Current Affairs

Tatchell ‘ignored’ over Equality Bill concerns

Jessica Geen October 2, 2009
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Peter Tatchell has complained that the Equality Bill is discriminatory and that the government has failed to respond to his concerns about harassment protection for gays.

Tatchell said he wrote to minister for women and equalities, Harriet Harman, in August to ask why sexual orientation and trans status were not protected from harassment under the bill’s clauses while race, gender and disability were.

After issuing a press release on Monday calling the lack of correspondence “disrespectful”, he received an email from equality minister Maria Eagle, but told the response was “unsatisfactory”.

Eagle wrote that groups which had been consulted on the clause had not offered evidence that the protection was necessary, saying that LGBT people were already protected under discrimination provisions.

A spokesman from Galop (a London group dealing with homophobic hate crime) said the charity had been consulted, although Tatchell said his own organisation, OutRage!, had not.

Tatchell said: “Contrary to Maria Eagle’s claims, organisations dealing with homophobic harassment were not consulted about this legislation.

“The Equality Bill is supposed to be a consolidating piece of legislation that brings together all equality laws in one comprehensive statute.

“It addresses harassment on the grounds of race, gender and disability but not on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. This is not inclusive at all.

“It singles out certain kinds of harassment for legal protection and excludes others – it is discriminatory.”

Other groups, such as Schools Out and GALHA, along with the Liberal Democrats, have also raised concerns about why LGBT people are not included in harassment protections.

A GEO spokesman told that during consultation, no evidence was found that harassment protections needed to be extended to cover LGBT people because they were already protected under a direct discrimination clause. He added that legislation could not be created without evidence.

He said: “The government is clear that no one should suffer harassment because of their sexual orientation or trans status, and if someone feels they are being harassed they could bring a claim under the Equality Bill’s discrimination provisions.

“We consulted on the inclusion of an additional, specific harassment clause. We were given evidence that this was needed for older people and disabled people because of specific problems they face. But we saw no evidence that this was needed for LGB and trans groups.

“If evidence were to arise, we would seek to address this.”

Tatchell also complained that protections for trans people were too narrow and do not cover those who do not identify with either gender.

Another issue was the proposal to allow faith schools to teach sex education in line with their religious beliefs. This was the recommendation of a report by Sir Alasdair Macdonald in April, which is under consultation.

Campaigners feared it could mean gay students at such schools would miss out on appropriate sex education or even be taught that their sexual orientation was wrong.

In the reply to Tatchell, Eagle wrote: “The Equality Bill has widened the definition of gender reassignment so that transsexual people will now be protected in the gender they permanently identify with, regardless of whether they are under medical supervision. In addition, the bill extends protection to those who are discriminated against because they are thought of as transsexual. No one put forward evidence of the need to go further than this during the consultation.

“All schools are required to teach sex and relationship education in an appropriate and fair way – there is no exemption for faith schools. And the new public sector equality duty, which we have extended to cover sexual orientation for the first time, will further underline that it is unacceptable for schools to turn a blind eye to homophobic bullying.”

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