The European Commission has presented its first LGBTIQ Equality Strategy for the next five years, pledging to be “at the forefront of efforts to better protect” the community’s rights by aiming to tackle discrimination, ensuring safety, building inclusive societies and be a global leader in the fight for the minority group’s rights.
“We will defend the rights of the LGBT people against those who have now more and more an appetite to attack them from an ideological point of view,” Vera Jourová, the Commission’s vice-president for values and transparency, said on Thursday (12 November).
“I myself believe that belongs to the authoritarian playbook and doesn’t have a place in the EU.”
43% of respondents to the EU’s rights agency survey said they have faced discrimination in 2019 compared to 37% seven years earlier, and this goes up to 60% for trans people. Around 58% of the people interviewed admitted they have experienced some form of harassment, compared to 45% in the previous survey while 5% say they have been physically or sexually assaulted.
The situations also varies across EU’s regions. While the average social acceptance of the community has grown from 71% in 2015 to 76% in 2019, it simultaneously decreased in nine EU countries.
For instance, the number of those who agreed with the statement that “gay, lesbian, and bisexual people should have the same rights as heterosexual people” dropped by 12% in four years in Bulgaria (39%), and 5% in Czechia (57%) and Slovakia, which has the lowest acceptance rate across the bloc with 31%.
An estimated 25%-40% of young homeless people identify as LGBTQI+, though for example in the UK they comprise only 7% of the young population.
LGBTQI+ people were often forced to quarantine in hostile environments that has made them more vulnerable to abuse, mental health risks, and homelessness during a public health emergency.
“Social distancing may be particularly difficult for those who have been rejected by their families, are not out with their families and now forced to be with them the whole time and/or are facing mental health issues,” a study by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association’s European chapter found.
The analysis showed that these challenges result “in increased mental health difficulties among young LGBTQI+ people who are closeted, or who are out and forced to quarantine with often unaccepting or abusive family members.”
One LGBTI+ helpline in the UK has seen calls double during the lockdown last spring.
Hate speech and rainbow families
“LGBTIQ-free zones are humanity free zones, and they have no place in our Union,” reads the document.
Sexual orientation is the most common reported ground of hate speech, cited in a third of cases reported on big online platforms.
The Commission will propose next year to extend the list of EU crimes to cover hate crime and hate speech, including when targeted at LGBTIQ people, and channel money for initiatives that aim to combat such crimes and promote the rights of victims of crime, including LGBTIQ people.
The Commission also pledged to make sure that the right to free movement within the EU is applied correctly, which already protects movement of to same-sex couples in which one of the partners is and third country LGBTIQ national.
It will also put forward a legislation mutual recognition of parenthood between EU countries.
“Family ties may cease to be recognised when rainbow families cross use internal borders and then, all of a sudden, your child may stop being your child once you cross the border. And this is not acceptable,” Jourová said.
Green MEP Terry Reintke welcomed the proposal but said that the law must not only recognise the parent-child relationship “but also the relationship between parents, especially when it is a same-sex couple.”
However, because any proposal related to family recognition would require the unanimous agreement of all member states it is likely to be blocked by some countries, like Hungary and Poland.
This week Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga submitted a proposal for the amendment of Hungary’s constitution that would define that the “mother – is a woman, the father – a man”, and proclaim that “Hungary protects children’s right to an identity with [their] appropriate sex at birth and guarantees education based on values of our homelands constitutional self-identity and Christian culture.”
While Jourová said that the executive does not comment on legislation before its adoption, constitutional reforms, “constitutional reforms should always be subject to a large and inclusive and public debate, not only debate in political circles.”
EU law already precludes discrimination, including recruitment and harassment based on sexual orientation as well as pay discrimination, dismissal and limits to access to employment for a reason related to gender reassignment.
However, the enforcement of these laws differs between different member states and the Commission plans to pay attention to their implementation.
The EU executive also plans to put specific requirements for the quality of training datasets to prevent artificial intelligence systems discriminating in identification of trans faces.
The Commission’s will also try to “ensure indiscriminate access to rights, protection and services also for LGBTIQ children.”
Asked how the executive plans to achieve this in countries like Hungary that oppose inclusive education, equality Commissioner Helena Dalli said “it is of the essence that we understand that schools should be should uphold the value of equality for all.”
“We must look at and share best practices between member states in the area of education.”
As the Commission has indicated in its earlier strategies put forward this year, it is planning to look closely at its employment equality law and whether EU countries have established equality bodies to monitor its implementation, putting forward new legislative proposals that would bolster such bodies by 2022.
Jourová said she would like the legislation to “stabilise the situation of equality bodies… set a clear status for them,” and ensure a “more certain existence from the funding side.“
“I feel that it’s more than needed that we take that step forward and establish the political resources for power, not only on the basis of soft law [for equality bodies],” she added.
The Commission also promised to put a bigger emphasis on LGBTI rights in its diplomatic efforts.
“We will strengthen the EU’s engagement on LGBTIQ issues all its external relations,” Dalli said.
“LGBTIQ rights are human rights and should be enjoyed fully everywhere,” she added.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]