MPs debate online homophobia in response to Towie star’s petition

MPs have called for the Government to take “urgent action” to tackle online homophobia in response to a petition started by The Only Way Is Essex star Bobby Norris.

Mr Norris watched the debate from the public gallery as an e-petition he started was debated by MPs after attracting more than 150,000 signatures.

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Senior Labour MP Angela Eagle (Wallasey) urged ministers to take steps to tackle the “growing threat” and “increase in violence” against LGBT people both online and in the real world.

She said: “The Government must urgently now update our laws in this area to make them fit for purpose.”

Ms Eagle said the current laws governing online hate speech pre-date social media and are in need of urgent updating.

She added: “This (social media) has fundamentally reshaped the way we communicate with each other in society.”

Ms Eagle, who introduced herself as the second ever MP to come out as a lesbian, listed recent homophobic attacks across England as evidence of increased intolerance towards LGBT people.

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She added: “In London, a couple of weeks ago, two gay women were beaten and robbed by five teenagers for refusing to kiss each other on demand.

“In Southampton, two women kissing in the street were injured by an object thrown at them from a passing car.

“In Liverpool, two men were stabbed and seriously hurt in a homophobic knife attack and one of those held for the attack was 12 years old.”

She added: “In my view, the Government have not reacted firmly enough to prevent this happening.

“I think our values of respect for diversity in society are now being tested and we must not be found wanting in our defence of them.”

Labour MP Luke Pollard (Plymouth Sutton and Devonport) said “hate is on the rise” across the country.

He told MPs: “I am very proud to be gay and I say that because I am Plymouth’s first ever out MP and that means something in a community where we have not always been out and proud and we have frequently hidden at the peripheries of society and written out of the very history that we have contributed to.”

Mr Pollard added: “This is the gayest Parliament in the world. We have more LGBT representatives than any other Parliament in the entire planet.

“So let’s use that. Let’s use those lived experiences to help drive that legislative change that my honourable friend from Wallasey (Angela Eagle) spoke so clearly about.”

SNP MP Martin Docherty (West Dunbartonshire) said online homophobia is bullying, adding: “The LGBT community since the dawn of time has faced unfounded and pernicious discrimination.

“As an openly gay man I am very much aware of it. I was born in a time when homosexuality was illegal (in Scotland).”

Someone holding a rock in front of a rainbow flag
Someone holding a rock in front of a rainbow flag

Shadow women and equalities minister Dawn Butler said the Government needs to change the existing laws rather than holding consultations.

She added: “I do plead to the minister not to announce any new consultations.

“I am up to my eyeballs in Government consultations. We have had 29,952 consultations since 2010.

“I think what we need to do now is changing the law and changing legislation.

“We know what exists, we know what is happening. We need to change it.”

The Labour frontbencher thanked Mr Norris for starting the petition and recalled meeting him at a nightclub “over a glass of wine”.

Ms Butler said: “I remember somebody saying: ‘Do you know who he is?’

“And I said ‘no but he’s a good dancer’.”

Responding for the Government, Home Office minister Victoria Atkins said homophobia – online or offline – is wrong.

She added: “It is a prejudice and is too often accompanied by a behaviour that has no place in a modern, vibrant and inclusive Britain.”

Ms Atkins acknowledged the points raised during the debate but pointed to the current laws in place that tackle online hate speech against LGBT people.

She said: “I absolutely understand the concerns that have been raised today not least the very fair observation that this legislation was passed before the internet as we know it today has come into being.”