Stonewall Scotland have spoken out to oppose the repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act until “other measures are in place”.
Director, Colin Macfarlane, speaking to the BBC, said that although there were “implementation issues” with the act, there should be no changes until Scotland’s hate crime review has reported back. He said:
“Our view is that [the Act] sends a very clear message, that offensive behaviour at football is not acceptable. LGBT people tell us that that’s one area of sport where they don’t feel safe or secure – whether that’s from chanting or singing or comments that are made on the stands.”
He continued, “repealing the act without other measures in place could undermine work that’s been done to increase LGBT people’s confidence not only in reporting hate crime but also in attending sporting events like football” and that it could “send a very negative signal” to LGBT people.
MSPs are currently taking evidence on the repeal of the law at Holyrood and a government review is under way after Labour MSP James Kelly brough forward a Members Bill to repeal the Act.
The law has been in place since January 2012 and includes behaviours which “express hatred of, or stirring up hatred against, a group of persons based on their membership (or presumed membership) of a religious group, a social or cultural group with a perceived religious affiliation” as well as groups defined by colour, race, nationality, sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability.
Offensive and criminal behaviour against defined groups in Scotland are covered by hate crime legislation, although many campaigners are calling for changes to these hate crime laws, such as adding intersex as a defined characteristic. The Lord Bracadale is leading a government review of hate crime in Scotland which runs until 23rd November 2017.
Others have told the Justice Committee that existing hate crime powers give enough protection and that this Act is confusing. Danny Boyle, from the Black and Ethnic Minotory Infrastructure in Scotland group, said:
“We are not convinced that it appropriately or effectively tackles hate crime in Scotland. It creates a disproportionate focus on one section of society, when the overwhelming majority of hate crime is taking place somewhere else.”