More steps remain to be taken
The Government’s indication that it will table a bill amending the Human Rights Act 1981, to introduce protections against discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation”, is to be welcomed; the amendment is long overdue. However, the unfortunate reality for Bermuda’s LGBTQ community remains that the protections afforded by the Human Rights Act 1981 are limited, and the benefits of any change, no matter how broadly an amendment is drafted, will be circumscribed.
At one stage the former government offered to introduce broad equality legislation comparable to that introduced in the United Kingdom. A carbon copy of the UK Equality Act 2010 would certainly have introduced far greater protections for LGBTQ community here.
But, given the then government’s failure to deliver on past promises to introduce the simplest of protections, there existed much scepticism surrounding its motivation for proposing broader equality legislation; and there was concern that it would exploit the lengthy process for introducing legislation of the magnitude of the UK Equality Act 2010 to further delay taking steps which it deemed controversial.
While an amendment to the Human Rights Act 1981 is a step in the right direction, it remains merely a step. New and broader legislation is required to progress our community towards equality. The Human Rights Act 1981 does not do that. Any amendments made in the meantime must be recognised as a stop gap, and the Government should not take comfort in the fact that by introducing limited protection for “sexual orientation”, and “age” for that matter, it has attained some human rights plateau. There is more work to be done.
Although the limitations of Bermuda’s legislative protections on the grounds of “age” and “sexual orientation” are likely to come into sharp focus in coming weeks, it should be remembered that greater protection is still required to ensure the disabled have better access to goods and services, and to clarify the steps that should be taken by employers and governmental bodies to promote accessibility.
The current anti-discrimination provisions will still require reform as it is unacceptable that exceptions continue to exist which permit a person to discriminate against another in the disposal of premises on the basis of race, religion or marital status. Legislative guidance is required to bridge the gender pay gap, and to clarify the role that educators must play in eradicating bullying. And steps should be taken to protect vulnerable immigrants from exploitation.
And sadly, as has been the case elsewhere, a “sexual orientation” amendment is unlikely to prevent gender-based discrimination; and this is shocking given the central role played by transgendered people in the struggle for LGBTQ equality. This should be rectified, and soon.