LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia

About the Annual Conference 2013

Read more about the theme of the Annual Conference 2013 - Family Matters! Reaching out to hearts and minds


ILGA-Europe uses a broad and inclusive understanding of the concept of family. Whilst LGBTI people still face many challenges in having their forms of family legally recognized, family at the same time is not only to be understood as the legal status of relationships (i.e. marriage, partnership or child custody). Rather, de facto family relations need to be recognized and rights to LGBTI people and children should be guaranteed without discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. ILGA-Europe considers the rights of the child to be at the core of and guiding our demands for the recognition of diverse families.

Over the last years we have seen many positive developments in the field of family recognition. Around the world, an increasing number of countries have introduced laws recognizing relationships between same-sex couples. However, in most European countries there still is no legislation for partnership recognition of same-sex couples. Same-sex parents raising children not only still face high levels of societal prejudice, in most situations they have to raise their children with no or low levels of legal protection. This is also the case for trans people, who often face issues in having their identity legally recognized or who may lose custody and their partnership status after having undergone gender reassignment or having their documents changed to affirm their gender. They often live in a legal maze or limbo.

In some parts of Europe extensive work has been carried out to advance the legal recognition of same-sex couples and towards the recognition of LGBTI-parenting. Such efforts take shape both domestically as well as cross-borders. Whilst EU-competency in the field of family remains limited, the European Court of Human Rights has an increasing body of case-law relating to LGBTI families. An increased body of legal argumentation and jurisprudence has been build up that can be actively used in the work of promoting equal protections and rights to LGBTI families.

In some countries LGBTI communities face concerted efforts by conservative and religious powers attempting to narrow the definition of family and gender roles into restrictive concepts around traditional values and natural law. Such attempts aim at harming the human rights of LGBTI people and their families greatly, and undermine the rights of the child. Increasingly in these countries parents of LGBTI children have stood up to defend the rights of their children. Parents associations have as such become important vehicles to progress the respect of human rights of LGBTI people and drive change.

In other countries, debates around same-sex partnership recognition often lead to heated discussions and organised opposition in society. Whilst religious institutions often dominate such opposition, at the same time growth of support towards the recognition of families within churches and in political parties can also be observed.

Support for the opposition towards an LGBTI-inclusive understanding of family often derives from a lack of understanding about the demands put forward by LGBTI communities. Politicians often use LGBTI family issues to pursue their conservative agenda or for their own political gain. LGBTI persons and their organisations often find themselves responding in defending their discourse, rather than actively leading the debate. There is a great need to develop proactive messaging allowing LGBTI movements to set the agenda. Finding the right balance between reason based and emotion based messaging in this context is increasingly important.

A conference on family
Given the numerous family related discussions that have taken place in Europe over the past year and the very mixed picture when it comes to realities in different states, the ILGA-Europe board has decided to dedicate this year’s conference to the theme of family. The conference will offers pace to discuss a broad variety of workshops, including on political strategizing, messaging and awareness raising, comparative legal analysis and specific strategizing in relation to thematic discussions (e.g. partnership recognition, fertility treatment, adoption, divorce requirement and forced sterilisation). Questions around litigation, ethical and moral discussions, dealing with opposition, building new coalitions and alliances, as well as cross-regional aspects such as Free Movement and Family Reunification, are also areas that could be considered. Expectations and needs around these various aspects maybe wide and different, hence it is necessary to be specific about the angles that we plan to take for the various workshops.

A crucial message that ILGA-Europe wishes to convey with this conference is that family is not just a conceptual debate for LGBTI people, but rather a debate around real and lived experiences. As much as LGBTI people grow up in families, they also want to establish their own families. Opponents may morally reject this, but they cannot deny the realities in which LGBTI people live. It is not in the best interest of children, nor in the best interest of society to do so. In this context it is essential that ILGA-Europe not only looks at legal and political arguments, but also closely looks at how hearts and minds of people can be won. The conference will look at how the community can contribute to educate the wider audience.