The Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) has called on the Victorian Government to introduce a Hate Crimes Act, which would legally protect LGBTI people from hate conduct and hate speech.
The call coincides with the release of the End the Hate report, a 30-page document that reveals how current laws and policies are failing the LGBTI community across the state, along with 23 recommendations for reform.
Senior lawyer at the HRLC, Lee Carnie, said the centre began looking into the issue of hate crimes in 2016 after the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, before they were met with plenty of local examples during the postal survey period last year.
“There has been a spike in prejudice motivated conduct, and our current laws and policies aren’t adequate enough to respond to it,” they told the Star Observer.
“The postal survey was a stark reminder of just how much LGBTI communities continue to be targeted [by hate conduct and hate speech].
“There are protections against hate speech on the basis of race and religion in Victoria, but we don’t have the same protections for the LGBTI community.”
In 2009, the Sentencing Act in Victoria was amended to allow for heavier sentences in cases where crimes were found to be motivated by prejudice more broadly, however the HRLC said these have rarely been used.
As part of their recommendations, the centre is calling on Victoria Police to make training and information on LGBTI-related prejudice motivated crime available to all of its members.
They have also encouraged the government to provide greater funding for educational resources and campaigns around support programs that specifically target LGBTI communities.
Carnie said there are high rates of underreporting when it comes to LGBTI victims of hate crime.
“There are gaps in what we hear when we talk to community members and what the data tells us,” they said.
“Community education and support are critical in putting a stop to hate crimes once and for all.
“The law is important, but it only goes so far; what we really need to change is prejudice by tackling it over time.”
Carnie added that introducing new, LGBTI-specific legislation would send a clear message to those who put up anti-gay posters in Melbourne last year, or those who defaced walls with homophobic graffiti.
“It sends a message to people who feel it’s okay to bully others that it’s unacceptable,” they said.
“I know we’re in a tricky period in Victoria, and there’s a lot going on because of the upcoming state election, but we feel this is such an important issue and we’re calling on the community as well to talk about the importance of these reforms.
“Hopefully in the future we can live in a state where no-one has to live in fear of being attacked on the street.”
The ACT and Tasmania are currently the only jurisdictions that have comprehensive protections against hate speech for the entire LGBTI community.
In June, New South Wales passed the Crimes Amendment Bill 2018, which protects minorities including LGBTI people from vilification.