ILGA-Europe is the European portion of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association. The organization has recently released its 2013 comprehensive overview of LGBTI rights and lives in Europe. It is variously being called Not 'la vie en rose' and the Rainbow Europe package.
At the national level, we see that developments are at times taking completely opposite directions. Some countries are moving towards marriage equality, better protection mechanisms against discrimination and violence, ensuring easier and more humane procedures for legal gender recognition. However these advances are often accompanied by a social backlash, including increased violence. In other countries, the most worrying development is the introduction of more restrictive and discriminatory measures such as the laws banning ’homosexual propaganda’.The organization has highlighted 20 key developments and trends. Some were positive. Far more were not. I summarize them on the inside.
1. There was little legislative progress towards protecting LGBTI from discrimination in accessing publicly available goods and services, with the exception of Iceland announcing plans to include gender identity to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in public accommodations.
2. LGBTI asylum seekers in Europe continue to encounter inconsistent and arbitrary decisions in the granting of asylum.
[Rainbow Europe] clearly shows that full respect of LGBTI people’s human rights remains a long-term aspiration rather than a goal which will be reached in a near future. Not a single country in Europe fulfils 100% requirements of our Rainbow Map. In many countries, the fight is still for fundamental civil and political rights that most of us living in democratic societies take for granted. And it is particularly worrying that some of these countries are in the EU.3. Statements motivated by hatred against LGBTI people is one of the most common trends across Europe. Degrading, offensive, and defamatory language is being used by public officials at all levels – starting from heads of states to local politicians. Other groups continue to be reported as employing hateful language and inciting hatred towards LGBTI people in particular (i) representatives of organised religions; (ii) conservative political organizations and their representatives (iii) "traditional values" and "traditional family" organisations; and (iv) representatives of far-right, radical and nationalist organisations.
--Martin K. I. Christensen, Co-Chair of ILGA-Europe’s Executive Board
4. Violence is the most extreme expression of homophobia and transphobia. Such violence remains a truly pan-European phenomenon and is a serious concern. The perpetrators of such violence include organised groups. According to documented cases, a lot of this violence is motivated by (i) nationalism; (ii) protection of ‘traditional customs’; (iii) radical political philosophy; and (iv) fundamentalist religious beliefs.
Documented cases included: (i) intimidation, threats of physical attack and death threats; (ii) physical and sexual assaults; (iii) disruption of public LGBTI events including by destroying banners, throwing eggs, setting gas bombs on participants; (iv) cyber-attacks on LGBTI portals; (v) attacks on LGBTI venues, including setting petrol bomb; (vi) ‘honour’ killings and corrective rapes by family members; and even (vii) murders.
The lack of adequate legal frameworks and recognition of homophobic and transphobic motives in such violence remain problematic as it often results in public complicity in the actions. The absence of an adequate response from police and other law enforcement structures is an on-going problem.
The Annual Review 2013 uncovers the real situation of LGBTI people beyond laws and gives us the whole picture of what it is like to be an LGBTI person in Europe today. The picture is far from satisfactory. While some countries are scoring high on the Rainbow Map because they have good laws, the situation on the ground often is very different. Even in countries with the most advanced laws and policies, there is a surprisingly high percentage of LGBTI people who are adjusting their behaviours on a daily basis because they fear violence and harassment when in public.5. Northern Cyprus continued to be the only territory in all of Europe which criminalises sexual relations between consenting adults, despite repeated promises made to Members of the European Parliament and other European officials to decriminalise homosexuality.
The results of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency survey of 93,000 LGBT people to be released on 17 May, support our finding – 25% of respondents have experienced violence for the last 5 years. The results suggest that discrimination is still unfortunately a life time companion of LGBT people.
When it comes to European institutions, the Council of Europe is where most progress was seen, as a system of monitoring the human rights situation of LGBTI people is emerging within the institution. Sadly, no major specific legislative or policy changes aimed at advancing equality for LGBTI people were adopted at the European Union level. EU Member States continued to block the adoption of the comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Directive and the EU Commission did not signal its intention to introduce an EU policy framework on LGBTI issues, despite numerous calls from the European Parliament and civil society.
--Gabi Calleja, Co-Chair of ILGA_Europe's Executive Board
In view of this, a case was submitted to the European Court of Human Rights to challenge the continued criminalisation of homosexuality in the territory.
