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21st Apr 2019

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EU ministers urge Reding to do more for gay rights

  • EU action would give "structure" to the debate, the ministers said (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Fourteen member states on Thursday (16 May) backed a petition urging the European Commission to do more for the rights of sexual minorities, with the last major initiative several years ago.

The call for a “comprehensive approach” was initiated by traditionally progressive Netherlands and signed, among others, by Spain, France and Austria as well as more socially conservative countries such as Malta.

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The political prod directed at EU rights commissioner Viviane Reding came on the eve of the international day against homophobia and transphobia on Friday.

Noting “concerns” about the “living situation” of many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people the statement says all 14 governments are “committed to taking action in order to improve their lives.”

But the gender equality ministers pointed out that the commission needs to do its bit too.

The commission has a “variety of policy instruments” at hand.

It can “co-ordinate initiatives” and “set clear timetables for progress.”

Practical policy options include funding, encouraging progressive campaigns and the dragging all member states up to the highest standards by directly comparing national policies.

“There is no excuse for not acting,” Dutch education minister Jet Bussemaker told this website.

She indicated that it is a question of political will, with some of the issues affecting LGBT people touching legal areas where the EU has real powers, such as ensuring free movement of people.

Kathleen Lynch, Ireland’s equality minister, noted that EU action is needed to provide “structure,” while Malta’s Helena Dalli said “the point of this exercise is to make the commission act.”

Vesna Batistic Kos from Croatia - which joins the EU in July - said “if there is no coherent strategy, it is easy to play ping pong between the departments, which is what is happening now.”

The ministerial statement came just as the Vienna-based EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency published its first ever report exploring the day-to-day experiences of LGBT people.

With over 90,000 respondents from all 27 member states and Croatia, the report documents the discrimination and harassment experienced by LGBT people across all countries, with Lithuania emerging at the worst end of the scale.

The Baltic country, which also scores poorly on a just-published ‘rainbow map’ on socially progressive legislation, saw 61 percent of LGBT people say they have been discriminated against or harassed in the previous 12 months.

Lithuania also saw the highest percentage (42%) of people who say they were discriminated outside the work place.

The Netherlands and Denmark, by contrast, emerge as countries with relatively more tolerant societies, even though discrimination and harassment still feature.

School bullying

The most striking statistics concern intolerance in the schoolyard, however.

An average 91 percent of the EU’s school pupils have witnessed negative comments or conduct towards another student perceived as being LGBT.

The highest score was in Cyprus at 97 percent, Latvia had the lowest with 83 percent.

Meanwhile, over half of all respondents in every member state either always or often hid their sexuality during their school years.

Eighty-one percent of Lithuanian respondents did, 72 percent of Irish respondents, 63 percent of Belgians and 57 percent of Czechs.

“Ten years later, I still consider being bullied at school the worst form of homophobic abuse I have ever been subjected to,” says the testimonial of a 25-year-old gay Maltese.

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.

Opinion

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Earlier this month, a small gathering by LGBTI activists was met with a 20,000-strong protest march in Tbilisi. The clashes highlighted the resistance to change in some parts of Georgian society, but they also demonstrated that change is afoot.

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