Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Coalition on Sexual Orientation

  The Coalition on Sexual Orientation (CoSO) was established by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) groups in Northern Ireland in order to provide a voice for the LGBT Community in debates and consultations surrounding the rights of the community.

  CoSO is a coalition of organisations that represent and provide services to the LGBT community and is open to any organisation, whether organised across Northern Ireland or in a particular region of it, as well as to individual members of the LG8T Community.

  CoSO aspires to represent the LGBT Community on issues around sexual orientation. CoSO acts as an umbrella body with which public authorities may consult in order to fulfil their statutory duty under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (c.47) to promote equal opportunities irrespective of sexual orientation. CoSO seeks to ensure that the concerns of the entire LGBT Community are adequately articulated and acted upon.

  The issue of homophobic harassment and violence has become widely recognised as a problem endemic within society, especially over the past couple of years. There is a misconception that hate crimes main outlet is through violence, but the issue is a much more widespread and varied subject than extremely violent assault. It includes diverse forms of assault, verbal abuse and bullying. It also takes place in many different places such as "homes, in the street, in the workplace, in schools and in social settings. Homophobic harassment can have a pernicious effect on the victim's sense of self, their confidence and their health." Jarman, N. An Acceptable Prejudice, p 5, ICR, 2003.

  Indeed Jarman continues to state that `Homophobic harassment has also been described as "the last acceptable prejudice." Jarman, N. ICR, 2003 and accentuated this by naming the report "An acceptable prejudice".

  A report produced by The Equality Authority in the Republic of Ireland in 2002, Implementing Equality for Lesbians gays and bisexuals, stated that violence motivated by "hate" is "personal and targeted at ones identity and self-worth. The intention is often to hurt, humiliate and injure."

  The report continues . . . "Homophobia fuels violent expressions of hatred towards LGB people. Social, legal and political structures fail to appreciate the threat, extent and impact of violence targeted at LGB people, and thus many incidents remain unrecognised and unchallenged. Unchecked public anti-homosexual comment or behaviours reinforce ideas linking difference to deviance which in turn fuel further violence and harassment."

  It is clear that within Northern Ireland over the last few years a culture is being sown within the legal and policy frameworks whereby homophobia can be addressed in all its manifestations. Research is and has been carried out in relation to differing aspects of sexual orientation within society in Northern Ireland and it has begun to highlight a few of these differences.

  Research into the area of sexual orientation is generally still a relatively new theme in Northern Ireland, outside of the gay and lesbian community that is. However research that has been completed over the last few years have made recommendations for progress to be made and taken forward. Sexual Orientation in Northern Ireland is supposed to be, on a relative basis, afforded the same priority level of other categories of discriminated people, for example within Section 75 of the northern Ireland Act 1998.

  In reality however, sexual orientation finds itself close to the bottom of the equalities pile and is only afforded the company of Carers and Irish Travellers. A few public authorities are hesitant to move forward on lesbian, gay and bisexual issues as part of Section 75 as they see "Sexual Orientation" as being a "sensitive" area, rather than moving forward in partnership with ourselves they tend to do little as the time is not right a perfect example of this is in regards to monitoring of staff or service users.

  It is clear therefore that progress does still need to be made to bring discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation into line with existing categories already protected. It is also clear that adequate resources and time needs to be applied to the issues which can only then begin to address the problem. Words on paper cannot protect someone from discrimination, harassment or violence and the issue has still not been afforded the same amount of respectability and air time as other hate crimes do therefore possibly leading to a situation where it is still not being addressed effectively because it is not on a par with other categories.

  International research points to higher levels of attempted suicide amongst the gay population than their heterosexual counterparts. While the international rate is around 7 times higher than the heterosexual population, the available research from Northern Ireland suggests that the problem of attempted suicide is much more acute.

  The Rainbow Project Research ("How hard can it be?" White, 1998) highlighted that in Northern Ireland gay and bisexual men are at least 30 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. The reasons for this high rate of attempted suicide were multi-fold, but can be summarised by highlighting the significance of societal stressors influencing state of mind.

