A new law which criminalises incitement to homophobic hatred could land perpetrators with a fine or prison sentence of up to seven years.
The new offence of using threatening language with intent to provoke hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation came into effect this week and has been welcomed by gay rights groups.
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, the UK’s leading lesbian, gay and bisexual charity said: “The newly-extended criminal offence of incitement to hatred will go some way towards addressing the hatred and violence directed towards lesbians, gay men and bisexuals in Britain at a time when homophobic attacks are on the increase.
“It sends a strong signal that such behaviour is unacceptable in a civilised society. Just like race, a person’s sexual orientation is an intrinsic characteristic for which no citizen should ever feel under threat of verbal or physical violence”
The new legislation is aimed at offenders who incite genuine hatred and does not extend to all criticism or the telling of jokes with a homosexual theme by comedians.
A ‘free speech’ amendment was recently included to the measure after religious leaders and comedians expressed concern that they could face prosecution under it.
Stonewall branded the concerns alarmist: “The important new offence will help prevent and tackle acts of serious hatred against individuals defined by reference to their sexual orientation, with a high threshold for prosecutions which must be approved by the Attorney General and heard before a jury” they explained.
Throughout their campaign for the legal change Stonewall says it uncovered a range of extreme websites and material stirring up hatred against gays and lesbians.
“This new legislation will send a strong positive signal, encouraging more lesbian, gay and bisexual people to report hate incidents. Gay people are entitled to live without fear like everyone else”
By Gary Cosby
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