Tackling prejudice and discrimination against LGB people not only benefits LGB individuals but the local communities in which we live and Northern Ireland society as a whole. Discrimination is both costly and damaging to Northern Ireland society. It damages social cohesion and inhibits the ability of individuals to maximise their potential.
Negative or stereotypical attitudes towards LGB people can, for example, result in their access to services either being denied or restricted; being excluded from jobs including public life posts; being subjected to harassment, hate crime, homophobic bullying or violence; or in being socially isolated. In turn, such treatment can have a significant detrimental impact on their mental and/or physical wellbeing.
The Commission considers that promoting positive attitudes towards LGB people is a priority area for strategic action.
Demeaning stereotypes, the absence of any positive portrayal of LGB people or a lack of open support for LGB equality can have a significant negative impact on the day to day lives of LGB individuals.
Clearly, a number of key stakeholders can play a key role in promoting positive attitudes, including political leaders, the media, public bodies, private and voluntary sector employers and schools and education bodies.
Read the full Promoting Sexual Orientation Equality (pdf, 2013) policy paper and view the Equality Awareness Survey Results (pdf, 2011)
Transgender - social attitudes & good relations
The 2011 Equality Awareness Survey included questions about trans issues. The results showed that negative attitudes exist towards transgender people (22%), second only to Travellers (30%) and similar to Eastern European migrant workers (21%).
In response to specific questions, 35% of respondents said they would mind having a transgender person as a work colleague, while 40% would mind having a transgender person as a neighbour and 53% would mind having a transgender person as an in-law.
The need to develop awareness and understanding of trans/gender variance has been identified as a priority by the trans community. The Commission shares this objective and works through a number of channels including the Trans Forum to promote equality for trans people.
Prejudicial Attitudes, Hate Crime and Institutional Racism
Commission’s most recent Equality Awareness Survey found that negative attitudes have shown little change from 2008. Most negative attitudes were expressed towards Travellers: 35% of respondents would mind (a little or a lot) having a Traveller as a work colleague, 54% would mind having a Traveller as a neighbour and 55% would mind having a Traveller as an in-law. Respondents also expressed negative views towards Eastern European Migrant Workers and BME individuals amongst others.
Alongside this, in November 2012 the Leveson report into press standards found that ‘when assessed as a whole, the evidence of discriminatory, sensational or unbalanced reporting in relation to ethnic minorities, immigrants and/or asylum seekers, is concerning’.
It is also the case that racist hate crime is the second most common form of hate crime in Northern Ireland. While PSNI statistics show a drop in both racist incidents and racist crime in 2010/11 and 2011/12, wider research also suggests that hate crime is generally hugely under-reported. Research also shows that hate crime legislation is used less often in Northern Ireland than in other parts of the UK. In Northern Ireland, despite the legislation allowing for an enhanced sentence to be passed by a court where a crime is proven to have been motivated by hate, only 12 enhanced sentences, out of almost 14,000 complaints, have been passed under this legislation over the last five years.
In February 2013, DOJ published a hate crime action plan which includes a range of priorities to tackle hate crime and address underreporting including an independent reporting system for recording hate crime; a commitment to publish annual statistics to re-launch the Unite Against Hate campaign and a range of measures to address reoffending.
With regards to the issue of institutional racism, in 2002 the Commission published an expert paper into the implications of the Macpherson Report for institutions in Northern Ireland which highlighted that many had yet to look at racial equality in a serious fashion and even the S75 (1) duty too often caused only a cursory examination of the issue . The Commission’s (2006) good practice guide on racial equality in the health sector highlighted that ‘institutional racism can have a number of dimensions in health care, the most obvious being in terms of differential patient access and treatment. It can also be identified in employment policies, inadequate research, professional attitudes and health promotion . A 2013 report from NICEM into racist violence and criminal justice in Northern Ireland argued that there was ‘unambiguous evidence of institutional racism right across the criminal justice system’.
The Commission recommends that the Executive and Departments implement specific measures to effectively tackle prejudicial attitudes and promote values of acceptance and respect.
We also recommend that the Executive and Departments should consider the role of the media in Northern Ireland and take appropriate action to ensure appropriate reporting.
We emphasise the importance of using early intervention in education to combat negative attitudes and promote good relations; and the merits of positive action measures to address the effects of discrimination and maximise opportunities for individuals to participate in society.
We recommend that the Executive prioritise the reduction and elimination of racial violence including the identification of a range of effective actions to improve reporting and how racist hate crimes are addressed and to reduce and prevent racist violence (including re-offending).
We welcome the DOJ’s commitment to examine the reasons for under-use of the Criminal Justice (No.2) (Northern Ireland) Order 2004, including, if necessary, a review of the framework of legislation for addressing racist violence in Northern Ireland.
We also recommend that consideration is given by the Executive to the extent to which issues of institutional racism have been effectively addressed since our 2002 report, including via the use of Section 75 processes.