Saturday

4th Dec 2021

Europe still best place to live for gay people

  • 'The main task for Europe now is to educate' (Photo: *Bloco)

Despite a recent surge in homophobia and differences between countries, Europe on the whole remains the most gay-friendly continent on the globe.

Nowhere on the old continent - except in Tukish-controlled north Cyprus - is homosexuality illegal, "making Europe a region that stands out," according to Ilga, a global umbrella organisation for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi- and transexual people's) rights, in a report released last month.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

France was the first to decriminalise same-sex sexual acts between consenting adults shortly after the French Revolution in 1791. Armenia was the latest, in 2003.

By contrast, roughly 40 percent of countries - mostly in Africa and the Middle-East - still penalise homosexuality. Some even execute gay people - Mauritania, Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, as well as parts of Nigeria and Somalia.

There are countries outside Europe which are catching up on toleration, notably in Latin America. Argentina, for example, recently passed a law on gender change that experts say goes well beyond those adopted in Europe.

"Latin America has become a very, very important area, producing its own contributions to the political situation," Renato Sabbadini, secretary-general of Ilga, told this website. "Europe is not so special anymore."

Big differences exist within Europe, with the east being less gay-friendly in general. Sexual minorities in Russia in particular are not as well off as they would be in, say, Germany or the UK.

Russia's legal code lacks the most basic protection from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Recently, St Petersburg adopted laws banning the homosexual "propaganda" - a move widely regarded as contrary to the freedom of expression.

The European Parliament last week in a resolution singled out Russia along with Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Lithuania and Hungary, where similar laws have been tabled, condemning homophobia.

But on the whole, Europe is the world's frontrunner in the equal treatment of LGBT people. "Europe is traditionally where the first steps are made," says Dennis van der Veur, LGBT expert at the EU's research agency for fundamental rights.

Of the 10 countries in the world that allow same-sex couples to marry, seven are in Europe. EU law prohibits LGBT discrimination in employment situations. Europe is alone in having openly gay heads of government - in Iceland and in Belgium. It is most intolerant of hate crimes and most compliant with allowing adoption for same-sex couples or with recognising gender change.

Yet for all the good news, problems remain.

According to a recent report by Ilga-Europe, Ilga's European branch, not one country can claim full legal equality for LGBT people.

The constitutions of only seven countries explicitly prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation; only one on the grounds of gender identity (Spain). A proposed EU law prohibiting LGBT discrimination in all spheres of life continues to be blocked since 2008 by a number of governments.

Meanwhile, legal protection from discrimination does not mean that it does not happen. According to an EU survey from 2009 (the most recent available), almost half of respondents think that discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation is widespread in their country.

Statistics on hate crimes are scarce.

Victims not always report them and police do not always file them as such. But surveys indicate that a quarter to half of lesbians and gay men in Europe have experienced forms of violence because of their sexual orientation. Late last April, a gay man was found dead in Liege, Belgium - believed to be the first homophobic killing in the history of the country.

"Legislation is very important," said Sabbadini. "But equality also needs to be part of the culture of a society. The main task now for Europe is to educate. Not only in schools, but also the media and the police."

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.

Equality and LGBTI Rights

With the pride parade season approaching, EUobserver looks at just how progressive European countries really are on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual and intersex (LGBTI) people.

EU on gay rights: words or actions?

MEPs say the EU commission is big on "words, not action" on gay rights. The commission says it uses "actions, not words."

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.

News in Brief

  1. Covid: Belgium might close schools and cultural activities
  2. EU consumers can sue Facebook, judge advised
  3. French centre-right tilts toward Pécresse
  4. EU urged to blacklist Israeli spyware firm
  5. Austria's ex-chancellor Kurz quits politics
  6. EU agency: Omicron to be over half of infections 'within months'
  7. New German restrictions target the unvaccinated
  8. EU commission unveils proposal to digitalise justice systems

Opinion

The dangers of resurgent nationalism in Greece

Virulent nationalism in Greece has been stirred up in the context of austerity and renewed negotiations with Macedonia. Recent attempts by the government to address the inequalities suffered by LGBT persons have also been met with a reactionary backlash.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew report reveals bad environmental habits
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersImproving the integration of young refugees
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals

Latest News

  1. Belgium tightens Covid rules as health system 'is cracking'
  2. EU and US tighten screw on Lukashenko
  3. Belgian impasse leaves asylum seekers on snowy streets
  4. EU 'missed chance' to set fossil-fuel subsidies deadline
  5. EU energy ministers clash amid gas price uncertainty
  6. ECJ told to dismiss Poland and Hungary rule-of-law challenge
  7. Covid: what Germany got right - and wrong
  8. Quick Take: Enrico Letta

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us