The Hate is still Out There

A few days ago I mentioned on this blog the case of a gay teenager in Navan being beaten up by boys from the same school; there was a news report here. Five youths were subsequently arrested but have now been released without charge. I felt a strong sense of dismay when I heard the news of their release, as the decision to let them go seemed to declare open season on homophobic violence. It may however because the assailants have to be treated as minors.

Press coverage related to this story has generally condemned the sharing on social media of a video showing the violent assault. There are quite a few people, however, including me, who think that the Gardaí would not have taken any action at all had they not been shamed into doing so by the publicity generated by the video.

Regular readers of this blog will probably understand why this case resonates with me: a similar thing happened to me way back in the 1980s. There are differences, of course. For one thing, I was rather older – in my mid-twenties rather than mid-teens. For another, the incident wasn’t reported to the police. There wasn’t any point in those days. The Brighton police at that time were notorious for dismissing complaints of gay-bashing despite the fact it was an endemic problem. People I knew who had reported such incidents usually found themselves being investigated rather than their assailants. In those days the law did not recognize homophobic offences as hate crimes. Far from it, in fact. Attacking a gay person was, if anything, considered to be a mitigating circumstance. This attitude was fuelled by a number of high-profile cases (including a number of murders) where gay-bashers had been acquitted or charged with lesser offences after claiming their victim had provoked them.

Another difference is that I didn’t go to hospital. I had a black eye, a fat lip and a lot of bruises, and had been unconscious for a time, but there didn’t seem to be any serious physical damage. The psychological effects were far from negligible, though, and I have experienced intermittent mental health problems ever since, sometimes needing to be hospitalized for psychiatric treatment. You can read about this here; a short summary is that I should have got help with this much earlier. The important thing now is that the boy who was targeted in Navan gets proper treatment and counselling. I wish him a speedy recovery.

Here’s something I wrote in 2010 after in the blog post describing my own experience of homophobic violence:

Now fast-forward about 20 years. Attitudes have definitely changed, and so has the law. Certain types of criminal offence are now officially recognized as hate crimes: the list treats sexual orientation as equivalent to race, gender, religious belief and disability in such matters. The Police are now obliged to treat these with due seriousness, and penalties for those found guilty of crimes exacerbated by homophobia are consequently more severe.

Recently, there are increasing signs of a backlash against LGBT+ people, most obviously in America but also here in Ireland. Much of this is fueled by toxic rhetoric of the Far Right who seem to want to target trans people. Social media, especially Twitter are awash with transphobic abuse and threats of violence for the reason that trans people are perceived to be easy targets. It’s up to the rest of us to make sure this strategy does not work.

I worry that the rights that the LGBT+ community has taken so long to win, could so easily be taken away. If we are complacent and pretend that everything is fixed because we have equal marriage then we will soon see those rights being eroded. LGBT+ people have to remain active and visible, show solidarity with one another, and keep pushing against all forms of discrimination, harassment and bullying wherever it happens. And the first step in doing that is to raise awareness that there is a serious problem.

I was reflecting on my own encounter with violence the other day. I try not to think about that very much, but I found myself wondering where the four guys who attacked me are now. They were about the same age as me, so will be around 60 now. Do you think the hate they expressed with their fists back in the 1980s has gone away? More importantly, do you think it reasonable that I should believe that? I don’t. The hate is still out there and will find its expression at the slightest provocation.

The reference to hate crimes in the above quote relates to the UK, of course. I was a little surprised to see that until very recently there was no legal definition of a hate crime in Ireland. Legislation has only just been introduced on this subject, with cross-party support. Among other provisions:

The new legislation will criminalise any intentional or reckless communication or behaviour that is likely to incite violence or hatred against a person or persons because they are associated with a protected characteristic. The penalty for this offence will be up to five years’ imprisonment.

The protected characteristics in the new legislation are: race; colour; nationality; religion; national or ethnic origin; descent; gender; sex characteristics; sexual orientation; and disability.

It remains to be seen how the new law works in practice.

10 Responses to “The Hate is still Out There”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    The police should pursue the perpetrators of a beating according to its severity, not the motive. Your incident should clearly have ended with the perps in prison, as should this case if the perps were legally adult and the description (which I have no reason to doubt) is accurate.

    • Ted Bunn Says:

      I respectfully disagree with Anton Garett’s position here. It’s certainly true that anyone who perpetrates an act of violence of the sort Peter describes should be punished in accordance with it severity. The idea of hate-crimes laws, as I understand it, is that the punishment should be enhanced if the motive is hatred of members of various groups, because hatred of those groups is in itself harmful to society.

      In particular, violence against LGBT people that is inflicted because they are LGBT has the effect of terrorizing the entire community. This makes it more harmful than the same act of violence would be if it were motivated by something different, e.g., a personal grudge.

      In the US, this reasoning was particularly important in the context of anti-lynching laws, which recognized the unique harm caused by systematic terrorization of African-Americans. In fairness, I should note that in that context, there was an additional consideration that doesn’t necessarily apply in other countries: anti-lynching laws were Federal, which meant that prosecutions didn’t require the support ofr state prosecutors, who in Southern states were all too often sympathetic to the lynchers.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        So the law was not being applied impartially in the USA. The solution to that is to make sure it is, not to change the law. And the way to do that is to put into law enforcement some people whose job is to ensure impartiality, and then sack some cops who turned a blind eye. The rest soon start to get the idea.

        I always believed in equality before the law, but now the law makes some people more equal than others. I respectfully stand by my view that impartiality is the ideal and that, where there is social injustice, remedy by these means is mistaken. Apart from anything else, it fosters resentment of precisely the sort that ought to die out.

      • Ted Bunn Says:

        I understand your position, although I still disagree. There are circumstances in which the motive of a crime makes the crime more harmful, and laws like these that enhance penalties in those circumstances make sense to me.

        But I’m quite sincere in saying that I respect and understand your view. (At some points in my life I have even agreed with it.)

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        I agree that someone who deliberately shoots someone else to kill them ought to receive a harsher penalty than somebody who accidentally kills them while cleaning his gun. But – to keep it short – I believe in a symmetry of human beings. Some differences are only skin deep.

      • telescoper Says:

        The first case you describe would be murder, and the second (probably) manslaughter by negligence. The courts would indeed treat these very differently. But even in a case of murder there are factors to be taken into account for sentencing, including matters of motive. The new laws widen that list of factors to include acts committed because of protected characteristics.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        That’s not in dispute, Peter; protected characteristics are my concern as they break the symmetry I support.

      • telescoper Says:

        The symmetry you support does not exist in reality.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Black and white, gay and straight are all human beings, that’s the symmetry. Where there is institutional injustice I suggested a way to deal with it in my first reply to Ted Bunn. I believe that is a better way than changing the law to privilege some people over others.

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