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12th Nov 2018

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Most EU states drifted backward on gay rights

  • Preparations for gay pride events in Brussels in May this year (Photo: Miguel Discart)

Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland still show the least respect of all EU countries toward sexual minorities, with activists calling for political “courage” and “backbone” by EU institutions.

The three member states all scored below 20 percent on a map of human rights compliance in Europe published by Ilga-Europe, a pressure group in Brussels.

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  • Activists in Kiev last year, with Ukraine on 19 percent (Photo: Auco Fulcrum)

The NGO ranks countries on the basis of laws and policies that impact LGBTI people’s rights in six areas, including equality and non-discrimination, family, and hate speech and violence.

At the other end of the scale, Malta (88%), the UK (76%), and Belgium (72%) led the way, with France (71%) not far behind.

The map, as in previous years, showed more red (non-compliant) or shades of red and orange in the east, compared to green (compliant) in the west.

The rating did not always correlate with religious mores - Italy, a Roman Catholic country, scored just 27 percent, but Ireland, Portugal, Spain, which are also Catholic, scored between 52 percent and 69 percent.

Even though Italy scored low, it improved by 7 percent from 2016.

Denmark, Finland, France, and Slovenia also improved slightly, but the group-of- five were the only ones to do so, while most counties eroded slightly and a few others stayed the same.

Meanwhile, the worst places in Europe to be gay were Azerbaijan (5%) and Russia (6%), where gay people have been rounded up, jailed, abused, and, on some occasions murdered in Russia’s Chechnya province despite EU outcries.

Ilga-Europe said legal gender recognition in France, civil unions in Italy, and a ban on conversion therapy in Malta “made global headlines” last year, but it said LGBTI people in other parts of Europe were “literally living in fear of their lives”.

It said marriage equality was “not the only marker of improvement” and the new frontier in Europe is the rights of trans and intersex people.

Joyce Hamilton, the NGO’s co-chair, said: “Those countries that are viewed as traditional equality champions aren’t breaking boundaries like they used to. The European Union isn’t pushing for advances at the same rate that it used to”.

Brian Sheehan, another co-chair, called for “political courage” at both “national and European level” in order to “drive public acceptance”.

Ilga-Europe’s annual report came out on the UN’ s special day against homophobia and trans-phobia, which was marked in Brussels by rainbow-coloured flags and tapestries.

EU institutions are often demonised in the Catholic and Orthodox Christian capitals in eastern Europe as enemies of traditional values.

The NGO on Wednesday said last year was “a mixture of achievement and unmet expectations” by EU officials.

One hand, an EU agency in Vienna began monitoring hate crimes against asylum seekers, but on the other hand the EU designated Russia, Turkey, and some north African states as safe places to deport people to even though they persecuted LGBTI people.

The Commission forced big social media firms like Facebook and Twitter to take down hate speech. They also proposed that EU states should censor anti-gay hate speech in audiovisual media, but the project is yet to bear fruit.

The EU also forced candidate countries in the Western Balkans to take gay rights more seriously.

It adopted the first ever LGBTI-specific conclusions in the Council and debated intersex rights for the first time in the European Parliament.

But Hungary (45%) opted out of the Council’s pro-LGBTI text and forced the insertion of a clause saying that “national identities and constitutional tradition” must be protected.

The EU also failed to follow-up on Lithuania’s bid to ban the circulation of a video on family equality in Lithuania or on Poland’s disregard of foreign same-sex civil unions.

Lithuania helps gay Chechens flee Russia

Linas Linkevicius, foreign minister of Lithuania, said his country issued visas to two persecuted Chechens and that an international effort was underway to protect others.

Feature

Gay rights at heart of Poland's value conflict

Anti-gay statements are part of an anti-EU narrative propagated by Poland's ruling Law and Justice party. But only a few politicians from the opposition are willing to challenge the image of Poland as a homophobic country.

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