  One thing which is clear, and the Jarman report and others have borne this out, is that Northern Ireland is still very much a conservative society. It is clear even from the PSNI statistics that the problem of homophobia is on the increase; the reporting of such crime however may also be on the increase. A lot of the time this societal pressure from a conservative society can have a profound effect. The education system in Northern Ireland for instance is still extremely conservative. Very few schools have "homophobia" included within their bullying policies for example. Without homophobia being specifically mentioned it may mean that homophobia is not effectively challenged within the educational system. This in turn leaves a lot of young people extremely vulnerable and may lead to higher levels of low self esteem and introspectiveness and may create a system whereby homophobia is, in appearance, tolerated within the educational system. This may then of course lead to further instances later in life in the workplace where homophobia becomes tolerated as the bully has never been challenged.

  As already stated very few schools have homophobia included within their bullying policies and very few beyond that have included Lesbian, gays and bisexuals within their "relationships and sexuality education programmes". In other instances too there is no mention whatsoever of positive gay role models such as Oscar Wilde within the English curriculum or Alexander the Great within the History syllabus. This further exacerbates the problem of low self esteem and introspection as the young person believes they are the only gay person in the world.

  According to the ACPO Hate Crime Manual, April 2002, Hate Crimes share a high potential:

    —  For harming the victim

    —  For harming the victim group; and

    —  For harming society

  ACPO have adopted a definition of a hate crime as being, it . . .

    ""is a crime where the perpetrator's prejudice against any identifiable group of people is a factor in determining who is victimised."

  The Association of Chief Police Officers has made recommendations within the paper in regards to the types of services supplied to victims of hate crime:

    —  Their needs arising from the type of crime;

    —  Their needs arising from the type of group hate; and

    —  Their needs as individuals.

  Indeed the Police Service of Northern Ireland has upheld the definition of a homophobic incident provided for by ACPO and has produced a new leaflet with the definition included as being:

    "Any incident which is perceived to be homophobic by the victim or any other person".

  Incidents of hate can come from many different areas.

  Another major problem which has not been seriously dealt with is issues within institutions and how they deal with violence and harassment.

  An example of this is in the definition of institutional racism as defined by The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report [6.34] and is as follows:

    "The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting disadvantage minority ethnic people."

  It could easily be argued that this definition would apply to people of differing sexual orientation and how different institutions deal with them or not.

  As is explained by the Northern Human Rights Commission Report, (Loudes, C, Learning to Grow up: Young Lesbians, Gay and Bisexual people in Northern Ireland, Belfast 2003), institutionalised homophobia is best explained through the concept of Institutionalised Heterosexism.

  This is defined in the report as being . . . "a system that has embedded within it unfair discrimination against, and the oppression of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals. It is often a subtle form of oppression which reinforces realities of silence and invisibility for gay and lesbian youth."

  Examples of this can be taken from some areas of the education sector and the health sector.

  In England and Wales and Scotland the education system has been dogged by Section 28.

  Section 28 was the common name for Section 2a of the Local Government Act 1986. This section prohibited local authorities in England and Wales from "promoting" homosexuality. It also labelled gay family relationships as "pretend".

  Anti-gay groups frequently said that Section 28 was used to manage teaching about gay issues in schools. This was incorrect. Section 28 never applied directly to schools, it in fact applied only to local authorities. The Learning and Skills Act 2000 removed any local authority responsibility for sex education. Since that time Section 28 had been redundant legislation. Scotland abolished its equivalent of Section 28 in 2000.

  The existence of Section 28 caused confusion and harm. Teachers were confused about what they could and could not say and do, and whether they could help pupils to face homophobic bullying and abuse. Local authorities were unclear as to what legitimate services they could provide for lesbian, gay and bisexual members of their communities.

  Section 28 or Section 2A never applied to Northern Ireland however the discrimination still occurred along the same lines.

  In relation to the Health service the research carried out by NIHRC in relation to LGB Youth states that "providers send out an ambiguous message to LGB people. On the one hand, they offer non-judgmental advice on sexual health to young LGB people in GUM Clinics (Genito"Urinary Medicine) on the other; they refuse to take blood from gay men. Consequently, young LGB people feel that they are either invisible or stigma tised by health professionals."

