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18th Jan 2019

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Reding should 'stick neck out' on gay rights

Activists are hoping EU rights commissioner Viviane Reding will this month announce concrete plans for legislation to stop discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in the EU.

The European Parliament has been asking for an LGBTI roadmap - with proposed laws and a timetable - since 2011, noting that the European Commission already has similar strategies in place for disability rights and equality between men and women.

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They expect their case to get strengthened by a survey on discrimination against LGBTI people by the EU's Agency for Fundamental Rights.

The survey is to be released on 17 May, the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, marked by a major conference in The Hague, which Reding is to attend.

"We strongly believe it is high time for the EU to translate the commitment to work on LGBTI equality into concrete actions," said Evelyne Paradis, Executive Director of ILGA (International Lesbian and Gay Association) Europe.

She said the release of the survey will be a "unique opportunity" to renew its commitment to the issue.

But others note that it is a politically difficult subject.

"Next to abortion, it is the single most sensitive issue to work on. Politicians just prefer to stay away from it," Dutch Liberal MEP Sophie in't Veld told this website.

She indicated that Reding would have to tackle two formidable groups if she were to go ahead with draft laws on anything from making sex education in schools more diverse, to opening up health care access and criminalising hate speech.

One group would be other politicians, particularly from within Reding's own centre-right political family. The other would be religious leaders.

"I hope she's going to stick her neck out. I always think as a politician you have to tackle things that don’t necessarily make you popular," said in't Veld.

For its part, the commission says that Reding is already an outspoken supporter of LGBTI rights, pointing out that she readily intervenes in national discourse when their rights are being undermined.

Reding's office also says that a recent law on rights for victims of crime is "solid proof" of the EU's commitment to the issue.

The law provides for specific assistance and protection to people who suffered crime because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

It also points out that it follows up on whether member states are properly implementing the Fundamental Rights Charter, whose article 21 prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

"It's much more important to have actions that count rather than coming up with a roadmap," said Reding's spokesperson Mina Andreeva.

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."

Bulgaria and Italy trail in EU on gay rights legislation

Sexual minorities have the most legal protection in the UK while Bulgaria and Italy trail among EU countries when it comes to equality rights and legislation against homophobic violence and hate speech.

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