Targeted action requires clear plan … LGBTI issues are no different
If you are a lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or intersex person (LGBTI) today in the European Union, there is a 60 percent chance that you have experienced homophobia at school because of your identity.
There’s also a 25 percent chance that you have experienced violence, and if so, it is very likely that you did not report it to any public authority.
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These are just two of the figures already released from the largest survey ever conducted on discrimination and violence faced by LGBTI people, to be published by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency on Friday (17 May).
Through its work with LGBTI organisations across Europe, ILGA-Europe knows that this is only part of the picture.
But we expect the FRA survey to shed some light on the extent to which discrimination, stigmatisation and violence are part of the daily reality of many LGBTI people still today.
Given that this is truly a pan-European phenomenon, the question is: what is the EU doing to address these issues?
Yes, the EU has introduced legal protection against sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace … but that was 13 years ago.
More recently, asylum laws and protection for victims of crime also cover grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, while EU rights commissioner Viviane Reding did repeatedly say that "homophobia has no place in Europe."
But is this enough? Can a slow, piecemeal approach eventually lead to full equality?
Our response is simple: No, it cannot.
Often, the European Commission is way too cautious in its responses and does the bare minimum, presumably not to rock the boat too much.
The commission has so far been very weak in its response to rising intolerance within some EU member states.
Real social change requires proactivity, leadership and guided action. Laws are essential to anchor rights and protection. But we all know that they are not enough.
A case in point comes from the Netherlands, a country where marriage equality and equal adoption entitlements have been a reality for more than 10 years. In spite of this, surveys show that many couples still fear holding hands in public.
The EU can be a leading force for change, and not just by adopting laws, but also through political leadership and by making clear commitments to take positive measures to promote equality in practice.
Indeed, recognising the need to address discrimination against LGBTI people through measures that go beyond the law, the governments of Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, the United Kingdom and some regions in Germany and Spain have adopted their own LGBTI equality action plans.
Outside the EU, Albania, Croatia and Norway have also adopted similar action plans, while other European countries are expected to follow suit.
For its part, the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe is promoting the adoption of national equality action plans as one of the main drivers for greater LGBTI equality in society.
The experience of those European countries that have adopted such equality action plans has been very positive.
Equality action plans complement legislation oriented towards the tackling of discrimination in society, by empowering the LGBTI community and by raising awareness in society.
They also lead to greater partnership between governmental institutions and LGBTI civil society and thus ensure that the needs of the community can be addressed better.
Last year, the European Parliament published its own study on the need for an EU-level LGBTI "Roadmap" and the areas that it should address.
It also went on to adopt multiple resolutions calling for the adoption of the Roadmap.
Similarly, a growing number of member states are exerting pressure on the EU commission to adopt an LGBTI map and start a process towards the adoption of the much needed measures to guarantee equality for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people in the European Union.
In view of the above, the fact that Reding continues to dismiss the idea of proposing a roadmap - as recently reported in EUobserver - is incomprehensible and unjustifiable.
By saying that "it's much more important to have actions that count rather than coming up with a roadmap," she is denigrating the important role played by European Union strategies, including those regarding gender equality, the inclusion of people with disabilities and the integration of Roma communities.
She is also sending the signal that achieving equality for some groups in society deserves stronger measures and clearer commitments than for others.
With Reding, equality ministers from across the European Union, activists and equality experts gathering in the Hague on Thursday and Friday for a major conference coinciding with the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, ILGA-Europe hopes that she will pay attention to the data that will be presented to her, especially the outcomes of the Fundamental Rights Agency's LGBTI survey.
We sincerely hope that she will hear their plight and seize the moment to show real leadership by finally announcing that the commission plans to adopt a strategy for LGBTI equality.
Evelyne Paradis and Silvan Agius are activists in ILGA-Europe, a Brussels-based NGO