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17th Oct 2017

Focus

Homosexuality still seen as a disease in parts of EU

  • More than half of medical staff interviewed in Romania said being gay is a kind of mental illness (Photo: Helena Spongenberg)

Homosexuality is seen as a disease by many healthcare workers in central Europe whose job it is to help gay people, according to a new survey.

The Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), an EU office in Vienna, said in a report on Wednesday (16 March) that the problem is worst in Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

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“We consider that these illnesses are generated by the fact that these people had an unhappy incident during childhood,” a Romanian nurse said in one example given by the FRA study.

She said most staff in hospitals see gay people as being “plague-stricken.”

Large numbers of medical staff interviewed by the FRA spoke of people “catching” homosexuality and of it being a “disorder.”

In Romania, half of the professionals interviewed said it’s a kind of mental illness, even though the World Health Organisation said definitively in 1992 that it isn’t.

“Several Bulgarian healthcare professionals reported that LGB [lesbian, gay, and bisexual] patients were regularly mocked and verbally abused,” the FRA report said.

“A few respondents used negative language during the [FRA] interview - for example, the Bulgarian word педераст [meaning ‘faggot’].”

Transgender people encountered the worst prejudice. One transgender woman who wanted to undergo castration was rejected by every hospital in Slovakia.

“In Nitra [a town in western Slovakia] they first admitted her and later discharged her on the grounds of the following argument: ‘We shall not support paedophiles’,” a Slovak doctor said.

Replicated

The FRA interviewed more than 1,000 healthcare professionals, civil servants responsible for justice and equality issues, police officers, and teaching staff in 19 EU states.

The views in the healthcare sector in central Europe and in Italy were replicated in other institutions.

“An official in Bulgaria laughed out loud when asked about a national action plan on LGBT non-discrimination,” the FRA survey said.

Another Bulgarian official said Sofia’s plan is to “pull the wool over the international community’s eyes” in terms of implementing EU anti-discrimination law.

A Romanian civil servant denigrated the idea of same-sex marriage, saying it’s “bizarre ... maternal love is something else, even though in a relationship between two gay persons one is passive and the other is active.”

A Slovak official joked that same-sex couple rights are “number 10,000” on the country’s list of priorities.

A Slovak police officer said: “I have encountered LGBT police officers during my visit of French police precincts. In Slovakia, I cannot imagine that. If it was a man, it would very likely threaten his career.”

An Italian policeman said: “I admit that I find sex between two men repulsive, which probably originates from my cultural background, characterised by a strong religious influence.”

“In spite of that, I know I have to behave in a suitable way when dealing with LGBT persons. But I need to work on it: maybe unconsciously my repulsion causes me to consider some claims less seriously.”

Religion

Some respondents linked the situation to the authority of the Roman Catholic and Christian Orthodox church in the region.

“As long as the Orthodox Church has this very strong position, it is hard for me to imagine that the European Union will deeply influence the issue,” a Romanian civil servant said.

But some civil servants in Ireland, Malta and Poland said that the Catholic Church makes efforts to promote "better understanding" of gay people.

Officials in France and the Netherlands said that certain interpretations of Islam have had a negative impact.

The FRA found that “EU legal and policy developments (including EU-funded initiatives) were important in encouraging member states to undertake additional steps” in terms of taking care of gay people.

Ilga-Europe, a gay rights NGO in Brussels, said the survey should encourage EU institutions to do more.

“If EU-driven legislation is helping at national level, why stop now? Unblock the Equal Treatment Directive. Fill the gap that currently exists in European hate crime legislation by extending it to people on the grounds of their sexual orientation and gender identity,” the NGO said in a statement on Wednesday.

Limited breakthrough for Italian gay rights

The Senate approved a bill recognising same-sex unions, but political manoeuvres led prime minister Matteo Renzi to scrap the green light for gay adoption.

Malta legalises same-sex marriage

Once regarded as conservative, the catholic island of 440,000 becomes the latest EU country to allow same sex couples to marry.

Interview

Gay rights face backlash in Poland

Polish society is becoming more gay-friendly, but anti-gay activists are becoming more radical and the government is doing little to stop it, says gay right activist Agata Chaber.

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