• A key EU anti-discrimination law has stalled (Photo: *Bloco)

Cyprus is least gay-friendly EU country, rights group says

01.02.12 @ 21:44

  1. By Nikolaj Nielsen
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BRUSSELS - The struggle for equal rights and humane treatment by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Europe is gaining ground in the European Parliament, where some 20 percent of MEPs recently signed up to pledge support.

But outside the micro-world of the EU institutions they still face widespread discrimination.

Cyprus is the least gay-friendly EU country followed by Italy, Latvia and Malta, the Brussels-based rights group ILGA-Europe says.

Greek-controlled Cyprus scores badly on several fronts, such as non-recognition of same-sex marriages. While in northern Cyprus - technically part of the EU, but controlled by separatist Turkish authorities - the situation is acute.

Homosexuality is illegal and authorities have made several arrests in recent months. The defendants - which include former Greek Cypriot finance minister Michael Sarris - could get five years in prison.

Marina Yannakoudakis, a UK conservative MEP visited northern Cyprus in October and appealed to the Turkish Cypriot leader to dissolve the ban. "There has been a slight increase of arrests over homosexuality and we are worried that the ban will not be lifted," her policy adviser, Matthew Green told this website.

Not a single EU country can claim full legal equality for LGBT people, ILGA-Europe notes.

The 'Be Bothered' parliament pledge campaign - launched by the NGO - aims to amend current European directives to designate homophobia and transphobia as hate crimes and to introduce minimum EU-wide standards for protecting the minorities.

Most member states still do not recognise such hate crimes, ILGA-Europe notes.

"Not enough is being done on EU legislation. The EU directive on discrimination has been stuck for three years mostly because of Germany's refusal to sign over concerns that it is too costly to implement," the NGO's Juris Lavrikovs told EUobserver.

On the shelf

The commission proposed the anti-discrimination directive in 2008. It covers a broad range of minorities, such as disabled people, elderly people, ethnic and religious groups and lesbians, gays and bisexuals. It does not include transgender people.

Activists are struggling to generate a renewed interest in the bill at EU leader level.

Germany - along with seven-or-so other EU states - is saying that anti-discrimination law is a national competence.

Meanwhile, a 2011 commission bill on better treatment of crime victims - affecting up to 75 million EU citizens each year - has irked NGOs by excluding hate crimes.

Amnesty International's Veronica Scognamiglio said: "We think that it is important to explicitly include victims of hate crimes, including LGBT people."

Said - who does not want to reveal his full name - from Belgium's intercultural organisation, Merhaba, which targets gay Muslims, told EUobserver: "We are not only facing homophobia and transphobia, but also paternalism, racism and Islamophobia, and this also within our own [LGBT] communities."

He added: "Being both Arab and gay for instance, we wish to be accepted for being both. In whatever the EU undertakes, we expect a global approach. You cannot fight one phobia with another."

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