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25th Aug 2019

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Report: sexual minorities in EU face hate speech, violence and discrimination

  • (Photo: Dani Hydes)

Equal rights for gays, lesbians, bi-sexual, trans and inter-sex (LGBTI) people are still patchy across Europe, with advances in some areas offset by discrimination, hate-speech, bullying and violence elsewhere.

The 2013 review of the human rights situation of LGBTI people by the Brussels-based NGO ILGA-Europe found that "degrading, offensive and defamatory language" is one of the "most common trends" across the continent.

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The bias goes all the way to the top of the society. When it is not politicians themselves making derogatory comments, it is often religious leaders, representatives from conservative parties, "traditional family organisations" or people from far-right organisations.

Meanwhile, violence against LGBTI people "remains a truly pan-European phenomenon" regularly motivated by nationalism, traditionalism or fundamental religious beliefs.

Among the EU member states causing major concern are Hungary and Greece.

The report documented a number of "hostile developments" in Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Hungary, including a new constitution where marriage is defined as union between a man and a women and where sexual orientation is omitted from the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination.

A "wave of violence" in Greece has a left a "negative mark on the year."

The report notes that the economic crisis - Greece is crippled with debt and the highest unemployment rate in the EU - has given a platform to extremist groups, such as the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, to target minority groups, including LGBTI activists.

Turkish northern-Cyprus continues to be the only place in the EU where homosexuality is a criminal act, while expressions of "overt homophobia and transphobia" by government, religious leaders and extremist groups were "common" in Bulgaria.

Italy is not taking any legislative initiatives despite having a "relatively high level" of violent homophobia and transphobia.

In France, which recently passed a same-sex marriage bill amid strong street protest by conservative and religious groups, the group SOS Homophobie, in a report published last year, documented 1,397 incidents of hate crime, hate speech and discrimination against sexual minorities.

It was the highest since the NGO started collecting testimonies.

Finland is having a heated debate about whether to ban a law requiring forced sterilisation of those who want to change the gender assigned to them at birth.

Even in countries considered to be progressive, LGBTI people often perceive latent or actual hostility.

In the Netherlands, half of gay and Lesbian people adjust their behaviour in public, fearing negative reaction while half of trans people experience negative comments or harrassment.

The Netherlands was also where Tim Ribberink, a 20-year old student, committed suicide in autumn last 2012 after years of homophobic bullying.

But amid all the bad news, the report also notes many areas of legislative progress in 2012 - even if the spirit of the law has yet to be reflected in wider society.

Hungarian legislation on hate speech and crime includes explicit reference to sexual orientation and gender identity; Germany's ethics council called for better recognition of intersex people; Austria's criminal code refers to sexual orientation in provisions related to incitement to hatred; while last year's Pride Parade in Croatia - joining the EU in July - was attended by five government officials.

Among the EU institutions, the European Parliament is the most active in calling for LGBTI equality.

Its MEPs frequently pass resolutions, commission studies on various legal questions and are maintaining pressure on the European Commission to come up with a policy roadmap on LGBT issues.

The European Commission was the first international institution to publish a report on trans and intersex issues.

Activists also welcome the fact that the EU's fundamental rights agency is this year publishing the first ever survey among LGBT people on their real life experiences.

But the report notes that "no major legislative or policy framework" aimed at improving the situation was LGBTI people was adopted last year.

Opinion

Time to blow away the hot air

We recognise hate crimes based on ethnicity and race, so why not those based on sexual orientation or gender identity?

EU court bars tests for gay asylum seekers

Authorities in EU countries can no longer impose controversial psychological tests to determine whether an aslyum seeker is telling the truth about their homosexuality.

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