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Opinion: Why anti-gay hate laws are necessary

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Despite evidence of anti-gay abuse, a judge has said that the killing of 18-year-old Liverpool man Michael Causer was not motivated by homophobia.

Earlier this month, a judge at the Old Bailey ruled that the killing of Ronald Dixon, a 61-year-old gay man, was not homophobic, despite the taunts shouted at him hours before he died by the teenager who hit him with a deadly punch.

In another incident, a man who smashed down the door of a gay couple as they slept, calling them faggots and threatening to kill them, avoided jail after his defence claimed he was not homophobic

If James O’Connor, who was sentenced yesterday to serve at least 11 years in prison for Mr Causer’s death, had been found guilty of murder aggravated by homophobia, he would be serving a minimum of 30 years.

Today, Tommy McIlravey, of Liverpool’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender network, attacked the law for its “failure” to see anyone punished for hate crimes against Michael Causer.

Describing it as “second-class justice”, he added it was a common occurence.

Such lack of recognition for homophobic hate makes the need for anti-gay legislation startlingly clear.

This week, actors Rowan Atkinson and Christopher Biggins attacked government proposals to remove a free speech clause from anti-gay hate laws, saying it will stifle free speech and criminalise the work of comedians.

The clause allows those guilty of breaching the law by criticising gay lifestyles to claim a defence of free speech. But logic suggests that anyone could claim free speech as a defense for the most offensive and inflammatory remarks.

Atkinson, as a white male, is unlikely to have ever suffered the kind of discrimination routinely experienced by the LGBT community.

Meanwhile, Biggins, having created for himself an extreme camp persona, is hardly representative of the average gay man or woman. Both are missing the distinction between free speech and inciting hatred.

Television stereotypes, such as David Walliam’s only gay in the village or Al Murray’s gay war reporter, are considered harmless by most.

However, they contribute to an atmosphere of unease and sometimes violence against gays and lesbians and pervade society, with devastating effects on those who are most vulnerable, such as LGBT children bullied mercilessly by their peers.

Derek Munn of Stonewall points to the risk of such offenders escaping conviction through the amendment, adding “We’re not talking jokes; we’re talking death threats.”

The old adage of sticks and stones is no longer appropriate – those who seek to incite hatred and violence against certain groups often find themselves with plenty of followers, representing a real threat to those they verbally attack. This is true both for the light-hearted, apparently harmless stereotypes and the most sinister attacks on gay people.

Hate preacher Anjem Choudary launched a vitrolic attack on gays last week in which he said that they should be stoned to death.

He was speaking at a press conference in London organised by Islamic extremists to justify a protest in Luton last week against soldiers returning home from Iraq, at which protestors levelled accusations of baby rape at troops.

Notably, eyewitnesses alleged that police at the Luton incident had done nothing to quell the hate-filled tirades launched at soldiers.

Scotland Yard have said Choudary’s comments on gays will be investigated only in the event of a complaint.

Laws protecting against racial hate were once greeted with cries of political correctness. However, legislation has shaped views, leading to a change in the public mindset.

Gay hate must be recognised as being equal to hate on the basis of race, gender, disability and other forms of diversity.

Those who seek to kill and injure on the grounds of sexuality must be seen clearly by judges, juries and the law if true equality is to be upheld.

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