Check the date: danger of recycling old articles on social media
Yesterday I was informed that an article published in The Royal Gazette entitled “Rights campaigner places ‘heterosexuals need not apply’ advertisement for house cleaner” was being circulated on social media.
On reading the article, I saw that the story, dated November 25, 2011, provided coverage of an advertisement that read:
“Wanted: homosexual house cleaner (heterosexuals need not apply)”
The article went on to say that the advert was posted by a human rights campaigner who was “frustrated” by the “Government’s failure to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation”. The story also said that the advert was “perfectly legal because of the Government’s failure to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation”.
While there was a time in Bermuda when discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation was allowed, that changed in 2013 when the Human Rights Act was amended to add “sexual orientation” to the list of personal characteristics that are protected from discrimination. In making that amendment, the Government declared discrimination on the basis of one’s sexual orientation, whether heterosexual, homosexual or other, to be unlawful in the context of:
• Notices, including adverts published in the newspaper
• The disposal of a premises including rental units in a housing accommodation that consists of more than three independent dwellings
• The provision of goods and services
• Membership in organisations
• Hate speech
• Discriminatory covenants (ie, a deed that prohibits sale of a property to someone of a particular sexual orientation)
The amendment also made it possible for a victim of such discrimination to take their case to the Human Rights Commission where the matter could be prosecuted before a Human Rights Tribunal which had the power to award monetary compensation. The change to the Human Rights Act also made it possible, for the first time, for victims of discrimination based on their sexual orientation to sue in the Supreme Court of Bermuda for monetary damages.
When I read the article again today, which I remember reading in 2011, I became very concerned. While the content of the story was correct, for the time at which it was written, it is now out of date. Furthermore, I fear that the content of the story may mislead readers into thinking that it is still lawful to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, when nothing could be farther from the truth.
It is for the above reasons that I firmly advise anyone who is reading a controversial article online to check the date on which it was published first, especially when it concerns something as important as human rights. The rights guaranteed by our Human Rights Act are constantly evolving and our legislation is frequently updated to reflect the changes in our society’s values.
If you have any doubts as to what is or is not allowed in Bermuda when it comes to a person’s race, religion, colour, gender, sexual orientation, physical disability, etc, I also recommend that you call the Human Rights Commission or check its website. The Human Rights Commission exists to educate the public as well as to provide enforcement of everyone’s fundamental rights as protected by the Human Rights Act.
• Allan Doughty is an attorney with MJM Ltd and practises human rights law
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