Non-Discrimination Ombudsman Kristina Stenman has called for "swift action" to deal with harassment and hatred being directed towards sexual and gender minorities in Finland.
In a statement (siirryt toiseen palveluun) released (in Finnish) on the authority's website, Stenman said she was particularly concerned by the number of young people reporting incidents of harassment, discrimination and threats of violence.
"Harassment of sexual and gender minorities has been in the public eye in many places during Pride parades or weeks. It has also come to light that children and young people are being bullied or harassed because of their sexual or gender identity," Stenman wrote.
The incidents include the apparent explosion of a homemade bomb by four underage suspects during Lapua's first-ever Pride Week event in July, as well as a separate but similar incident in Savonlinna in August.
In addition, a survey published by news agency STT in June found that nearly all Finnish Pride organisers said they have experienced some sort of harassment.
Stenman also noted that sexual and gender minorities have become the target of hatred in public debate and discourse.
This has included questions about the need for a Pride flag, as well as a suggestion that equality should mean treating everyone the same.
However, Stenman pointed out that equal treatment does not always guarantee equality, and that special measures can and should be taken to support groups at risk of discrimination.
The Pride flag for example, she added, is a visible sign of support for minorities.
Municipalities and schools must promote equality
In her statement, Stenman further noted that employers, educational institutes and authorities have a legal obligation to promote equality and build policies that address harassment.
"Especially with children and young people, it is important to think about how to ensure that everyone feels safe, seen and accepted," Stenman said, adding that homophobic and transphobic harassment and discrimination must be tackled effectively and without delay.
Discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited under the terms of Finland's Non-Discrimination Act.
"At times, it appears that equality planning has not been carried out properly and there are no policies in place to address discrimination," Stenman observed.
Reports are irregular
The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman's office receives relatively few contacts related to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, despite surveys and questionnaires indicating multiple such incidents.
"It remains partially hidden. I think it's partly because we're used to bullying and harassment. People may feel that contacting the authorities won't help," Stenman said, adding that the provisions contained within the Non-Discrimination Act as well as ways of tackling discrimination may be unfamiliar to many people.
However, she noted that there has been a slight increase in the number of contacts related to sexual orientation this year - especially concerning incidents in schools or at workplaces.
Some of the cases reported to the authority have included inappropriate comments made by school staff to students and a landlord refusing to rent accommodation to a same-sex couple.
When such cases are reported to the office, the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman can ask the other party for clarification and, if necessary, make a public statement on the matter.
The authority can also offer mediation between the two parties, which often results in compensation, an apology and a commitment to end the discrimination.
"I think it's really important that behaviour that has come to the fore in some places should not be tolerated," Stenman said.