MEPs condemn homophobia in eastern Europe
By Philip Ebels
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.
"The European Parliament strongly condemns any discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender indentity," it said in a non-legislative resolution adopted on Thursday (24 May).
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"[Parliament] strongly regrets that, in the EU, the fundamental rights of LGBT [lesbian, gay, bi- and transexual] people are not yet always fully upheld," it added.,
"[It] is gravely concerned by developments which restrict freedom of expression and assembly on the basis of misconceptions about homosexuality and transgenderism."
The resolution - which defines homophobia as "the irrational fear of homosexuality" - was backed by all political groups - except for the nationalist and conservative eurosceptics. It was adopted by 430 votes in favour and 105 against (59 members abstained and 160 did not vote).
It was the fourth such resolution in the history of the parliament and the first one in its 2009-2014 legislature. But while the former resolution of 2007 singled out Poland for putting forward anti-gay legislation, the current five-page document points to a longer list of countries.
In Russia, regional laws have been enacted banning so-called "propaganda of homosexuality” with fines of up to €12,700. The country's national parliament is currently considering a similar law, as are MPs in Ukraine. Similar bills have been tabled in Moldova, Lithuania, Latvia and Hungary.
British socialist MEP Michael Cashman, co-president of the parliament's LGBT intergroup, made an emotional plea on Tuesday when the chamber debated the resolution.
"[These] laws ... are a step backwards," he said. "[They are] to say that in order to have the protection and respect of states and institutions you must conform to a very narrow stereotype."
"I myself have experienced homophobia, but very, very rarely. Why? Because I was given the benefit of a family, a society, an education that supported me to become who I am, to be proud of who I am, ... That aspiration and opportunity must be given to everybody in the EU."
The resolution comes one week after EU leaders celebrated the international day against homophobia on 17 May, with justice commissioner Viviane Reding and EU Council President Herman van Rompuy joining MEPs in a gay-friendly video message.
Suicide and social exclusion are still more prevalent among LGBT people than among their heterosexual contemporaries.
Also on 17 May, anti-gay activists in Saint Petersburg thrashed people releasing rainbow-coloured balloons.
One week later, similar groups in Ukraine managed to stop what would have been the first-ever gay pride march in Kiev, threatening physical violence and, after it had been cancelled, beating up the organiser of the event in the street.
Dutch Green MEP Marije Cornelissen - the only Brussels representative at the scene - said that the gay pride organisers were well prepared, keeping the venue secret until the very last moment, but that police refused to guarantee their safety after the location had been uncovered.
"There was a lot of police present," she told EUobserver "but they didn't do anything. There were no barricades. They made no effort to push these people back. It is clear that they had not received strict orders to provide safety to the gay pride marchers."
For her part, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton in a communique on Thursday "expresse[d] her solidarity with the victims of these acts."