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19th Nov 2017

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Malmstrom: Europe "too cowardly" to confront homophobia

  • Not much has changed from last year's Rainbow Map. (Photo: ILGA-Europe)

EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom has said Europe is "too cowardly" to stand up to mounting homophobia.

"I must say that what is going on now, in recent years, makes me quite scared. We hear ... homophobic speeches and reports of violence against LGBTI people. What we are witnessing is not a society [moving] towards openness and tolerance. It is rather the opposite," she said at an event in Brussels on Tuesday (15 May), on the eve of the international day against homophobia on 17 May.

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"The main problem is the lack of people standing up for values in Europe today, the amount of people who are too cowardly to question this rhetoric," she added.

"This goes for politicians, governments, companies, but also for ordinary citizens ... There is a lack of political leadership [and] far too many ordinary citizens do not stand up against such developments," she added.

Asked by EUobserver if the European Commission is also failing on political leadership, she answered: "We could probably do more."

Malmstrom spoke at a meeting organised by Ilga Europe, a Brussels-based NGO campaigning for equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people.

The event saw the launch of what is to become Ilga Europe's annual report on the state of play of LGBTI rights in Europe.

The survey looks at 42 legal criteria ranging from entitlement to adoption to compulsory sterilisation in the case of gender change and covers 49 European countries.

It said "great progress was achieved ... particularly in the fields of asylum and protection from violence."

But it added that "in some countries there is either no progress whatsoever, or worse." The press release accompanying the study also said "none of the countries in Europe can provide full legal equality for LGBTI people."

The UK was judged the most gay-friendly European country, scoring 21 points on a scale from -12 to 30. It was followed by Germany (20), Spain (20), Sweden (18) and Belgium (17). The worst country was Moldova (-4.5), followed by Russia (-4.5), Armenia (-4), Azerbaijan (-4), Macedonia (-4) and Ukraine (-4).

Earlier this month, a gay rights activist was fined in Saint-Petersburg for violation of a local law banning pro-gay "propaganda." A similar bill is currently making its way through Russia's national parliament.

The report comes with a so-called "Rainbow Map" of the old continent, going from deep red in the east to green in the west. Spain (20) and Portugal (15) are green in the south. But France (6) and Italy (2.5) are less gay-friendly.

Ilga Europe director, Evelyne Paradis gave an upbeat statement.

"The homophobic rhetoric of today is mostly a reaction to the fact that the [LGBTI] movement has grown so strong," she told this website.

She added that the economic crisis and "complacency" risk making the EU commission "weak" on fundamental rights.

"We have a commissioner for fundamental rights, we have a charter of fundamental rights. And yet I have the feeling that before [the crisis], they talked about it more. We are entering the zone of complacency," she noted.

MEPs condemn homophobia in eastern Europe

MEPs from across the political spectrum have criticised EU member states Lithuania, Latvia and Hungary, as well as neighbouring Russia, Ukraine and Moldova over an upsurge in homophobia.

Intersex people in EU: ashamed and invisible

Mainstream European society is slowly coming to understand lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. But intersex people in the EU live largely in the dark.

LGBTI protection still lacking in EU

Despite some welcome advances, some legal rights for the LGBTI community are lacking in EU member states, and the rise of the populist right is making things worse, conference in Warsaw is told.

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