  This stigmatisation within the health service leads to a public perception that gay and bisexual people and men in particular are perceived to be carrying HIV or have AIDS.

  Although the examples are taken from both the Education and Health sectors they are two of the more prevalent examples within society with which people can understand the issue in a clear manner. Sometimes and most generally is often the case people find it difficult to come out at work, generally through the fear of discrimination.

  Prisons and other state institutions of confinement have, because of sex segregation and other conditions common to a penal setting, commonly been regarded as places where those who are "different" will be particularly vulnerable. This is especially true for LGB people whose sexuality often makes them targets for other prisoners' abuse and, at best, staff disdain. The response of prison authorities to the problems and difficulties of people of differing sexual orientations within the system has not been the subject of a comprehensive approach to diversity. However when CoSO asked the Prison Service for Northern Ireland to provide condoms and safer sex advice to prisoners the prison service replied that they could do no such thing as a "cell" is a public place and it is illegal to have sex in a public place.

  Research by Superintendent Patrick, J. McGowan of the Community Relations Section of the Garda Siochana in 1999 reported very high levels of physical and verbal assaults on LGB people (McGowan, P Anti-gay and lesbian crime: A study of the problem in Ireland, 1999). This study found that 79% of respondents had been either physically or verbally assaulted.

  Non-reporting is particularly prevalent amongst LGB victims. The McGowan study found there was a reporting rate to the Gardai of 35% for physical assaults and 11% for verbal assaults. This compares with the Central Statistics Office figure of a reporting rate of assaults to the Garda of 54.3% for men generally (Central Statistics Office, 2001). The Jarman report found that only 26% of people had reported the incident to the police.

  The Jarman report reflects some of the reasons for the underreporting of incidents to the police and has been included here to portray or illustrate the point.

    ""Nearly half the people (45%) would not report an incident because they believed the police could not help in any way and over a third believed the police would not be interested in homophobic harassment (38%) or were homophobic themselves (37%). Perhaps most worryingly one in seven (14%) LGB people believe homophobic harassment is a fact of life and something that has to be put up with." (Jarman, N. 2003 p. 58)

  Other reasons, as portrayed by the McGowan research in the Republic of Ireland, are where respondents feared exposure of their sexual orientation through reporting. This is a particular issue where fear of exposure to family and friends would compound the trauma of the original attack. This is of serious concern as someone who has the opportunity to prosecute someone for harassment may not be willing to prosecute for fear of being "outed" within the court setting, or of fear of further violence and harassment by being recognised.

  The Garda have appointed thirteen liaison officers for the LGB community. These appointments have had a positive impact on the LGB community in the Republic of Ireland and have helped to foster an air of confidence with the Garda Siochana. This strategy has been backed by the inclusion of an anti-homophobia and awareness module as part of Garda training. New recruits within the PSNI have received awareness training in the past through role-plays. However depending on the role-play being applied the Lesbian; gay or bisexual dimension may not shine through and indeed may even be missed.

  Training within the police force is therefore, we believe, not effective to raise officer's awareness of the specific issues relating to the LGBT community in Northern Ireland. Training has in the past been bought-in from Great Britain; CoSO believes that this however is wrong. The PSNI should consider using the services of local LGBT groups to effectively carry out general awareness training. The issues and societal structure are sometimes that vast that training provided from other jurisdictions does not conform to the situation at hand and the local perspective is lost.

  At present training has been provided to new recruits of the PSNI during their initial induction training. All minority liaison officers have had awareness raising training (bought-in from GB) and there are no plans for awareness training to be provided to existing officers (even under a five year plan). This causes us grave concern as the people who are there to uphold the law may not fully understand the implications that the law has for ordinary people who identify as being LGBT.

  A development over the past year however has been that the Policing Board for Northern Ireland have secured funding to carry out research into attitudes by the PSNI towards members of LGBT community and vice versa. CoSO believes this to be an important piece of research and will hopefully lead to a better grounding on which to move forward on in partnership with the PSNI.

  As stated earlier, research into the particular circumstances of Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals in Northern Ireland is minimal. However of that research very few recommendations are ever effectively carried forward in full, giving the impression that there is little direct commitment from the top.

