'Hate speech' against LGBT communities in Eastern Europe and Central Asia
Across Europe and Central Asia, lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people are regularly denied the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association and democratic participation. Hate speech is prevalent, in the media and propagated by politicians. Meanwhile censorship and impunity for frequent acts of violence against LGBT people enable an environment in which LGBT people are marginalized and silenced, preventing them from speaking up against hatred.
In some Eastern European and Central Asian countries discrimination against LGBT people is linked with the concept of ‘traditional values’. Being LGBT is described as a ‘foreign concept’. Politicians often stir up hate by making statements that LGBT people ‘do not exist’ in their country or that homosexuality is ‘unnatural’. Religious leaders describe homosexuality as a ‘sin’ and a ‘disease’ that must be cured. All these statements inspire more verbal attacks and even acts of violence.
The problem is exacerbated by a lack of legal protections against discrimination across the region. Violence and physical attacks against LGBT people are rarely considered as hate crimes, motivated by prejudice and attacks. They are often classified by law enforcement as simple acts of hooliganism. Such obstacles to justice for LGBT people reinforce self-censorship.
What is ‘hate speech’?
There is no universally accepted definition of ‘hate speech’ in international law. The term is usually used to refer to expression that is abusive, insulting, intimidating or harassing and/or which incites violence, hatred or discrimination against groups identified by a specific set of characteristics. Put simply, ‘hate speech’ targets people, as individuals or groups, because of who they are.
‘Hate speech’ is especially prevalent online – on social media platforms and in comments and posts on articles, forums and blogs. ‘Hate speech’ labels people on a single or multiple aspects of their identity, denies their humanity and may incite harm against a particular group or individual. Such speech undeniably has a negative impact on societies, in particular for minority and marginalised groups.
Can’t we just ban ‘hate speech’?
This would be a dangerous approach: given the broad definition of ‘hate speech’, this could lead to sweeping restrictions on freedom of expression. Too often such restrictions target disadvantaged and marginalized groups, undermining rather than promoting equality. For example, across Europe and Central Asia several states have laws prohibiting ‘incitement to social hatred’; however, these are rarely used to promote equality. Rather, governments bring these charges against dissidents or minority groups.
Moreover, such bans don’t address the root causes of prejudice, of which hate speech is symptomatic. Simply silencing people will not solve the problem of intolerance. Open debate is essential to combating negative stereotypes of individuals and groups and exposing the harm created by prejudice.
Under certain limited circumstances, states are obliged by international human rights law to prohibit the advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence. This is the case where speech is likely and intended to result in immediate violence. In such cases, sanctions for incitement or the removal of content should be subject to a court order. Just imagine the consequences if anyone could decide what content should be sanctioned, removed or not!
Moreover, such prohibitions should primarily be made through civil and administrative laws, and only in the most serious cases should criminal sanctions be imposed. Criminal law should not be the default response to instances of incitement if less severe sanctions or measures could achieve the same effect.
Why should I stand against ‘hate speech’?
Because human rights are universal. As stated in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. We are all different, but we enjoy the same human rights. Many people don’t react to ‘hate speech’ and discrimination against LGBT people because they think it doesn’t concern them. However, restrictions on LGBT people’s rights to freely express their identities and broader opinions do not only harm them, but deprive all people of important and diverse information, particularly on matters of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Moreover, anyone can be a victim of discrimination. Discrimination can be based on any personal characteristic from your age, sex, social status, race, ethnicity, religion, your sexual orientation and gender identity. That’s why it is so important to stand up to hate speech and show solidarity with people facing discrimination.
What I can do?
You can tackle ‘hate speech’ with more speech – challenge and stand up to discrimination that you see online.
How to counter ‘hate speech’ online?
There are many myths about LGBT people that are widespread and repeated over and over again. Many people probably don’t even realise that they are untrue, and they can be easily contested by facts.
Pay attention to language
Sometimes in a heated discussion it is easy to use inappropriate or offensive words. Be calm, don’t get provoked to use hate speech in return. Use more inclusive/friendly language as a way of showing solidarity and sensitivity.
Show support to targets of ‘hate speech’
It is crucial to make supportive comments to those being targeted by hate speech, to show that they are not alone.
Myths about LGBT people
‘LGBT people don’t exist in our country, it is not part of our culture’.
LGBT people exist in every society and in every country regardless of culture and traditions. Sometimes politicians deny the existence of LGBT people in their country; LGBT people are described as ‘unnatural’ and ‘foreign’. Statements like these intimidate LGBT communities and stop many people from coming out from fear of persecution and violence.
‘Families should be ‘traditional’: a wife, husband and kids; children in same-sex families are often abused and unhappy’.
Research studies show that children brought up by same-sex couples do not differ from other children. As stated in the 2004 Resolution of the American Psychological Association, the world’s largest association of psychologist …‘there is no scientific basis for concluding that lesbian mothers or gay fathers are unfit parents on the basis of their sexual orientation. On the contrary, research suggests that lesbian and gay parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide supportive and healthy environments for their children.’
Traditions, culture or religion, although very important in our lives, cannot be used as a basis for restricting people’s enjoyment of human rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All states are obliged to protect the human rights of all people equally.
‘Homosexuality is a disease’.
On 17 May 1990, the General Assembly of the World Health Organization (WHO) removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders.
In the past there were many attempts to ‘cure’ homosexuality using inhumane practices. This often amounted to torture and cruel or degrading treatment, and in turn sometimes resulted in suicide. For example, Alan Turing, the British mathematician considered to be the father of modern computers for breaking the Enigma code during World War II, was forced to undergo chemical castration following a court ruling. Following this ‘treatment’ Turing committed suicide in 1954. He was eventually pardoned posthumously in 2013. Thousands of other men convicted of homosexual acts were forced to undergo ‘treatment’ using electric shock or hallucinogenic drugs.
‘The rights of LGBT people are not violated, they can do whatever they want at home’.
Would you consider yourself free if you could only express your political or religious views, or your love or feelings for your partner at home? In many countries LGBT people’s rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association are violated as they are prevented from expressing their opinions in the public sphere – for example through ‘homosexual propaganda’ bans, restrictions on pride marches or limits on what they can teach their children.
LGBT people are not advocating for ‘additional rights’ or ‘special treatment’: it is about ensuring that LGBT people can live their lives without discrimination and violence. As stated in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. LGBT people should enjoy same rights as everybody else.