6. Data collected across Europe amongst the LGBTI community continues to show very high levels of discrimination against the LGBTI community, as well as high levels of fear of violence. For example, in the Netherlands, 50% of gays and lesbians continue to adjust their behaviour when they are in public, adjusting to the ‘heterosexual norm’ to avoid negative attitudes or violence; while 50% of trans people are not out at work. In Italy, 73% of LGBTI people have been discriminated at least once in their life, citing school and family settings as particularly conducive to discrimination. In Belgium, 80% of trans people experienced violence due to their gender identity, including sexual, physical and/or psychological violence. Similarly high levels of intolerance among the general public was also demonstrated in studies that were conducted in Armenia, Georgia and Northern Cyprus.
Advocacy based on solid facts is what we need for advancing the human rights of LGBTI people. ILGA-Europe and its national member organisations have first-hand knowledge of what is going on and share their insights and concerns through the Annual Review and the Rainbow Map. In addition to holding countries accountable for their actions, the Annual Review also gives a critical account of the steps taken by international organisations. It is a valuable tool for a serious debate about the human rights situation of LGBTI persons across Europe.7. The adverse effects of homophobic bullying were reconfirmed by three national studies conducted in Cyprus, Spain and the UK, all showing very high levels of suicidal thoughts and attempts amongst young people who are subjected to this kind of harassment. Sadly, two student suicides directly resulting from homophobia in schools were documented this year. 20-year-old Tim Ribberink from the Netherlands and a 15-year-old boy from Italy took their life after they were subjected to bullying both at school and online.
--Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights
Dear Mum and Dad,8. An important issue in relation to employment discrimination in many countries concerns challenges for LGBTI people working for faith-based schools. Cases were taken up with courts in Germany and the Netherlands by individuals dismissed by church-led schools because of their sexual orientation. The issue was raised in Ireland with the introduction of a draft bill aimed at protecting teachers from discrimination, which was unfortunately rejected. The number of countries struggling with this issue shows that discrimination against LGBTI people working in the field of education is not yet adequately addressed. The European Commission also addressed this question in the context of its monitoring of a new Act adopted in Hungary which widens the freedoms of religions including their institutions and schools to determine who they employ “[as] necessary to preserve their specific identity”; in this case, the Commission warned Hungary that this new Act may run counter to the EU Employment Framework Directive. In addition, discrimination in other sectors is coming to the surface, one example being the case referred to the European Union Court of Justice to establish whether the provisions of the EU Directive apply to the director of a football team who publicly stated that he would categorically refuse to hire gay players in his team.
All my life I have been ridiculed, abused, bullied and excluded. You guys are fantastic. I hope you’re not angry.
Until we meet again,
9. The area of equality and non-discrimination remains the backbone of progress towards greater recognition of LGBTI people at both the European and at national levels, requiring legislative and policy measures, but also strong equality bodies, training and awareness raising activities. In this respect, it is positive to see the growing number of initiatives that are undertaken jointly by governmental institutions and civil society organisations.
10. One of the highest priorities of LGBTI communities in Europe is family recognition and the call for legislation recognising same-sex partnerships and LGBTI parenting has continued to expand to the south and the east. Family issues have come to symbolise the fight for equal rights and the sphere where successes and backlash are most visible.
11. While a growing number of European countries are including the rights of LGBTI as a priority issue in their own foreign policy, the European Union institutions are also stepping up their work to increase coordination of actions to advance LGBTI rights around the world. In the past year, examples of LGBTI issues raised in the context of European foreign policy include: (i) concerns raised by EU member states in relation to the growing attempts at the silencing of LGBTI people in Russia and Ukraine; (ii) concerns raised with regard to the continued criminalisation of homosexuality in many countries in the world, and the drastic worsening of the situation in some countries such as Uganda; and (iii) the provision of financial assistance to civil society engaged in challenging homophobia and transphobia in non-EU countries.
12. In a number of European countries, the basic and fundamental right to freedom of assembly is still being denied and/or hindered by the authorities. In the past year, Pride marches and other public events organised by LGBTI communities were still banned in some countries, while in others states, municipal authorities enacted a range of administrative obstacles to discourage events from taking place. In many places, LGBTI public events continued to attract violent protests by religious extremists and nationalists and lead to expressions of homophobia and transphobia in the public arena.
13. The debates and/or adoption of legal bans of ‘homosexual propaganda’ have posed serious threats to the freedom of expression of LGBTI human rights defenders and their organisations, as well as teachers, journalists and anyone supporting the human rights of LGBTI people.
