Homophobia and Transphobia May Soon Be Illegal in Switzerland

Switzerland moved to criminalize homophobia and transphobia in late September, but the final vote probably won’t be decided for a couple of months, activists say. 

The law passed the lower house of Switzerland’s legislature, the National Council, by a 118 to 69 vote on September 25. If the law passes the upper house, the Council of States, in its current form, then people found guilty of homophobia or transphobia would be given a jail term of three years.

Mathias Reynard, who is a member of the Swiss Socialist Party, proposed the law, claiming victory on Twitter after the law passed last month:  “Victory! By 118 against 60 and 5 abstentions, the National Council accepts my parliamentary initiative against homophobia and transphobia!”

“A great success for human rights!” he added.

In an interview with ShortList, Reynard, who identifies as straight, said he was inspired by friends who had been subjected to homophobic violence.

“And working on this law I found out that the Swiss case-law doesn’t punish either hate speech or incitement to hatred towards LGBT+ people. During the last few years, this loophole in the law has been pointed out several times at an international level,” Reynard told the outlet. “We’ve had lots of cases of homophobic physical violence reported on the front pages in Switzerland in the past months so it’s time for things to change.”

Reynard tells the outlet that he’s optimistic about the success of the message that homophobia and transphobia will not be tolerated, but that there is more work to be done in educating the public and collecting more information surrounding homophobic and transphobic violence. He says that he will now begin working on passing same-sex marriage. Civil partnerships have been legal in the country for same-sex couples since 2007.

Same-sex couples, however, do not have access to tax benefits, welfare, and even adoption.

The Swiss Parliament released a statement saying that there was a need to acknowledge non-cis gender identities as a protected group. However, it noted that some members of Parliament had argued that gender identity was too broad of a category for protection. At this time, there is no mention of gender identity in Swiss law.

Now, LGBTQ rights groups are preparing for the next vote in the Council of States.

Janna Kraus, spokesperson for the Transgender Network Switzerland (TGNS), says that it will most likely take a few months for it to be scheduled for a vote.

“The law deals with hate speech against protected groups. It used to apply only to racial, ethnic, and/or religious discrimination. Now it’s also supposed to include protection for sexual orientation and gender identity, which we hope will have an impact on daily acts of street or online harassment and also prevent more organized acts of hostility, such as denying acts of service to a group of people,” Kraus tells INTO via email.

Kraus says that the law would make authorities register hate speech against LGBTQ people instead of ignoring the motivation. TGNS, Kraus says, was heavily involved in pushing for the law.

“Switzerland ranks somewhere in the middle when it comes to trans rights. This is largely due to slow progress concerning self-determination and de-pathologization, [and] lack of non-binary recognition,” Kraus tells INTO.

Another group that will be lobbying for the law to be fully passed is Pink Cross. Roman Heggli, the Secretary-General, says that they’ve been waiting five years for this moment to arrive. Heggli says that the high number of votes for the bill in the lower house shows society has evolved.

“The majority of the members of all the parties, except the right-wing SVP, agreed to it in the lower house,” Heggli says in an email to INTO. “The members of the upper house need really good reasons not to pass it.”

“On the 6th of November it will be discussed in the commission (the Rechtskommission), in December it should be in the upper house,” Heggli explained. Though the law doesn’t include every form of discrimination, Heggli says it’s a needed step in the right direction.

ILGA-Europe, a European LGBTQ rights organization ranked Switzerland 22 out of 49 European countries in terms of policies that protect LGBTQ-identifying citizens.

Image via TGNS – Transgender Network Switzerland Facebook

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