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First ever strategy to fight LGBTIQ discrimination in Europe

For the first time, the EU Commission has announced a plan directed to LGBTIQ people. It is aimed at protecting them against discrimination and violence in a context of rising LGBTIQ intolerance in Hungary and Poland.

Last November 12th, Vera Jourovà, Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency, presented the first ever Commission strategy on LGBTIQ equality in the EU. This strategy comes as an attempt to counter the rising tensions between the LGBTIQ community and some Eastern European governments.

The first mention of this strategy had been made in the last State of the Union speech given by Ursula Von der Leyen in front of Parliament last September 16th. On this occasion, she underlined that the European Union is “a Union of equality” and that the LGBTQ-free zones go against this founding principle. She then announced that a strategy to fight LGBTIQ discriminations was going to be issued in the following months.

“Vera Jourovà” - By Martijn Beekman licensed under CC BY 2.0

To fully grasp the implications of this new strategy we first need to understand the current situation in Europe for the LGBTIQ.

To begin with, there seems to be a momentum in Western and Central European countries to fight against discrimination and violence based on sexuality. France, for instance, has issued a plan of action for the institutionalization of the rights of the LGBTIQ community. In Italy a bill ensuring LGBTIQ protection has entered the national debate and has strong chances of being implemented as it appears it has a parliamentary majority. However, although these are necessary steps to achieve equal rights for all, including LGBTIQ, they still seem too little with respect to the deterioration of rights in Hungary and Poland.

Since the beginning of last year, one third of the Polish municipalities declared themselves LGBT-free zones, meaning they got rid of the “LGBT-ideology”. This denomination has often been used by the Polish President, Andrzej Duda and other officials of his party but the meaning of that remains abstruse. As Jourovà puts it, “LGBTQ+ are people, not an ideology”. This denomination is nowadays often used by extreme right governments to diminish the LGBTIQ members. It is in itself a form of discrimination as it is used to present them as evils that endanger a country’s culture. In Europe, Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister, seems to follow the same path of his Polish counterpart. Even though no LGBT-free zones have been declared, the political discourse seems to increasingly concentrate on LGBTIQ community and on portraying it as one of the scapegoats for the problems of society.

“Andrzej Duda” - by Radosław Czarnecki licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

In Europe as a whole, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) communicated that there has been an increase in the declarations of discrimination. In 2019, 43% of LGBTIQ population has declared of having faced discrimination of some sorts, while in 2012 this number was 6 points lower.

So, in order to respond to the fact that basic human rights are being called into question and also in order to follow the momentum that is arising in some of its member countries, the EU issued the first strategy ever to fight LGBTIQ discrimination in Europe.

But what does this strategy consist of?

The Strategy comprises four main points that will be applied over the next five years (between 2020 and 2025). It is going to be subject to a mid-term review in 2023 and - as the EU commission said - to continuous monitoring so as to verify that the actions outlined are being implemented. The four actions are Fighting Discriminations, Ensuring Safety, Protecting Rights of Rainbow Families and supporting LGBTIQ equality around the world.

Firstly, the fight of discrimination is going to be centred in the area of employment. By gathering data on discriminated access to the labour market and strengthening the role of equality bodies, the Commission hopes to make great progress in that area. On top of that, and thanks to the data gathering, the Employment Equality Directive is expected to issue an extensive report on LGBTIQ discrimination in the workplace by 2022. This will guide the commission towards legislative actions that needs to be implemented to fight discrimination.

Secondly, the strategy aims to ensure safety. This is going to be achieved by funding initiatives to fight hate crimes, and by improving victim support services. From a judicial point of view, the EU Commission plans to extend the list of EU crimes to cover hate crime and particularly hate speech in social media. A similar bill involving hate speech in social media was passed by the French National Assembly last May. However, many organizations, including Inter-LGBT, have expressed their disagreement with this new bill, fearing that it may limit the liberty of expression. The bill has later been reviewed by the Constitutional Council and most of its provisions have been taken off. So, the success of this second strategy is still to be seen.

Thirdly, protecting the rights of rainbow families. This third point is in response to the fact that, currently, not all the member States recognize the legitimacy of all families. And as Von der Leyen puts it, “If you are a parent in one country, you are a parent in every country”. This point is to ensure real freedom of movement across the Union for all.

And finally, the EU wants to play a global role by promoting equality around the world. As it is customary, the EU wants to position itself as a moral guardian in the international landscape. So, promoting anti-discrimination actions towards a minority that struggles to have basic rights in most parts of the world is only natural. However, this forth point lacks a concrete plan of action as it only mentions the fact that the Commission is going to support actions for LGBTIQ equality across the globe.

Ursula Von der Leyen - CC-BY-4.0: © European Union 2019 – Source: EP

The strategy has been embraced by most organizations and associations promoting human rights and doesn’t seem to have created any tension in any of the countries concerned by it. However, the day before the issue of this strategy, on November 11th, Viktor Orban’s government drafted a change in the constitution that would de facto ban adoption for same-sex couples. This further shows how this strategy is relevant and urgent in the European Union as in some countries the LGBTIQ are losing basic human rights they already lacked.


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