There were however a few positive developments such as the decision of the Irish Press Ombudsman regarding a press article found to be homophobic because it failed to adequately distinguish between facts and commentary; and the decision from the Moldovan Supreme Court of Justice to allow broadcasting a documentary on LGBTI rights on the main public TV channel.
14. A ban on individuals who identify as LGB or ever had same-sex sexual contacts to donate blood remains in force in many European countries. However, the European trend is towards abandoning the practice adopting blanket bans based on sexual orientation, and instead to consider sexual behavior as a determining factor in blood donation.
In this field a number of developments took place: (i) Bosnia and Herzegovina lifted such ban; (ii) Luxembourg’s Minister for Health stated that sexual orientation cannot be a reason in itself to ban blood donation; (iii) the Portuguese Government set up a working group in view of lifting such a ban; and (iv) a legal challenge against the blood donation ban was initiated in Northern Ireland. However, the Dutch Minister of Health made a statement against this trend, saying she was not yet ready to reconsider the ban. Similarly, the French Minister for health stated the policy banning gay men to donate blood could not be changed.
15. The climate in which still too many LGBTI human rights defenders work is one of on-going (and in some countries increasing) hostility, as they are confronted with security threats, victims of verbal and physical attacks.
16. The call for adequate legal gender recognition of trans people continued to gain momentum both at European and national levels. However, in most countries, progress in this area is slowed down by challenges faced in setting conditions under which public authorities would allow trans people to acquire a new legal gender.
On a positive note, a growing number of institutional actors (such as the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament LGBT Intergroup) are vocally and clearly stating that requirements for divorce/single status, sterility and compulsory medical treatment are contrary to current human rights standards. A few national bodies are also starting to draw the same conclusions. In 2012, the Swiss Federal Civil Registry Office was clear in affirming that the requirement of sterilisation violates the European Convention on Human Rights and the Swiss Constitution. The Administrative Court of Appeals in Stockholm arrived at the same conclusion and ruled that the sterilisation requirement breaches both the European Convention and the Swedish Constitution.
17. Education and engagement with police and law enforcement agencies continued in different countries in the region. This included (i) the adoption of memorandum of cooperation between LGBT organisations and police; (ii) training provided to police forces and judges on what constitutes homophobic and transphobic hate crimes; (iii) inclusion of LGBT specific content in official police curricula; and (iv) the establishment of LGBTI police networks.
18. Public opinions polls carried out in several countries demonstrated significant differences of attitudes towards LGBTI people across Europe, including some diametrically opposed public opinions from one country to another. For example, while 65% of UK respondents agreed that same-sex couple should have the right to get married, 94% of Armenians did not want to have gay neighbours. The largest public opinion poll carried out in Europe, the Eurobarometer was conducted among the 27 EU Member States, and sadly showed that opinions on LGBTI issues have not evolved since the last Eurobarometer of 2009. The only positive outcome of the poll was that, on the whole, people living in the EU are increasingly comfortable with openly LGBT people in highest elected political position. It is also important to note that, for the first time, the 2012 Eurobarometer included questions about attitudes towards trans people.
19. LGBTI people’s right to sexual and reproductive health remain widely disregarded or actively restricted by national laws in most countries. In Denmark, the law on assisted fertilisation was amended to allow non-anonymous sperm donation but only for heterosexual couples; while new laws adopted in Croatia and Malta expressly ban single women and women in same-sex relationships from accessing fertility treatment. The main positive developments of the year came from (i) Moldova where the right to medically assisted reproduction was extended to single women without distinction; and (ii) Sweden where the ban on fertility treatment for single women was lifted. Moreover, both Iceland and Finland included LGBT organisations in national debates on sexual and reproductive health.
20. The rights of same-sex partners to social security and social protection were addressed in only three countries.
On a positive note, the Finnish government extended the paternal leave to families in which a second parent adoption is completed. In Italy, the Court of Milan ruled that cohabiting same-sex couples should have the same healthcare benefits and rights as cohabiting different-sex partners, arguing that sexual orientation should not have any bearing on the rights which partners in the same situation should be accorded. On the other hand the Czech Public Defender of Rights used a similar logic to limit the rights of registered same-sex partners to social security, on the basis that all non-married couples are not entitled to family benefits, disregarding the fact that same-sex parents are not allowed to marry in the country.