21st Mar 2018


Far from finished: Fight for LGBTI equality needs political will and activist spirit

  • On 22 May 2015 Ireland’s electorate voted in favour of marriage equality referendum in overwhelming numbers (Photo: QueenSunshine)

On 1 April 2015 Malta passed its landmark Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act.

On 22 May 2015 Ireland's electorate voted in favour of marriage equality referendum in overwhelming numbers.

On 20 June 2015 Latvia became the first former USSR country to host EuroPride, welcoming 5,000 marchers in Riga.

In many ways, 2015 has been seen as a good year for LGBTI activists in Europe, with positive developments emerging from many corners of the continent. These headline-grabbing milestones are a real endorsement of the work being carried out by individual LGBTI advocates, NGOs and community groups at national level. With this drive for equality surging ahead, you'd assume that it was accompanied by widespread public acceptance.

Unfortunately, the picture is more complicated than that.

These recent achievements are campaigning marvels. But it is important not to confuse their visibility and publicity with complete inclusion in society. Increased awareness of LGBTI issues across Europe is a success in itself, but it isn't the end of the equality story, not by a long way.

The recent Eurobarometer figures released by the European Commission are a perfect illustration of this.

That opinion poll revealed that 12 percent of European citizens consider themselves part of a group at risk of discrimination. Whether or not their fears are well-founded is not really the point. The fact that people living in Europe feel vulnerable and exposed is a big problem.

Also, around 57 percent of respondents feel that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is widespread in their own countries.

Action plan

This could be because people are more aware of LGBTI issues, due to the increased visibility I mentioned earlier. Or it could be that the backlash currently being felt against LGBTI people in some European countries is affecting public opinion.

Either way, civil society and political leaders alike need to work together to spread the message that homophobia, transphobia and biphobia are not contemporary buzzwords; they are discriminatory practices and need to be prohibited.

Incidentally, there are many opportunities for the EU institutions to lead on LGBTI equality. For example, talks will take place this week on an LGBTI action plan. The European Commission's High Level Group on Non-Discrimination will meet to discuss a plan on combating homophobia and transphobia in the EU, something ILGA-Europe have been pointing out the need for since 2011.

These conversations will happen in private, but we urge those around the table to really think about this meeting. We ask them to not view it as a diary entry but a real opportunity to starting changing people's lives for the better.

This sort of collaboration between political figures and an energised activist movement is not a pipedream either. It is already happening with amazing results.

Far from finished

Malta's laws and Ireland's referendum were an effervescent mix of true activism and political imagination. We are certain that the "mobilised activists" part of that equation is ready to work. At our own Annual Conference in Athens this week, 450 participants will gather for the largest event we have ever organised. This mass mobilisation of LGBTI activists and allies demonstrates a commitment to equality and an appetite for change.

To any EU policy makers reading this – we invite you to reach out to our movement.

Work with us; share your ideas, proposals and strategic ideas for how to move forward. Lots of this type of thinking has been done by ILGA-Europe's member organisations and our NGO partners. But without the political backing to move things forward, then we are just talking to ourselves.

The simple fact is that we are far from finished. Equality for LGBTI people is still based on their own geographical luck or misfortune.

Until everyone is free and able to be fully themselves, ILGA-Europe will continue to advocate for policy change and inclusive legislation.

2015 is not over after all; it's never too late to add to the list of the year's achievements.

ILGA-Europe, the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, is a Brussels-based NGO

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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