LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia

Open call to the EU Commissioners-designate

European Commission
Ursula von der Leyen
LGBTI Equality Strategy

As we start a week of hearings of the Commissioners-designate, ILGA-Europe is urging all incoming Commissioners and President Ursula von der Leyen to support the introduction and implementation of comprehensive and robust LGBTI equality strategy.


On September 23, the Finnish Presidency of the Council of the European Union and the Commission hosted a high-level conference on ‘Advancing LGBTI equality in the EU: from 2020 and Beyond’, with speakers from Member States, the European Parliament, the European Commission and international NGOs. What came out of the conference was a clear and unequivocal call for the Commission to adopt an EU LGBTI equality strategy for the coming five years, a call supported by 19 member states, the European Parliament, the Fundamental Rights Agency and civil society.

In the light of deeply worrying developments across Europe, ILGA-Europe now calls on incoming President Ursula von der Leyen, Vice President for Protecting the European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, and all other 25 commissioners to support the adoption of a comprehensive and robust LGBTI equality strategy.

Over the past several years we have seen repeated and increasingly widespread (normalised) hateful public speech and attacks targeting immigrants, women's rights and sexual and reproductive rights, and, in the last few months, a resurgence of anti-LGBTI rhetoric for political use in a number of EU countries. It is a potent and sad reminder that the most marginalised communities in our societies are always the easiest targets for populist movements and political forces that seek to divide. And the scariest part of it is to realise the ease with which anti-LGBT rhetoric can still be used to foster division.

‘Us and them’ situation

Why should this concern all of us? Because lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people are not just LGBTI; they are human beings trying to live their best individual lives and who connect with many parts of society.  Because when a person is attacked for their sexual orientation or gender identity, it fosters a sense of division which can affect everyone. It creates an ‘us and them’ situation, which can never be helpful, constructive or healthy in society. It also contributes to fostering a sense of fear in general. Even if it’s not you who is being personally targeted by certain rhetoric, you're still living in a society that promotes hatred towards somebody else. There’s a spillover for everyone from that.

All we have to do is refer back to history. One minority is targeted and it leads to another community being targeted, and then another one, and so on down a slippery slope. We’ve seen this play out recently, and not in abstract terms. If you take the example of Brexit, there have been a lot of studies done on how the rhetoric around the referendum, which was incredibly divisive, has led to massive increases in not just homophobic and transphobic violence, but racist violence and other hate crimes across the UK.

All of it is intricately connected to an overall movement that is aimed at eroding the very fabric of democratic societies. Indeed, the use of divisive rhetoric scapegoating LGBTI communities has to be understood in the bigger context. The Polish anti-LGBTI rhetoric, which got a lot of media attention in recent months, is happening in a context where politicians and parties in power have also been attacking free media and independent judiciary, have been putting limits to liberties of fundamental freedoms and putting pressure on civil society to stop organising in general.

Next five years are crucial

This is why there is no doubt for us at ILGA-Europe that the next EU Commission needs to adopt the most ambitious strategy to date on LGBTI equality. The next five years are crucial to preserve as firmly as possible the great legislative and political gains on LGBTI human rights of the past two decades, and equally crucial to protect LGBTI communities from the hatred and harm brought about by populist and anti-democratic forces.

A strategy is needed to ensure that the commission’s work has more impact and depth. An institution-wide commitment would ensure greater political backup and support, create wider ownership and coordination, and give more means for everyone in the Commission to work towards the same goal.

And beyond better policy-making considerations, the political message that a Commission-wide LGBTI strategy would carry to all the member states and to the people, that the EU cares, is crucial. It’s the symbolic importance of having the European Commission say for the first time we are now adopting an LGBTI strategy because we know that now is the time to take action to protect and strengthened what’s been achieved in the EU project.

At this very moment, we are at a critical crossroads where it is vital that the right decisions are made and the right strategies put in place so that the Commission can stand strong on fundamental rights and not let a minority of states erode and undermine EU values. Ultimately, this is about people’s lives. LGBTI people and communities, like other very vulnerable communities such as migrants, are at the front line of it all, both as targets but they are also leading the resistance. The EU owes it to LGBTI people to bring all of its might to uphold their human rights and to stand with them in defending our shared vision of a democratic, inclusive, equal and free Europe.

Evelyne Paradis, Executive Director, ILGA-Europe