Responding to Hate Speech against LGBTI people

Human rights violations against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people constitute a global concern. Impunity for acts of violence against LGBTI people and discriminatory legislation and State practice contribute to an environment in which LGBTI people are too frequently marginalised and silenced, in some cases through imprisonment and even execution.

Often at the heart of this prejudicial environment is the denial of LGBTI people’s rights to freely express their identities and broader opinions, which secondarily deprives all people of important and diverse information. In turn, LGBTI people are deprived of their ability to assert other fundamental human rights, in particular the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and democratic participation. Even where discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited by national law, prejudices and stereotypes related to LGBTI people significantly impede their implementation.

Discriminatory and prejudicial policies and practices against LGBTI people often reinforce contempt for sexual minorities in society and as a consequence LGBTI people are frequently targeted by “hate speech”. This occurs in various contexts, including in the media, in political debates or counter-demonstrations at public LGBTI events such as pride parades. Too often, in these statements, LGBTI persons are depicted negatively, for example as “unnatural, diseased, deviant, linked to crime, immoral or socially destabilising.”
The extent to which States permit, prohibit, or sanction “hate speech” varies greatly. National laws contain vague and overbroad prohibitions, implemented inconsistently and often with counter-productive consequences.
In this debate, it is important to understand the circumstances under which the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the ICCPR) and other regional standards permit States to limit the right to freedom of expression; and to be mindful that States are only obliged to prohibit expression that amounts to the “advocacy of hatred” that constitutes “incitement” to discrimination, hostility or violence, and to understand what this obligation entails. 
At the same time, recognition by States of sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics varies significantly and guidance at the international and regional levels in this regard is limited. International human rights institutions have been slow to recognise that sexual orientation and gender identity should be included among the defining characteristics of groups protected from discrimination. However, recent developments at the international and regional levels support an increasing 
trend among States to recognise homophobic and transphobic speech as being as serious as racial, xenophobic or anti-Semitic speech.

In this policy paper, ARTICLE 19 proposes the response to “hate speech” targeting people on account of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The proposal is based on the review of international standards and domestic trends countering the advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to hostility, discrimination or violence (“incitement”) specifically, and “hate speech” more generally, on these bases.

Full text of the policy paper is available here.