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Guernsey is in need of discrimination legislation

Readers' Letters | Published:

IN RESPONSE to Stretch Kontelj’s opinion piece entitled Law or Liberty?, I would like to address the comment about some of the rationales that people are using to back the need for discrimination legislation here in Guernsey. You state that it is based on ‘possible’ scenarios of discrimination happening in Guernsey. You then list real life examples that various Guernsey charities have spoken about recently and state that you don’t believe these are being played out in Guernsey.

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I can only refer specifically to my experiences running Guernsey’s LGBTQ charity Liberate, and I would like to address the statement where you say that you don’t believe that ‘legal services can be refused to a gay person’ in Guernsey. Legal services (and any other services) can be denied to an LGBTQ person(s) in Guernsey, because we don’t currently have any legislation in place that can stop businesses discriminating against someone based on their sexual identity, gender identity, ethnicity, age, religion etc. One of these services was denied to one of our services users last year, which is why he contacted Liberate. I’ll explain the circumstances for clarity.

Mike was an 80-year-old man who moved to Guernsey at the beginning of 2018, after nursing his partner of 49 years through cancer. Mike’s husband’s ashes had been scattered in Sark and Mike wanted to live nearby so that he could visit as frequently as he chose. Mike met with a local advocate and engaged them to finalise various parts of his late husband’s estate. The advocate he approached withdrew their services once they found out he was a gay man, and that the estate in question was his late husband’s (and not his brother, or a friend, which they had assumed). The advocate in question told him that they did not condone his relationship and were withdrawing their services.

I’ve enclosed a copy of the letter that Mike sent to me after our first meeting for you to read.

I reached out to an advocate who worked at that particular firm, who was known to me and also a member of the LGBTQ community, and they kindly offered to speak with the advocate in question if Mike wished. I also spoke with a jurat to find out if the refusal of services by the advocate in question due to the fact that Mike was gay was against the law and if any sort of action could be taken against this act of discrimination. Unfortunately I had to explain to Mike that there was no legislation in place to stop this type of discrimination and therefore there was nothing legally that could be done. He therefore saw little point in pursuing action against the firm and, as you will see in the letter, he decided he would rather let ‘sleeping dogs lie’. You may also note Mike’s comment with regards to rethinking as to whether Guernsey is somewhere he wanted to continue living when this type of blatant discrimination is allowed to happen.

Now, you might wonder why Mike didn’t want to pursue the matter further, maybe you’d say that he should have reported the advocate to the Guernsey Bar, or at the very least to their superiors (if there were any). And it may be very difficult for any of us to begin to comprehend the amount of prejudice that this couple will have faced in their 49 years together – the year they got together being the year that homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK. They faced so much discrimination and homophobia throughout all of their lives together, this final kick in the teeth was a just a drop in the ocean for them.

This should not be allowed to happen in a civilised society, and if we had discrimination legislation in place then perhaps this act of discrimination and refusal of services to an elderly gay man may not have happened, as the advocate in question would have been breaking the law by refusing services to Mike.

Please believe me when I tell you that you are incorrect in your assumption that the acts of discrimination that you have assumed were ‘possible’ scenarios, they have happened – all of them. Your flippant dismissal of them only adds to the insult, injury and discrimination that many people have already faced.

So, as nice as it may be to think that we don’t need legislation to ensure that people are treated equally and with respect, to not have legislation means that you cannot even hope to create a society where it doesn’t happen. It’s like saying we don’t need airport security as we can rely on people’s good nature. We don’t have airport security because we believe every person is going to try and hijack a plane, but it acts as a deterrent and we are glad it is there to protect us. I’m sure we would all be much more anxious travellers without it.

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I do echo your sentiments that Guernsey is a great place to live, work and raise a family… however sometimes it’s a better place for some than others.

Please note – Liberate wanted to respect Mike’s wishes by not speaking about this publicly until he had passed away. He sadly died in April but we hope his story will help change how others are treated.

ELLIE JONES

Liberate, vice chair.

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