Are LGBTQI people still experiencing discrimination when social attitudes are positive.
Within the United Kingdom, a record high has been hit, with 2.2% of people openly identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual. Not to forget the individuals who do not feel ready to come out of the closet, do not feel safe to, have not come to terms or understood their own sexuality and those who Trans or questioning. To have this many people allowing their sexuality to be known to the public is a heroic and brave change for a country that once demolished any rights to love who you love.
Following a long history of not knowing whether imprisonment or celebration was on the cards for LGBT people, the Sexual Offences Bill 1967 legalized homosexuality within England, albeit with hefty restrictions. After a period of quiet, there was a moral panic created around the HIV and AIDS hysteria leading to Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 being implemented to stop the widespread acceptance and promotion of homosexuality. There has since been a rapid influx of laws around homosexuality, including;
· The European Court of Human Rights repealing the restrictions of the Sexual Offences Bill in 2000
· Section 28 of Local Government Act being repealed in 2003;
· Amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill 2017 imposing mandatory relationship and sex education in schools.
Since 1983 the British Social Attitudes Survey has been capturing the attitudes of the population showing a general trend of decreasing homophobia; “dread of being in close quarters with [a] homosexual” (Weinberg., 1972). Despite this, recorded hate crimes against LGBTQI people has doubled (O’Neil., 2017).
Why is there such a difference between reported prejudice; negative attitudes and recorded discrimination and why is this actively preventing people from opportunities due to improper grounds?
Could the answer be the way that research into discrimination towards LGBTQI people is conducted?
When looking at research surrounding actual discrimination towards LGBTQI people, there is a wealth of publications on hate crimes. Hate crimes are defined as
‘‘any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic.’’
Each police force returns a monthly questionnaire to the Home Office providing figures of hate crimes during that month. The annual recorded hate crime figures have doubled between 2011–2012 and 2016–2017. This evidences the need to understand why negative attitudes towards LGBTQI people are reducing yet the actual discrimination is increasing.
The Home Office is a good place to begin as they have the powers to access data from most sources. This allows them access to a wealth of information to draw from. Having access to this data from all police forces, they can adapt surveys to ask extra questions as needed. Unfortunately, information is lacking for disability, transgender and sexual orientation hate crimes in respect of societal changes. Other vulnerable characteristics such as race and religion appear to have the monopoly on causational effects. For example, O’Neil (2017) looked further into racial and religious hate crime following events such as the EU referendum and terrorist attacks. Through this, proof was found that wider societal changes can affect the number of people experiencing racially or religiously motivated discrimination. Why is this extra research not being initiated for LGBTQI changes? Without the same dedication being given to LGBTQI people, it is impossible to understand what factors could be affecting recorded crimes and attitudes.
The differing and growing classifications of discrimination could be influencing the results of research with more explicit actions being cautioned and prosecuted.
The fear of persecution for explicit homophobia could be encouraging implicit actions to take place more readily. These new ways may be driving new reprimands and sanctions that were not considered in previous monitoring. This is supported by Fasoli et al (2017), who concluded that having a gay or lesbian sounding voice was likely to prevent job offers, providing evidence of implicit attitudes discriminating in new ways. Instead of the company turning down an applicant due to their interview techniques they are being turned down for the way that their voice carries. With telephone interviews becoming utilised more, especially with COVID restrictions, these implicit attitudes will gain more power.
The changing discourses surrounding what is and is not prejudice, discrimination and criminal, means that research and monitoring questions are updated regularly, often incomparable to previous studies. This is confirmed by the Home Office Hate Crime Reports where the 2017 release held data on the percentage of online crimes. This was not a part of the 2012 release as it was not on the police radar then (O’Neil., 2017; Home Office., 2012).
As with any research, a definitive definition needs to be agreed so that it is clear who or what the study is about. It is unknown whether two police officers completing their monitoring, interpret hate crimes in the same way. It is blurred whether the victim knows that the crime was due to their sexual orientation or were just unlucky. It is undecided which statistic will be used by those writing reports, policies and guidelines as well as what they interpret the statistics to represent.
Categories are dangerous however as they creating a grouping, assume who does and does not fit and what being in that category means. For example, sorting people into specific definitions can alienate them from society or lead the discrimination. This could be seen when the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) included homosexuality, it became a reason for society to treat homosexuals differently to heterosexuals as they became instantly stigmatised by experts in the field of psychiatry (Anderson and Holland., 2005).
Without a distinct meaning, it is difficult if not impossible, to ensure the reliability of the survey or experiment in answering the question initially sought. For two or more methods to be comparable, the definition and interpretation of LGBTQI needs to be the same. Interpretation is involved in all forms of research in some way, so serious thought needs to be given to what the characteristics are.
There is clearly a lot of work that can be started to improve the chances of narrowing the gap between attitudes and hate crimes, the following recommendations are suggested:
· Involve LGBTQI people in the definitions and categorisations adopted.
· Carry out pilot studies with a range of individuals, from all walks of life, to ensure interpretation of the questions will be the same for all.
· Allow participants to finish statements rather than giving them a limited choice in surveys.
· Enhance research by considering societal changes and develop an understanding of cause and effect.
· Monitor the perpetrator’s religion, education level, political stance and analyse this for correlations. This could allow targeted programs to be put in place to educate around LGBTQI discrimination.
· Consider new issues regarding social norm discrimination, such as jobs.
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