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11th Dec 2019

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Bulgaria and Italy trail in EU on gay rights legislation

  • Rome pride: Italy scored poorly in the analysis (Photo: PhylB)

The UK provides the best legal environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people in the EU while Bulgaria offers the least protection for sexual minorities, according to a new scoreboard.

The 'Rainbow Europe' map, published Thursday (16 May) by ILGA-Europe, sees the UK score 77 percent on a checklist of laws that include rules on non-discrimination, gender recognition and hate speech.

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Next in line is Belgium (67), Sweden, Spain, Portugal (65%) and France with 64 percent.

Bulgaria comes in at the other end of the scale with 18 percent. The Balkan country has no laws banning hate speech and violence against LGBTI people, no laws on gender-change and only four of the 13 listed laws on equality and antidiscrimination.

There is no absolute geographical divide but, as a rule of thumb, the map indicates that the further east in Europe, the more legally precarious the situation is for sexual minorities.

A few western countries buck the trend. In the coloured map showing shades of green for legally progressive countries, Ireland stands out as a bright yellow point with a score of 36 percent while Italy - with few anti-discrimination and and no hate speech laws - has just 19 percent. Finland (47%) meanwhile is out of step with its more liberal Nordic counterparts.

Hungary - under fire recently for its new constitution defining marriage as between a man and a women - has the most progressive legal framework among eastern European member states, scoring 55 percent.

Poland (22%) and the Baltic states of Estonia (29%), Lithuania (21%) and Latvia (20%) all scored poorly. Croatia, joining the EU in July and under intense pressure over recent years to bring its laws in line with EU norms scores 48 percent, outranking 17 of the 27 member states.

In wider Europe, the scoreboard suggests that Russia (7%) is no place for sexual minorities, scoring a perfect zero when it comes to anti-discrimination, freedom of assembly, anti-hate speech and asylum laws. Armenia and Azerbaijan - both on 8 percent - are little better.

Authoritarian Belarus has 14 percent, the same as EU hopeful Turkey and two points better than Ukraine.

The map also reveals some all round blanks when it comes to legislation. None of the 49 European country covered by the survey have abolished a requirement to have a medical diagnosis or psychological opinion to allow gender change while only Germany has an anti-discrimination law for intersex people.

Activists point out that laws alone does not mean that cultural acceptance and tolerance follows. The 2013 Annual review of the human rights situation of LGBTI people, also by ILGA Europe, reveals that sexual minorities suffer discrimination and some form of bullying in all European states.

Still laws are seen as a good start. "Laws change the way people think," says Ulrika Westerlund, chair of Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights.

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