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25th Sep 2021

MEPs to declare EU an LGBTI 'freedom zone'

  • Pride march in Poland: In 2019, 43 percent of LGBTI people felt discriminated against (Photo: Max Bashyrov)

MEPs are expected to declare the EU a "freedom zone" for LGBTI people, an initiative they debated on Wednesday (10 March).

The symbolic move is an attempt to buttress values against right-wing governments' increased scapegoating of LGBTI people.

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It comes in reaction to developments over the past two years in Poland, where almost 100 municipalities declared themselves free of "LGBTI ideology."

Last week, Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orbán also wrote that he wanted to build a new "European democratic right" for citizens "who have not descended into LGBTQ lunacy".

Wednesday's resolution was backed by five parties in the parliament and is expected to be passed on Thursday.

The parliament's draft points to discrimination of LGBTI people in Poland and says that the fundamental rights of LGBTI people have been "severely hindered" in Hungary, which recently banned legal recognition for transgender and intersex people.

It also cited problems in Latvia and Romania and the lack of mutual recognition among member states of parental rights of same-sex couples.

The draft noted that discrimination "is also an issue across the EU, with little to no progress being made in alleviating the persistent discrimination against and harassment of LGBTIQ people".

"May this vote be the starting point of an unstoppable counter-attack of freedom against hatred in every corner of our union," liberal MEP Pierre Karleskind from France, who initiated the resolution, said.

"The EU Commission and member states must no longer silently tolerate the hate-fueled campaign against LGBTIQ in other member states. They must make clear that there is no place for it within the EU," German Green MEP Rasmus Andresen noted.

"When some governments choose to condone or even endorse hatred against people, on the basis of who they are and whom they love, we must resist", Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in' t Veld added.

Centre-right Maltese MEP Roberta Metsola also said: "Today we are here to tell all those in the LGBTIQ community that this is your Europe too".

But MEP Ryszard Legutko, from the Polish ruling party Law and Justice, for his part, described the debate as "absurd".

"The parliament is only interested in its ideology. They want to assert all of this at any price, they are denying freedom in this manner," he said, adding that family policy was a member-state competence.

"Western Europe is engaging in ideological propaganda, at kindergarten age you want to introduce ridiculous stories about gender," Legutko said.

Little progress

Little, if any, progress has been made since 2012 in the way LGBTI people in the EU experienced their human and fundamental rights in daily life, a survey from the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency, published last year, found.

In 2019, 43 percent of LGBTI people felt discriminated against, with varied experiences in member states: in Ireland, Malta, and Finland, over 70 percent of respondents perceived a decrease in intolerance, while in Poland and France, 68 percent and 54 percent said that intolerance has increased.

Portugal's EU state secretary Ana Paula Zakarias told MEPs that however imperfect the EU was, it was still a "beacon of hope" for many.

ILGA-Europe, an umbrella organisation of over 600 LGBTI advocacy groups, said the commission needed to use the full range of its tools to guarantee that LGBTI rights were respected, including ensuring governments implemented EU rules and rulings by the EU's top court.

Polish ban

France's EU affairs minister Clément Beaune, who came out as gay in December, also tried to push back against Polish "LGBT ideology-free" municipalities on his recent two-day trip to Poland, but he said authorities denied him access to Kraśnik, one of those municipalities.

"Polish authorities recently indicated to me they weren't capable of planning this visit, and I profoundly regret it. It is a decision that I deplore," Beaune told French publication L'Obs on Monday.

Warsaw dismissed his claims on Tuesday, citing the pandemic situation.

Beaune previously pledged to visit one of the Polish anti-LGBTI municipalities and to fight homophobia in Poland and Hungary.

"I could have gone to one of these zones without the Polish government's authorisation, but in my view, that's not how one should behave with an EU member state," he said. Beaune met with Polish LGBTI activists on the visit.

In the meantime, in Belgium, politicians have condemned the murder of a 42-year-old man in the Flemish city of Beveren, with local media reporting that the murder was a homophobic hate crime.

Belgian PM Alexander De Croo said he was "shocked" by the homophobia and added, "we will never accept this violence in our country".

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The efforts by the two nationalist-conservative governments, which have both attacked LGBTIQ-rights and women' rights at home, is causing angst among several member states, who see it as a possible roll-back on gender rights.

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