A woman crosses a pedestrian crossing in central London remodelled with a transgender flag, in support of the trans community. Photo: Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
The UK's Labour Party wants to send “a strong message to transphobes and homophobes" by increasing sentences for anti-LGBTQ hate attacks. Labour is calling for what it says is a "relatively simple change" in the law that would lead to tougher penalties for those who commit hate crimes because of someone’s sexuality, transgender identity, or disability.
Speaking exclusively to VICE World News ahead of Transgender Day of Remembrance on Saturday the 20th of November, Labour’s Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary Anneliese Dodds called the proposals "a step in the right direction for trans people"."Hate crimes are horrendous crimes. They're crimes that deeply impact on people, and we need to see sentencing that reflects that. So we're calling on the government to get a move on, basically, to actually sort this out,” she said. Under existing UK law, a hate crime refers to a criminal offence where the victim is targeted on the basis of one or more “protected characteristics” – race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and transgender identity. Crimes that are currently termed “aggravated offences” are more serious versions of existing criminal offences, including assault, harassment, and criminal damage. If an offence is recorded by police as an “aggravated offence” it can carry a higher penalty.At the moment, only hate crimes motivated by race and religion are classed as aggravated offences, meaning that only two of the UK's five protected characteristics can attract longer sentences. This is the aspect of UK law that Labour is proposing to urgently change."There's a very, very strong need for action," Dodds told VICE World News. "We really do need to see hate crimes against trans people actually being treated as aggravated offences.
"If a crime was committed against a trans person, currently it's not treated in the same way as if that crime was motivated by race or religion."
Earlier this year, VICE World News revealed the huge rise in anti-LGBTQ hate crime reports in the UK, with transphobic hate crime reports quadrupling over the last six years.Asked about the statistics the shadow minister said, "I think those hate crime statistics are deeply concerning, and we need to be facing up to them and taking action.“We need to make the UK safer for trans people, there's no question about that.”In 2014, the Law Commission, a body set up by MPs that recommends reforms to laws in England and Wales, recommended that “aggravated offences” should be extended to hate crimes motivated by someone’s sexual orientation, disability or transgender identity, but there have been no changes to the law, even after the organisation recommended it again in its most recent consultation. VICE World News spoke to three trans people about the policy proposal. All of them have recently experienced transphobic hate, and they wanted to stay anonymous because of a fear of internet abuse. One trans woman said: “Proposals, proposals, proposals, no doubt it’ll come to nothing. We are facing daily issues on the streets – I’ve had three hate comments this week. I generally feel very unsafe, especially when I’m working in London.
"It’s pure luck if you'll find decent protection too. Police need more training, and especially to show more presence and empathy with trans people."Leni Morris, CEO of the LGBTQ anti-abuse charity Galop told VICE World News: "Trans people are under such high rates of physical, sexual, and verbal attack that more than half feel less able to leave their home.”She continued: "We welcome these proposals to address the inequalities in the sentencing of perpetrators of hate crime, which currently treats anti-LGBT+ and anti-disability hate crimes as lesser than hate crimes committed on the basis of race or religion. This policy change is a positive step towards greater sentences for perpetrators of hate crime against the trans community, but we need to do more to make the UK safer for trans people.”Dodds says she is "really concerned by the Conservative government's approach to equalities."She continued: "There's a fundamental lack of any compassion and humanity there. I think a lot of the time what we need to be doing is working together to find solutions to make sure that people are supported, make sure that they're safe. "We've seen promises made to trans people being broken. We were told that we would see change, and that's not materialised. I think that's a real matter of concern."The Labour Party is currently struggling with its own internal debate on trans rights. Just this week, one of its MPs Rosie Duffield was invited on to a BBC television programme where she repeatedly referred to trans women as “male-bodied people”.
Speaking on BBC Politics Live, Rosie Duffield said: “If you are a woman, who has been abused all of your life and ended up in prison, you may not feel quite that liberal towards someone in a male body who is then allowed onto your wing of the prison.”Challenged with this, Dodds' position was clear, saying “It's really important for me that we move ahead speedily on LGBT+ rights. “Labour's stated, for example, that we want to see the Gender Recognition Act being reformed, and the process of self identification, that's what the Conservatives promised, of course, and haven't delivered. Also we want to see the Equality Act being upheld.”A UK Home Office spokesperson said: “Hate crimes are completely unacceptable and those who commit these hateful attacks should feel the full force of the law. We’ve already improved the response to all forms of hate crime, but will go further by publishing a new strategy for tackling hate crime later this year which will continue to ensure victims are at the heart of our work.“We have also asked the Law Commission to conduct a wide-ranging review into hate crime to explore how to make current legislation more effective, and if additional protected characteristics should be added to the hate crime legislation. The government will respond to their recommendations once published.”