Verbal Abuse in Public

Verbal abuse, threats or ‘name calling’ is a common experiences for LGBT people. Victims of verbal abuse are often unclear whether or not an offence has been committed or think that there is little they can do. However, there are laws in place to protect you from verbal abuse.

I’m a bi-woman walking along the street with my female partner and someone threatens to beat us up because we’re holding hands?

If someone uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour towards you, then it’s a Section 4 Public Order Offence (of the Public Order Act 1986), because you believe that they intend to cause you physical harm.

I’m a trans woman waiting to catch a bus. Two women stare at me and one shouts out, “You tranny freak, you shouldn’t be allowed to walk the streets!” I felt really shaken and upset by the abuse.

If someone directs remarks and abuse with the intention of causing you alarm or distress, they are committing a Section 4A Public Order Offence.

You notice a rowdy group of men walking along a crowded street in central London on a Saturday night. They are chanting “we hate queers!” They aren’t directing it at anyone in particular, so is it against the law?

Yes, the men are still committing a Section 5 Public Order Offence. Even though they aren’t directing the abuse or threat towards any one individual, it’s reasonable to believe that their language will cause alarm or distress – .

What about if I hear a religious person making what I perceive are homophobic remarks in the street – aren’t they committing a Public Order Offence?

A religious preacher making remarks condemning homosexuality has the right to freedom of expression and it’s unlikely that it would be dealt with as a Public Order Offence. However, if they make threats or use abusive language they could be committing an offence.

But what if someone is handing out leaflets calling for LGBT to be killed – isn’t that just expressing an opinion?

Demonstrating hatred towards someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity could lead to a charge of Incitement to Hatred. The offence occurs when someone acts in a way that is threatening and intended to stir up hatred, rather than it being an indirect outcome of their conduct.  See the Incitement To Hatred section for some examples that could apply.