Latvia is worst place to be gay in EU, index shows

Madrid Gay Pride, 2013. [Barcex/Flickr]

Latvia, Lithuania and Poland have been ranked the three worst places in EU to be an LGBTI citizen, according an index by the gay rights organisation ILGA.

The Rainbow Europe 2016 index, published on Tuesday (10 May), examined the situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people across Europe based on how laws and policies affect these citizens and ranked 49 European nations accordingly.

Only three EU countries, Malta, Belgium and the UK, met above 80% of ILGA’s criteria for legal equality.

Malta was applauded for its Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act (GIGESC) which is meant to protect individuals’ physical integrity, bodily autonomy and self-determination.

“It became an instant example of international best practice and the catalyst for several other significant initiatives: a wide-ranging education policy for trans, gender variant and intersex children and a comprehensive LGBTI Action Plan,” ILGA said in its evaluation.

The lowest scores were found in some of the newest EU members – in the Baltics and Eastern European countries – with Latvia, Lithuania and Poland all below 20%. Perhaps surprisingly, Italy, a founding member of the EU, likewise got a low score at 20%.

ILGA said the reason why Latvia ended up at the bottom of the table was partly due to the country’s introduction of a ”morality clause” to the school curriculum under its Education Law.

On a more positive note, the capital Riga hosted a EuroPride in 2015, making history as the first post-Soviet state to hold the event which was seen as a success.

In Lithuania, many LGBTI-friendly events took place in 2015, and Vilnius’ mayor is in favour of hosting the capital’s first gay pride in 2016.

However, in both Baltic states opinion polls show that LGBTI equality is still a divisive issue.

ILGA-Europe’s executive director Evelyne Paradis emphasised that contrary to popular belief, LGBTI equality is far from being a done deal in Europe.

“The picture is actually very mixed at the moment:  a lot of the governments that were leading the way on LGBTI equality a few years ago have slowed down their work, especially when it comes to new standards,” she said in a statement.

While EU member states are still at the forefront when it comes to legal protection of LGBT persons, ILGA does not believe that Europe can claim to have the leadership on LGBT rights the way it did 10-15 years ago, Paradis told EURACTIV in an interview in December. While some member states have become too complacent, others were even going backwards, Paradis said.

The executive director at ILGA-Europe also lashed out at the European Commission and Vice-President Frans Timmermans, who is also in charge of EU Fundamental Rights, for not doing enough to combat homophobic and transphobic violence.

Gay rights organisation: The EU no longer leading on LGBT rights

Many Western European countries have rested on their laurels in recent years when it comes to gay rights – and are now overlooking issues around trans and intersex rights, says Evelyne Paradis.

The attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights remain widely diverse in the EU. For example, while some EU member states have legalised same-sex marriage, others only allow civil unions or other forms of recognition for same-sex couples and the rest recognise marriage only as a union of one man and one woman.

According to a Eurobarometer survey from 2015, the top five EU countries in terms of LGBT rights and approval of same-sex marriage are the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Spain and Ireland.

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