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Opinion Reflecting on 2022, the LGBT+ community is hopeful of progress in the year ahead

Adam Long of the National LGBT Federation (NXF) takes stock of what 2022 meant for the LGBT+ community, and what the focus should be in 2023.

LAST UPDATE | Dec 30th 2022, 6:00 AM

NO LGBT+ REVIEW of 2022 can omit the deeply disturbing killings that occurred in Sligo in April when two men, Aidan Moffitt and Michael Snee, had their lives brutally cut short in a suspected hate crime.

As we here at the National LGBT Federation (NXF) look back on the year in LGBT+ issues, we remember both Aidan and Michael and commit to working even harder to secure effective hate crime legislation that is capable of sending an unequivocal message that targeting someone on account of their inherent identity – the ultimate ‘signal crime’ – will be met with strong condemnation and criminal sanction.

In addition to much needed and long awaited legislation, we must also see educational and other initiatives as part of a whole-of-society effort against the scourge of hate, where religious extremism and far-right ideologies predominate.

No hate crime here?

Ireland has long been something of a global outlier in having no hate crime laws, and after many years of campaigning by LGBT+ and other civil society groups, we welcomed the publication in November of the Hate Offences Bill, which, in addition to addressing hate crimes, also seeks to update existing laws against incitement to hatred.

Some will attempt to mislead and muddy the waters by trying to portray the latter as an attack on “free speech”. However, in legislating against extreme criminal hate speech rather than the simply offensive, a correct balance is being struck and one that is entirely in keeping with European liberal democratic norms.

Crucially, it also extends to online content, which is certainly needed at a time when hate and disinformation widely proliferate with real-world consequences and emerging bad actors making matters even worse. The era of self-regulation has been a manifest failure and needs to be replaced by a strong regulatory framework.

Victims must also be empowered to come forward – a point starkly illustrated at a recent Council of Europe conference in Dublin, where it was revealed that just 14% of hate attacks against LGBT+ people across Europe are currently reported to authorities.

Here in Ireland, we witnessed a spate of highly disturbing homophobic assaults throughout 2022, with the widely-reported anti-social behaviour and sense of menace on the streets of the capital being felt acutely in our community.

We do believe certain elements of the Bill can be made more robust, and will continue to engage with stakeholders as it makes its way through the Oireachtas on the road to enactment in early 2023. The key test ultimately will be the ability of the new laws to deliver for victims of criminal hate.

Conversion

Other key LGBT+ priorities for the coming year include a comprehensive ban on so-called ‘conversion practices’. Labelled a form of torture by the United Nations, an important report published last January that tracks global extremism specifically cited the island of Ireland as a location where this so-called ‘therapy’ is peddled.

This author represents the NXF on a recently established steering group committed to securing a full ban that covers everyone in our LGBT+ community, and free of any loopholes which would enable the abuse to continue under the guise of ‘religious practice’ or erroneous notions around ‘consent’.

Ground-breaking referendums in recent years are testament to a country that is thankfully becoming more and more unrecognisable from the stiflingly conservative and parochial society that made Ireland such a harsh and unwelcoming place for generations of her LGBT+ citizens.

However, far too many LGBT+ students continue to feel unsafe and unsupported in our schools and report frequent use of homophobic/transphobic language, including from teachers. It is critically important that government delivers on its commitment to a LGBT+ inclusive curriculum in all state funded schools, regardless of ‘ethos’.

Next year will also see a Disregard Scheme for gay and bisexual men who were persecuted under colonial-era homophobic laws which remained in force in Ireland until 1993. 

An official apology to the gay community was delivered in Dublin Castle in 2018 about this, and this scheme is an important next step in ensuring that convictions resulting from what was State-sanctioned homophobia can be fully disregarded.

In seeking to ‘right’ what was a grave historical wrong, it is crucial that victims are not re-traumatised and so the process must be rooted in compassion and sensitivity, with the obligation resting on the State, not those impacted by criminalisation, to ensure that injustices can be remedied.

We have also witnessed in recent years a rise in toxic discourses around Trans issues in particular but which ultimately seek to undermine our LGBT+ rights and gains more generally.

This anti-Trans ‘culture war’ has been especially evident in the UK and led to that country being officially declared a ‘country of concern’ on LGBT+ rights by the Council of Europe – the world’s largest human rights body – in 2022. Indeed, an increasingly good rule-of-thumb these days is to look at the actions of the Tory government in Britain – and then do the very opposite. 

In what amounted to an important political intervention in June, then-Taoiseach Micheal Martin, as part of our NXF PRIDE interviews series, made clear that we here in Ireland can do without such harmful and divisive ‘culture war’ rhetoric that is designed to inflame rather than inform any discussion. 

At a time when ‘populist’ reactionary forces are actively seeking to roll-back LGBT+ rights in numerous countries, Ireland can set a strong example by firmly placing itself on the side of modernity and social progress, taking a lead within the EU in particular.

As we reflect on the year about to conclude and look towards the future, we find a proud and resilient LGBT+ community that has been tried and tested many times before. We know that the vast majority of our fellow citizens support LGBT+ equality, even as hateful voices are all too often amplified, especially in the online space.

The work continues into 2023 and beyond until every LGBT+ person can live an open and authentic life and where all forms of discrimination are finally a thing of the past.

Adam Long is a Board Director with the National LGBT Federation (NXF) and has a long track-record of working to advance LGBT+ equality. A policy and communications specialist, he has chaired numerous panel discussions and more recently conducted in-depth interviews with the Taoiseach and other leading political figures as part of the PRIDE festivities. Social media: @adamlong80 and @nxfie.

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