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
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
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
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
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 group; and
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
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
"Any incident which is perceived to be homophobic
by the victim or any other person".
Incidents of hate can come from many different
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
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
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
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
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
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
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)
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.