In Britain today, homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic hate crime remains a very real problem.
In fact, Stonewall’s LGBT in Britain: Hate Crime and Discrimination (2017) report found that one in five LGBT people experienced a hate crime or incident because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in the last 12 months. Alarmingly, this figure rises to two in five for trans people.
Plus, these figures are on the rise. We know from the same report that the number of lesbian, gay and bi people who have experienced a hate crime has risen by 78 per cent since 2013. What’s more, these statistics may be the tip of a very large iceberg: we also learned that four in five LGBT people who have experienced a hate crime or incident didn’t report it to the police. This is likely for reasons such as not thinking it would be taken seriously or because abuse has become part of their everyday lives.
Despite these concerning numbers, current and previous governments have acknowledged the significance of hate crime and taken steps to protect those at risk. In 2003, the Criminal Justice Act was passed, which allowed judges in England and Wales to increase the length of a sentence when it could be shown that the perpetrator was motivated by hostility towards a person’s actual, or perceived, identity. More recently, in 2016, the government published a Hate Crime Action Plan, a vital document outlining new methods for dealing with hate crime in England and Wales and reducing its occurrence in the first place.
However, despite this progress, current legislation remains patchy. In Scotland, criminal offences motivated by prejudice against sexual orientation and transgender identity can be charged as hate crimes, but LGBT people are not protected from hate speech under the law. Stonewall Scotland is currently lobbying the government to strengthen hate crime legislation for LGBT people so that they are protected from the stirring up of hatred.
In England and Wales, while sexual orientation, race, religion, disability, and transgender identity are recognised as the five hate crime strands, there are varying levels of protection for each strand. For example, hate crimes based on sexual orientation, transgender identity, and disability carry a lower maximum sentence than those based on race and faith.
Clearly, current legislation doesn’t go far enough to protect LGBT people. However, after extensive lobbying from organisations such as Stonewall and the anti-LGBT violence charity Galop, we were delighted when the UK government asked the Law Commission to review current hate crime laws in England and Wales, starting in 2018.
This much-needed review provides a real opportunity to address the longstanding ‘hierarchy of hate’ in the current legal framework. We will respond to the public consultation later this year and will urge the government to respond to the Law Commission’s recommendations in a timely manner. Our goal is to ensure that hate crimes targeted at LGBT people are classed as equally serious as those based on race or faith, so that LGBT people are properly protected under the law.
We have made incredible progress toward LGBT equality over the last 30 years, but the fight is far from over.