Friday

18th Jan 2019

Opinion

The illusion of the EU’s commitment to LGBT rights

  • European Parliament: The EU has not done enough to prevent the regression taking place on its own soil (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The EU is good at promoting LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi(sexual) and transgender people) rights beyond its borders, but it should pay more attention to what is happening in its member states.

Same-sex couples are now able to wed in the UK (with the exception of Northern Ireland) and Finland, while the Maltese government unanimously approved a Civil Unions bill which also grants same-sex couples the right to adopt.

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Denmark passed a piece of legislation on trans issues which activists hail as one of the most progressive laws in the world.

Meanwhile, the EU has been vocal when it comes to third countries and gay rights, criticising the likes of Uganda and Kyrgyzstan.

The EU's diplomatic service even has an LGBT "toolkit" to promote rights in third countries.

But despite this progress, there are regressive trends developing in the EU which are not getting enough attention.

Banned in seven member states

European LGBT citizens experience frequent oppression, fear, discrimination, maltreatment, harassment and violence.

Seven member states have banned same sex-marriage in their constitution.

Recently, a Lithuanian MP warned that a local LGBT NGO will face a Charlie Hebdo-like massacre if it continues its "provocative" activities.

In Austria, a lesbian couple was recently thrown out of a cafe because they were kissing. In the UK, a taxi driver kicked out a gay couple for cuddling, and a trans woman was fired for using the women’s bathroom.

An EU-wide report by the Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) showed that 47 percent of respondents felt discriminated against or harassed due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

LGBT youth are hit particularly hard.

Students often experience bullying at school due to their perceived identity and 67 percent of them hide their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The FRA report found that 91 percent of respondents had heard negative comments or seen negative conduct because a schoolmate was perceived to be LGBT.

A majority of member states continue to ignore the rights of trans people, particularly when it comes to requirements of gender recognition.

In its report "The state decides who I am", Amnesty International finds that in many European countries transgender people cannot obtain legal recognition of their gender unless they get a psychiatric diagnosis and undergo medical treatments which include hormone treatment, surgery, and irreversible sterilisation.

Tip of the iceberg

Contrary to popular belief, legalising same-sex marriage and civil unions is just the tip of the iceberg for most European LGBT people.

The EU has a long way to go before it can truly deserve its reputation as being the champion of LGBT equality and human rights.

While the EU lacks real power over the social policy of its member states, it should vocally condemn policies and legislation that intend to restrict LGBT rights.

The lack of openly LGBT high-level EU officials is dispiriting for young LGBT Europeans who want to make a difference in the world through the EU institutions.

Just as the EEAS published a toolkit to combat LGBT discrimination in third countries, the EU should develop similar tools to improve the situation in member states.

Nitin Sood (Finland) has a degree in Global Challenges from Leiden University and is a member of FutureLab Europe, a selective programme aiming to empower the voice of young Europeans. Nitin has lived in many countries, including Swaziland, Croatia, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

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