das onlinemagazin der rg-woche


in Foreign Correspondents by

“The moment that real­ly both­ered me was when, going home from the Pride fes­ti­val, kids on the tram put away their rain­bow flags in their bags, washed off the col­or­ful paint from their faces and peeled the stick­ers off their arms to make sure their par­ents at home wouldn’t see them,” says Chris­tine (name changed). “This is our real­i­ty: con­stant­ly hav­ing to be care­ful not to give away who we real­ly are, in pub­lic or even with fam­i­ly. I can­not recall any sit­u­a­tion where I had to feel uneasy while hold­ing a man’s hand.”

In a ref­er­en­dum which made head­lines around the world on 9 Feb­ru­ary, 63.1% of Swiss vot­ers came out in favor of extend­ing the anti-racism laws to cov­er sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion. The new laws are designed to tack­le hate speech and hate crimes relat­ing to SOGI (Sex­u­al Ori­en­ta­tion and Gen­der Iden­ti­ty). It’s acknowl­edges the LGBT+ com­mu­ni­ty as a minor­i­ty in the hope of end­ing its long his­to­ry of mar­gin­al­iza­tion and the vio­lence it has suf­fered.

Chris­tine has nev­er told her fam­i­ly that she is a part of that com­mu­ni­ty. “It’s always a risk to express our prin­ci­ples in front of oth­er peo­ple. Before the ref­er­en­dum you couldn’t have asked some­one direct­ly about homo­sex­u­al­i­ty or gen­der iden­ti­ty. with­out hav­ing to wor­ry about giv­ing your­self away to some­one you don’t feel com­fort­able around. The ref­er­en­dum made peo­ple active­ly realise our exis­tence. We can talk about it – the com­ments are still not always pos­i­tive, but at least we acknowl­edge it. And the first step to change is always acknowl­edg­ing the prob­lem.”

There have already been laws against libel and hate speech in pub­lic, but nev­er when they con­cerned sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion. It was, for exam­ple, legal to tell a group of gay men all gays are abnor­mal.

Anna Rosen­wass­er, co-man­ag­er of the Les­bian Orga­ni­za­tion of Switzer­land, cam­paigned for the new law argu­ing: “A pub­lic video in which some­one says ‘Black peo­ple can be healed with a few punch­es’ would be right­ly pun­ish­able. But a video in which some­one says the same thing about gays is legal. Such state­ments in pub­lic endan­ger peace­ful coex­is­tence in swiss soci­ety.”

If a brochure or a pub­lic Face­book page sug­gests that all les­bians are sick and should be raped to help them ‘find the right way’, if a child is denied admis­sion to a play­group because its par­ents are gay or if a restau­ran­teur has a sign in front of the restau­rant announc­ing: ‘we don’t serve bisex­u­al sex mon­sters or homo­sex­u­al pae­dophiles’, there was no way to take legal action before the change in the law.

The oppo­si­tion, how­ev­er, remains con­vinced that the ‘cen­sor­ship-law’ is a step back­wards. “The same cir­cles that loud­ly demand tol­er­ance for them­selves at the same time exclude those, who think dif­fer­ent­ly,” claimed the “Nein zum Zen­surge­setz” (“No to the cen­sor­ship law”) web­site in its ref­er­en­dum cam­paign.

Gen­der iden­ti­ty was exclud­ed from the ref­er­en­dum, even though it was part of the pro­pos­al in ear­li­er stages. The TGNS (Trans­gen­der Net­work Switzer­land) sees this as a short­com­ing: “We are very hap­py about this improve­ment because a great many trans peo­ple are also queer and will prof­it from this vote. It was, how­ev­er, quite frus­trat­ing to see politi­cians like Karin Keller-Sut­ter explain that trans rights were not ‘main­stream’ enough to be includ­ed. Human rights should not be a pop­u­lar­i­ty con­test and the whole point of hate crime pro­tec­tion is that many peo­ple do not believe in the dig­ni­ty of minori­ties.”

Homo­pho­bic ver­bal or phys­i­cal attacks are record­ed two or three times a week in Switzer­land, but as in oth­er coun­tries a high pro­por­tion of hate crimes nev­er get report­ed. Sui­cide rates amongst young peo­ple in the LGBT+ com­mu­ni­ty are five times high­er com­pared to the rest of the Swiss pop­u­la­tion due to social iso­la­tion, dis­crim­i­na­tion and hate crimes.

Even with the law, peo­ple will only get pun­ished if an insult vio­lates human dig­ni­ty and is made in pub­lic and inten­tion­al­ly. A shop own­er who rejects some­one because of their sex­u­al­i­ty, can avoid any penal­ty by not stat­ing homo­sex­u­al­i­ty as the rea­son for rejec­tion. The rul­ing does not apply to pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions.

But what will the change in the law mean for large organ­i­sa­tions in prac­tice? Per­haps not a lot accord­ing to Ursu­la Alder, the prin­ci­pal of Real­gy­ma­si­um Rämibühl, a top school in Zürich: “The school has always insist­ed that peo­ple must be respect­ed irre­spec­tive to their skin col­or, reli­gion or sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion. There is also a year­ly LGBT+ aware­ness day to offer sup­port and edu­ca­tion to pupils on this mat­ter. This leg­is­la­tion has no direct effects on the cur­ricu­lum but will def­i­nite­ly help improve tol­er­ance and accep­tance on the school cam­pus.”

The Pink Cross Organ­i­sa­tion has made clear that this is not the end of the road: “After the clear yes, the LGBTI com­mu­ni­ty will use this momen­tum to achieve the con­sis­tent imple­men­ta­tion of the penal code and to enforce mar­riage equal­i­ty.” A bill to legal­ize same-sex mar­riage is cur­rent­ly on its way through par­lia­ment.

“When peo­ple tell me that their free­dom of expres­sion will be reduced, I would real­ly like to ask: ‘Oh. And what would you like to pub­licly say that would be pun­ish­able after­wards?’ ”

-Anna Rosen­wass­er


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