On February 9, Swiss voters will decide on extending the scope of anti-racism legislation to include discrimination based on sexual orientation. This revision is essential as current law does not protect against incitement to hatred against homosexuals says Muriel Waeger of the umbrella association of gay and lesbian organisations.
There is a gap in Swiss law. This legal loophole means that I can defend myself if someone publicly promotes hatred of my ethnicity, race or religion in general terms, but not if their statements concern my sexual orientation.
So, posting hateful comments about lesbians on the internet, using insulting language to incite hatred of gays on television, refusing to give a female couple a hotel room, or even rejecting the children of a gay couple at a daycare centre are all examples of discrimination that are permitted if they concern lesbians, gays or bisexuals, but not other minorities present in Switzerland.
Changing the criminal code is, however, not only necessary in order to obtain the same legal instruments, but also as a way of ending the longstanding, vicious circle of aggression.
The situation in Switzerland is, unfortunately, not rosy with regard to violence against LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer) people.
This sad reality is reflected in the suicide rate, which is up to five times higher among sexual minorities. A change in the law would be one means of curbing the violence. It would help deal with the root of the problem, without waiting for violence to take place physically before acting – because words that incite hatred and discrimination are enough to cause real damage.
What is more, a yes vote on February 9 would send an extremely strong signal. For the state, it would mean clearly saying that homo-, bi- or heterophobia are not permitted.
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It is a social norm that will give victims the strength and the legitimacy to file complaints and to fight against these forms of violence before they degenerate.
On the whole, homosexuals and bisexuals who have been victims of animosity do not turn to the police or the authorities.
There are many reasons, but the legislative vacuum and a lack of trust in official bodies are the main explanatory factors. If Swiss women and men together say no to hatred based on sexual orientation, this will go some way to restoring trust in the authorities.
The victims' families and friends also suffer from the denigration and slander suffered by those dear to them. These acts against specific population groups create insecurities, divide society and undermine social cohesion.
Freedom of expression preserved
Lastly, the prohibition of homophobic comments in no way implies a restriction of the freedom of expression. Jokes and critical points of views will still be allowed, as in other debates on race, ethnicity or religion.
Only incitement to hatred and discrimination will be punishable. This is a normal rule in a society that promotes coexistence, because in a public democratic debate no one should be able to reduce the human dignity of others. Critical and non-insulting arguments will always be welcome in Swiss democracy.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of swissinfo.ch.
Translated from French by Julia Bassam/ug, swissinfo.ch