LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia

A strategy to unite the EU, in the face of divisive tactics

European Union
European Commission
EU LGBTI Strategy
Come Out

As a high-level conference on LGBTI equality gets underway in Brussels, we find ourselves at a critical crossroads for the European project, says ILGA-Europe's Communications Director Brian Finnegan

At this very moment, we are at a critical crossroads in Europe. As members of the new European Parliament get ready to take their seats and the Commission gears up for hearings in the election of the new EU Commissioners, the fundamental values of the EU project are at the risk of being eroded by a number of states, who are scapegoating minorities, including LGBTI communities, in an effort to foster division and undermine democracy.

The most recent example of this was during the summer in Poland, when anti-LGBTI  hate speech from the leading PiS party led to violent attacks on the first Pride march in the city of Bialystok. Earlier this year, at a political rally before European Parliament elections, PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said that LGBT rights constitute foreign values that pose “a real threat to our identity, to our nation.”

Poland is not alone

The developments in Poland do not stand alone. In Europe and around the world, there has been a sharp rise in hate and divisiveness, often targeting marginalised groups such as LGBTI people, while in some countries regressive legislation is being introduced. The governments of Bulgaria, Hungary and Turkey have failed to uphold fundamental civil and political rights such as freedom of assembly at LGBTI Pride events, freedom of association and protection of human rights defenders.

Anti-LGBTI discourse and legislation are increasingly entering the global political stage and influencing societies, propagated by populist leaders stoking fear and breeding intolerance for the sake of political gain. Politicians in the Bulgarian city of Plovdiv, one of this year's European Capitals of Culture, campaigned to block an LGBT exhibition. Attacks by the far-right Vox party on LGBTI rights are testing years of political consensus on the issue in Spain, which in 2005 became only the third country in the world to allow same-sex marriage. 

A litmus test of EU democracy

The rights and freedom of LGBTI communities is a litmus test of EU democracy and values, and upholding those rights and freedoms is core to fundamental EU values. Today, the Finnish Presidency of the Council of the European Union and the European Commission will host a high-level conference on ‘Advancing LGBTI equality in the EU: from 2020 and Beyond’. The debates and discussions of the conference will inform future policies aiming at advancing LGBTI equality in the EU.

This should take the form of an explicit call for the European Commission to adopt an LGBTI equality strategy for the next five years as a measure to combat the fostering of division in European society.

An EU LGBTI strategy, adopted and owned by the political leadership of the European Commission would give a very important political sign that the EU will not only continue but also strengthen its work on protecting and advancing the human rights of LGBTI people in the European Union. It would send out a crucial political message to all the member states and to the people, that the EU cares and will not stand by while minorities are scapegoated to foster division for political gain.

A small number of governments may be pushing back on LGBTI rights and freedoms, and engaging in hateful rhetoric that affects real lives, but they threaten the larger body of states that are on the side of human rights at a critical time in Europe and the world. LGBTI people are fighting back, trying to make sure the rights and freedoms that have been gained in Europe are not pushed back upon, to counteract the division that is being sewn by a small number of leaders. It’s time for the EU Commission to stand with the people, to stand for a European Union that is united and strong, rather than divided and weakened.

Photo taken at the Warsaw Pride by DPA