Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Human Rights Approach to Life – Treat Everyone with Dignity and Respect

I am a great supporter of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) because it has been one of the main drivers behind the transformational changes in equality law over the past decade. Why this government and some of our media, want to replace it is a bit of a mystery bearing in mind it was the British in 1949/50 who were the main architects of the European Convention on Human Rights. 

The role of the ECHR is to provide a final court of appeal to all citizens of Europe if they believe that basic human rights are being violated by the state. In the UK however since the Human Rights Act 1998, most human rights issues are now dealt with in the UK courts with only about 10 cases each year actually being heard in Strasbourg. 

Whilst Human Rights law itself is quite complex and applies only to the way the state treats its citizens, the basic principle is simple and one which we should all try to live by in all our dealings with other people.  If we could, I believe that thousands of pages of legislation could be dispensed with. 

Treat Everyone with Dignity and Respect

That's it. Simple - but is it?  When I ask people on my workshops if they could live by this basic principle most immediately say yes... 

Until I emphasise the important word in that statement.  Everyone – murders, drug dealers, paedophiles, sex offenders, rapists, terrorists... 

“Ah – everyone except... ” I hear people say.  But we can’t do that. The principle of Human Rights has to apply everyone.

Who gets to decide on the exceptions? If the issue is a matter of national security, do we give someone the right to withdraw human rights from people in secret?  There can be no exceptions. 

After I changed gender I had a few minor problems with children in the area bringing their friends to “see the local trannie”.  And if I was nowhere to be seen they would shout, knock on the door, or throw stones to get my attention.  I put up with this for a few years and then in October 2008 things took a turn for the worse. 

First thing I noticed was a hole in a window where a stone had been thrown too hard. I ignored it, until the next week when another window was broken, so I called the police and reported this as a hate crime. Nothing was done and the next week things got even worse.

I thought at first it was a hail storm, till I opened the French windows and realised that a gang of about 20 kids were all throwing stones over my back fence.  And that was just the start.  Every night between 5 and 20 kids aged about 12 to 15 attacked my house from the rear and the front throwing stones, mud and abuse before disappearing into the dark back ally’s.

I called 999 no fewer than 11 times in the next two weeks and lived in constant stress.  All the windows, including the French windows were broken and I had had to board them up to prevent further damage.  Police were around my house every night in cars, on bikes and on foot, but the kids still evaded them. 

I had no idea who they were, because many of them were wearing hoodies and balaclavas to avoid being recognised.  I was terrified to leave the house at night in case they were able to get into my house and spray paint the interior, something I knew had been done to other gay and trans people in the city. 

Finally it reached a crescendo. They were riding past the front of my house on bikes hurling mud at the walls and windows and I lost it.  I grabbed a retractable washing line prop and went out to confront them – I was ready to take their heads off with heavy aluminium pole.

“Come on you little Bas****s,” I shouted.  All thought of treating them with dignity and respect was gone.  One young lad stood there, mud in hand.  “Come on then”, I yelled, then added “Why are you doing this to me?”
 “Well, are you a man or a woman?” came the reply.

I threw away my weapon and started to answer his question.  He dropped the mud he was holding and came forward and before I knew it he was joined by others, all firing questions as me.

Five minutes later I found myself on the green outside my house delivering a transgender awareness workshop to about 20 young people and as they removed their balaclavas I know it was all over. 

I spent about 10 minutes talking to them before the police arrived and they dispersed but I never had another problem after that.

It was over because I did "Treat Everyone with Dignity and Respect".

If I had hit one of them with that pole I would have been arrested and the problem with have escalated, with parents adding to the problem. 

Treating people with dignity and respect does not mean that we do not put people in prison or punish them for crimes or deport them to their country of origin; it means that when we do those things, we do it with dignity and respect, even when they have failed to treat others that way.

If you take this approach in all your dealings with people, especially colleagues at work, customers and service users, even our neighbors, you will never fall foul of equalities law and the world around us will be a much nicer place. 

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