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Human Rights Consortium - Campaigning for a Strong and Inclusive Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland

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Current Legislation and how it protects people of a different Sexual Orientation

Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998

This legislation was introduced in 1998 and was formed from the development of the Good Friday Agreement and the introduction of devolved government within the United Kingdom.

It states that under nine separate Equality Categories Government agencies have to what they call ‘due regard' for the need to promote equality of opportunity between people covering the nine categories.

The categories are as follows…

  • People of different religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status or sexual orientation
  • Men and women generally
  • People with a disability and people without
  • People with dependents and people without
  • Also all designated public authorities must also have regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between people of different religious belief, political opinion and racial group.

What section 75 means is that all 177 public authorities designated under Section 75 have to produce an ‘Equality scheme' which sets out what they intend to do in regards to the nine categories over the five year life span of the Equality Scheme.

After this process is completed and approved by the Equality Commission they then list all the policies they have in their organisation and decide on a time table to go through each policy to see if it impacts on any of the categories. When they do this it is called an ‘Equality Impact Assessment'

Throughout this process they are obliged by law to publicly consult with groups representing the nine categories. Section 75 works in a situation where you may have one public authority which has ten buildings and only one of whose buildings are accessible through the process of a public consultation on a policy about how accessible their building is it would be highlighted that there is a problem with the other nine buildings.

In terms of Sexual Orientation, this process is useful too! CoSO would look at the employment policies, harassment policies or to see how accessible their building is.

Things we would highlight would be do they specifically include Sexual Orientation within their harassment policies, do they have proper complaints procedures which allow staff to remain anonymous? Or allow representative groups to come forward and state an individuals case to the employer? Do they include sexual orientation within their training? How are they going to monitor staff in regards to sexual orientation? Does the organisation have ‘family friendly policies' and if so how do they define what a ‘family' is?

These are questions we would ask the organisation when initially going through their policies.

What links do they have with groups within the sexual orientation sector and do they support the Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Trans community (LGBT) in the services they offer?

In terms of equality legislation Section 75 is the most advanced in the world and is certainly an achievement to be proud off.

The Framework Employment Equality Directive (FEED)

From the 2nd of December 2003 new legislation comes into effect in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and Europe. The legislation is in the form of a European Directive which all European Union member countries and all accession countries have to implement.

The new legislation will outlaw discrimination in employment and training for people of differing sexual orientation.

It basically means that people if they are sacked, harassed or mistreated etc… in employment or training as a direct result of their actual or perceived sexual orientation they will have legal redress to challenge the employer in a court of law.

Other countries across Europe are implementing the FEED in differing ways and there are indeed differing protections across Europe for people of differing sexual orientation. Belgium for example has gone further than what the directive stipulates and is going to excel the minimum protection others like Austria, Cyprus and others will miss the deadline of the 2nd of December.

The United Kingdom will be implementing the ‘Directive' on time.

Hate Crimes legislation…

Homophobic Crime will be included as a hate crime when the government introduces its plans to protect people from two other forms of hate crime on Race and Sectarianism. This will mean that people who commit homophobic crimes may receive a harsher sentence for crimes against gay people than similar crimes against the general public.

Section 28…

Section 28 is the common name for Section 2a of the Local Government Act 1986. This section prohibited local authorities in England and Wales from "promoting" homosexuality. It also labelled gay family relationships as "pretend".

Anti-gay groups frequently said that Section 28 was used to manage teaching about gay issues in schools. This was incorrect. Section 28 never applied directly to schools, it in fact applied only to local authorities. The Learning and Skills Act 2000 removed any local authority responsibility for sex education. Since that time Section 28 had been redundant legislation. Scotland abolished its equivalent of Section 28 in 2000.

The existence of Section 28 caused confusion and harm. Teachers were confused about what they could and could not say and do, and whether they could help pupils to face homophobic bullying and abuse. Local authorities were unclear as to what legitimate services they could provide for lesbian, gay and bisexual members of their communities.

Section 28 has never applied to Northern Ireland



Related Links:

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