  The recommendations from the Jarman report, included below, illustrate this point fully as only one recommendation has been completed fully and that is the inclusion of homophobia within the Hate Crimes Legislation. The others have been completed to a greater of lesser extent or not at all such as the setting up of a Taskforce to deal with homophobia and the wider implications.

  However, if any of these recommendations are to occur the LGBT sector needs to be resourced effectively to ensure that, for instance if a Taskforce were set up that there would be LGBT representation as the meetings would more than likely occur during normal office hours.

  1.  There should be a general campaign to raise awareness around themes of homophobia and homophobic violence. This might include the creation of a Task Force to develop a wider range of policy recommendations on LGB issues.

  2.  The NIO has recently consulted on the introduction of legislation in relation to racist and sectarian harassment. We recommend that they should include homophobic harassment as a category within any hate crime legislation.

  3.  The PSNI should extend the current systems for reporting and recording homophobic incidents and improve the amount of information on homophobic incidents. We recommend that they produce an annual review of homophobic harassment as part of a wider review of hate crime.

  4.  There is a need for an increased awareness of homophobia among police officers, local authorities and others within the statutory sector. This should take the form of training programmes that need to be developed in consultation and conjunction with LGB organisations.

  5.  The issue of homophobic bullying should be within and through the education system. This include schools, F & HE colleges and institutions providing teacher training. should also be required to record homophobic bullying.

  6.  The LGB groups should work in conjunction with relevant bodies to develop a strategy to raise awareness of personal safety issues within the LGB communities.

  7.  There is a need for increased resourcing for LGB organisations and LGB issues if attempts to counter homophobia are to have any impact.

  There are some issues in regards to housing. How will the person be housed in a "safe" area? How can the person "not" accept housing they are being offered if they are only allowed to reject two places before they have to accept the third.

  The Housing Executive, for example, cannot move forward on some of its policies without the law being on statute. This causes a difficulty when both NIHE and CoSO know that the law is coming into effect and has gone through all its parliamentary processes and yet the NIHE have to wait for the Department for Social Development (DSD) to tell them if they can do anything. This would appear to CoSO to be unnecessary red-tape. If the red-tape was removed we believe that the NIHE would be in a far better position than at present as it would be in a position to direct its services to the most disadvantaged, we also believe that this would allow for speedier implementation of any "new" legislation and not just the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2004.

  Sometimes when people come out to their parents, friends or relatives they are asked to leave, if they are living there then they can become homeless. This was mentioned in research carried out in 1995 in Dublin where it was found that one third of gay men and lesbians become homeless at least once in their lives. POVERTY; Lesbians, gays and bisexuals, Combat Poverty Agency, 1995, Dublin, and yet lesbians, gays and bisexuals are not included within the NIHE Homelessness strategy.

  Another example of discrimination which can occur in relation to housing is if a person rents a property and the landlord discovers the tenant's sexual orientation and asks them to leave. Your sexual orientation sometimes may be disclosed by others to the landlord or through graffiti or attacks on the property where the landlord needs to be informed. Again as before, where does one go?

  Another example which is developing is in relation to shared tenancies where the other people in the accommodation could ask you if you have a partner, what your job is, if you carry out voluntary work etc. this may inhibit a persons chances of taking rooms in the accommodation and on feeling safe.

  All the issues dealt with in this paper CoSO believe are essential for society in Northern Ireland and indeed the institutions which govern it to move forward.

  CoSO hopes that the process of gathering information on Hate Crimes by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee will be of benefit to those people which CoSO aspires to represent and those whom we work alongside within the other affected sectors. We hope that the Committee recommends changes to the way institutions in Northern Ireland perceive sexual orientation and that they recommend to public authorities and government a need to work in partnership with the LGBT Community in Northern Ireland to tackle issues such as homophobia. We also hope that the Committee recommends the full implementation of all the recommendations within the Jarman report.

  CoSO would like to thank the Committee for the opportunity to add to the investigation. We hope that our contribution has been of use and will be useful to the full deliberations of the Committee and others working in this area.

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