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17th Nov 2018

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Keen on wedding invites; the EU can do more for LGBTI equality

  • Irish drag performer and LGBTI rights campaigner Panti Bliss (Photo: Marit Fahlander)

At first glance, you might not think that a California-born judge in his late 70s would have much in common with a self-styled gender discombobulating drag queen from the west of Ireland.

Yet Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and Panti Bliss have both become readily recognisable symbols of significant equality victories in the USA and Ireland.

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The buzz generated by the Obergefell v. Hodges decision and the recent Irish referendum tells us that these are momentous steps. This is why the words of First Vice President Timmermans, calling for equal recognition of same-sex couples, resonated so quickly across Europe after our European Equality Gala in Brussels. However, if you feel a caveat approaching, then you'd be right.

Of course, marriage equality is huge for those same-sex couples who have the means and desire to get married. Even with the introduction of civil partnerships, the fact remains that, in some European countries, certain rights and entitlements are only available to couples who are married.

Socially, it is incredibly important to have same-sex relationships recognised as equal in the eyes of the state. ILGA-Europe don't want to downplay that for a moment. But we have a long way to go before we can say our equality work is done.

Here comes that promised proviso.

- Marriage equality is not the be all and end all.

- Marriage equality is very important but… marriage equality does not equate to total equality.

- Marriage equality is very important but… marriage equality is only immediately relevant to those LGBTI people with an interest in getting married in the first place.

- Marriage equality is very important but… personal safety or the health of their family might be a higher priority for many LGBTI people.

And where the EU is concerned, marriage equality is clearly not one of their competences. But so many practical changes are.

There is a veritable mountain of equality measures that the EU institutions can introduce that will make daily life better for people all over Europe, including LGBTI families.

Safety concerns

The EU has the power to ensure that LGBTI people are protected against physical or verbal abuse when they walk down the street. This fear is not hypothetical; 34% of the trans people in the FRA's 'Being Trans in the EU' report said they had experienced threats or physical violence in the five years preceding the survey.

The EU should address the gaps in its legislative framework when it comes to homophobic and transphobic hate crime.

We know this will not happen overnight, so in the meantime, the European Commission can make sure that every country gives effect to existing legislation on the protection of victims. It can develop a police training curriculum to be used across the EU and it can support effective reporting of violence.

LGBTI children or the children of LGBTI parents need to feel safe at school and the EU has the ability to work in this area.

'Supporting LGBT Lives', a report by Irish ILGA-Europe member GLEN, found that 20% of those surveyed skipped classes as they feared being hurt because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Commission can address the EU-wide phenomenon of LGBTI school bullying by enabling practical exchange of good practices and supporting EU countries in developing their own policies on safe school environments for all.

Non-stigmatising healthcare

When LGBTI people get sick, the EU can safeguard them against discrimination when accessing medical care.

In Portugal, 37% of LGBT people state that they did not dare to disclose crucial info about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity to healthcare staff. In Hungary, this figure rises to a shocking 74.7%.

In too many member states, trans people simply do not find specific health care services relating to gender reassignment.

Member States can bring about real change by finally adopting comprehensive equal treatment legislation, including in access to health, while the EU Commission can support universal access to appropriate and non-stigmatising healthcare, for example by providing specialised training for health care staff.

Health, education, personal safety – all of these issues can play on people's minds when they wake up in the morning and the EU has the power to take that worry away.

The recent marriage equality victories on both sides of the Atlantic should encourage Europe's decision-makers to push for more reform, not cause an easing-off in efforts to fight for full equality.

There is a danger that lots of people within the LGBTI community could be forgotten amid all the marriage equality conversations.

ILGA-Europe do not want EU institutions to overlook necessary action, such as the push to close legal gaps on hate crime or the interminable wait for a horizontal anti-discriminative directive.

The EU should not let itself be blinded by marriage equality confetti; we have a lot of work left to do.

Disclaimer: This article is sponsored by a third party. All opinions in this article reflect the views of the author and not of EUobserver.

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