Are we doing enough to protect LGBTQI+ Rights in Europe? – Pride Month reflections by the LYMEC network
A few weeks ago we invited everyone to celebrate Pride Month with us. Not through big marches and demonstrations, like we usually would have done, but by encouraging people to use our Facebook Pride frame and give testimonies about the situation of the LGBTQI+ community in their countries. Our aim was to give an overview of the situation in Europe, now that individual rights have been under a lot of pressure due to the emergency measures triggered by COVID-19.
In some countries, the situation of the LGBTQI+ community has worsened during the present crisis. We have seen Hungary pass a law that prevents trans people from changing their gender on their ID cards (The European Parliament’s LGBTI Intergroup, 2020), the Polish government using homophobic stances on its campaign for re-election, such as emphasizing “gender ideology” and declaring LGBTQ free zones (Ciobanu, 2020), and the Romanian Senate approving a bill that forbids any discussion on “gender identity theory or opinion” in educational establishments (The European Parliament’s LGBTI Intergroup, 2020).
Other forms of discrimination are more subtle but still worryingly present in many European countries. According to the survey “A long way to go for LGBTI equality” conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights last year, 6 out of 10 avoided holding hands with their partner in public due to fear of being harassed, 2 out of 5 had suffered harassment during the previous year and 1 out of 5 trans or intersex people had been attacked or sexually assaulted (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2020).
Each statistic comes with a story, and as such we opened the floor to our members to share their experiences with the liberal family – to help us all reflect on what is going on and what we can do to counter discrimination of the LGBTQI+ community.
Sadly, two of our respondents reported that they have been victims of homophobic threats and even aggressive behaviour. As the years have passed, their countries have become more accepting and they have grown more confident and are today demanding the respect they deserve. The presence of a support group such as family, friends, the LGBTQI+ community or even a political party was key in developing that confidence. Nevertheless, as a public figure, one of our respondents continues to be the target of homophobic remarks. This respondent considers that homophobia is the result of a culture developed under the influence of religious values that painted sexuality as something perverted, immoral or objectionable. Another respondent suggests it can be an expression of low self-esteem on the part of the aggressor. Whatever the reason might be, they both think that education is the key to tackle this issue.
The LGBTQI+ community faces many damaging stigmas and cliches that have no place in a society built on common values, the respondents agreed that trying to figure out how “LGBTQI+ people generally are” without being aware of their backgrounds is deeply disrespectful, and definitely wrong. They advised people who are unfamiliar with the LGBTQI+ community to forget all the cliches and try to build their own experience by meeting people from the community.
When it comes to “coming out” and how it affects one’s life, the respondents underlined the fact that there is a big difference between coming out in an LGBTQI+ hostile country versus in an LGBTQI+ friendly country. They recommended people living in a hostile country to find support in the local LGBTQI+ community, since these communities do exist all around the world. If you do not find a community where you live, you can get in contact with the community online.
On the other hand, to people living in LGBTQI+ friendly countries, our members encourage them to come out as they will be much happier and relaxed than before because they are able to live their lives as they are. Nevertheless, they acknowledge that coming out can redefine your social relations, since some people might, even today, not be able to handle it. Regardless, this can also be a positive thing, since it is a chance to find out who your true friends are and make space for new ones that accept you.
Most respondents feel that legal recognition of rights, such as equal marriage, protection against discrimination and adoption, does come hand in hand with more acceptance from society. However, there is still work to be done. European countries need to be aware that LGBTQI+ rights are human rights, and our societies will not be free until they grant human rights for all people, including sexual minorities.
The LGBTQI+ rights at the EU level are being far from properly protected. Freedom of movement is granted and enforced for cis-straight couples in Schengen, but LGBTQI+ couples are still discriminated, their rights limited and even their physical integrity threatened. There are “LGBT-free” countries and regions in the EU, with anti-gay propaganda laws and where discrimination on sexual grounds is allowed under the umbrella of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Equal marriage is not legal in several EU countries and adoption rights are exclusive for straight couples in a great number of Member States. In most countries surrogacy and directed sperm donation are forbidden, which limits same-sex couples’ possibilities to start a family. In addition, international adoptions are very challenging, as a lot of countries in the world discriminate same-sex couples.
In many ways, trans, intersex and queer people are among the most vulnerable. In some EU countries, trans people still need to be sterilized before they can change their legal gender. In addition, trans, intersex and queer people are seldom allowed to self-determine their gender.
Every Member State should be committed to defending LGBTQI+ people. The Treaty on European Union states that the Union is founded on the values of respect of human dignity including the rights of minorities. Therefore, countries that do not respect the rights of the LGBTQI+ community should be pressured into doing so by applying Article 7 of the same Treaty, which contemplates revoking some of the State’s rights such as voting rights in the Council (European Union, 2012). Our respondents suggest to include the protection of LGBTQI+ rights in the Copenhagen criteria. Also, they insist that a Directive on LGBTQI+ rights should be approved in order to make sure that LGBTQI+ civil rights are equally protected in the EU. Finally, they urge the ECJ to stop adopting the ECHR doctrine on LGBTQI+ rights unless Strasbourg stops using them as a small coin.
When it comes to the role of a liberal organisation like LYMEC, our respondents consider that the European Liberal Family has always been at the “avant-garde” in the defence of LGBTQI+ rights, and LYMEC has been particularly combative in this regard. However, they think that we need concrete proposals in order to influence not only our MOs, but also the ALDE Congress. Also, we have to make people see LGBTQI+ rights as a core issue of human rights.
To conclude, one of our respondents emphasized that everyone deserves tolerance and respect regardless of who they are, how they feel or who they love. According to the respondent, this is the spirit of the LGBTQI+ mission, but it is also one of the cornerstones of liberalism. We could not agree more.
At LYMEC, we echo the concerns shared by respondents and hope to drive the changes suggested, by encouraging our Member Organisations and the wider party, to prioritise LGBTQI+ rights. Progress is long overdue and the narrative needs to steer towards actions that advance the protection of the LGBTQI+ community. With that said, we look forward to working on this mission for a liberal Europe.
The European Parliament’s LGBTI Intergroup (15/04/2020) 63 MEPs call on Hungarian government to revoke Article 33 restricting the rights of trans and intersex persons. Retrieved from http://lgbti-ep.eu/2020/04/15/63-meps-call-on-hungarian-government-to-revoke-article-33-restricting-the-rights-of-trans-and-intersex-persons/
Claudia Ciobanu (16/06/2020) Lgbt Rights Seize Spotlight In Poland, Move Online Elsewhere. Retrieved from https://balkaninsight.com/2020/06/16/lgbt-rights-seize-spotlight-in-poland-move-online-elsewhere/
The European Parliament’s LGBTI Intergroup (2020) MEPs urge Romanian president not to promulgate law forbidding discussions on gender and gender identity. Retrieved from https://lgbti-ep.eu/2020/06/24/meps-urge-romanian-president-not-to-promulgate-law-forbidding-discussions-on-gender-and-gender-identity/
European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (16/05/2020) Does hope or fear prevail among Europe’s LGBTI people? Retrieved from https://fra.europa.eu/en/news/2020/does-hope-or-fear-prevail-among-europes-lgbti-people
European Union (2012) Treaty on European Union. Retrieved from https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=celex%3A12012M%2FTXT