themselves in squalor and poverty. Poverty breeds gangs which breed crime. In attempting to remain politically correct and embrace a multicultural society, this government has neglected the needs of immigrants and created a new class of poor and working poor people, condemning them to live in impoverished slums instead of providing them with the tools necessary to become successful, productive British citizens.

We must then look at why British youths—regardless of race or national origin—are embracing a culture of violence. To this question there are no easy answers. The Labour Government has provided far too lenient of sentences for perpetrators, and its policies of “education” (by showing perpetrators victims of knife crimes in hospital, for example) are a miserable failure. Indeed, many offenders receive little more than a fine after being caught carrying a knife, which hardly bolsters Labour’s claim to be “tough on crime.”

We must also be sure to teach our children to respect differences. In cases like Michael Causer and now James Parkes, homophobia has reared its ugly head. Just as we must accept that the policies of this government have failed, we must also accept that society has failed itself. For too long homophobic slurs have been socially acceptable, and for too long violent images have been allowed to permeate television, films, and video games. Parents must take responsibility for what they allow their children to be exposed to, as well as emphasizing the value of every human life.

Until Britain can honestly address the issues it faces, and until a government is elected that is equipped and ready to handle the problem, the country cannot begin to counter the staggering and alarming increase in violent crime.