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Judges’ ruling is example of institutional homophobia

A recent ruling about a neighbour dispute is deeply worrying and should be a wake-up call to us all.

After a row about noise, the neighbours of a gay couple began singing lyrics directed at them that labelled them “fairies” and “fags”.

But as reported in Pink News and The Independent, three magistrates at a court in Stratford, East London unanimously found the perpetrators not guilty of the charge of "using threatening, abusive, and insulting words to cause alarm and distress”.

They concluded the song was not homophobic, it was just "satirical".

This ruling is wrong. And it is dangerous.

This case was homophobic abuse, pure and simple. It was a hate crime.

It sets a damaging precedent at a time when Stonewall’s latest research shows that hate crime against LGBT people has increased.

Four in five LGBT people do not report hate crimes, often citing the fear they won’t be taken seriously.

Nick Fiveash, who was the victim in this case, has been left feeling that fear is real. He and his MP, Rushanara Ali, asked the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to appeal the verdict, but they had no legal grounds to do so, stating that they could not prove intent.

While I have not heard all the evidence in this case, it’s clear to me the intention was to intimidate and undermine a gay couple by using offensive language about their sexuality.

Satire is defined as “the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticise people's stupidity or vices”. Being lesbian, gay, bi or trans is neither stupid, nor a vice, it is an integral part of someone’s identity.

This case was homophobic abuse, pure and simple. It was a hate crime.

Cases like this endorse homophobia, biphobia and transphobia by making excuses.

The fact that magistrates felt it was acceptable to excuse hatred and homophobia as satire demonstrates why we need serious, system-wide change in the way hate crime is dealt with.

Stonewall is already working with over 20 police forces, with CPS and other institutions to support them to change – but not every part of the system is engaged and, until they are, this will keep happening.

The CPS have shown they want to improve the way they prosecute hate crime against LGBT people, so they can build trust that incidents will be taken seriously. We are one of a range of groups that sit on their Community Accountability Forum. 

They have committed to providing better training to prosecutors. But this case shows there is a long way to go. We’re asking them what went wrong here and how they will prevent this failure of justice from happening again.

There is a wider need to provide better, LGBT-inclusive training for all magistrates and judges. Homophobia should never be defended or excused by our justice system.

A ruling like this sends a dangerous message to both victims and abusers.

Allowing this to stand has a knock-on effect on all of us. It means that people can’t feel safe in their communities.

One in ten LGBT people don’t feel safe where they live, over a third avoid certain streets in their neighbourhood, and a third of same-sex couples are afraid to hold hands. For gay men, this figure rises to six in ten.

Cases like this endorse homophobia, biphobia and transphobia by making excuses. A ruling like this sends a dangerous message to both victims and abusers.

It tells victims their fear and feelings of intimidation aren’t real. It tells abusers, it’s fine, you’re not at fault, your homophobia isn’t a problem. 

If we want to stem the tide of hate crime, every part of our criminal justice system needs to demonstrate that it will protect and support LGBT citizens wherever hatred rears its head.

The fight for equality is far from over, it’s time to come out for LGBT people across the UK.