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Edited on

12 June 2021
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Following a seminar hosted by Rumourless Cities, Ad Hoc Expert Haroon Saad  shares some thoughts on the current scenario and challenges around LGBTU equality in Europe

I live very close to what is called a ”gay quarter” in my city. Such quarters exist in many cities and to anyone walking through such areas it would seem that LGBTI equality has arrived. I am used to  seeing same sex couples walking arm in arm , embracing each other, kissing each other etc. 

Yet my experience is unfortunately not the reality that faces  LGBTI groups. Within the Rumourless Cities Transfer Network, several partner have highlighted the negative stereotypes that prevail regarding the  LGBTI community. Indeed we have seen in the past two years many examples of a backlash against LGBTI groups. 

One ofthe cases which received the most media attention was in Poland, where anti-LGBTI rhetoric by the governing Law and Justice (PiS) Party resulted in more than 80 municipal or local governments proclaiming themselves to be “free from LGBTI ideology”.

But the backlash against LGBTI communities is not limited to Poland.:

Post-Brexit UK, for instance, registered a 147-percent spike in homophobic and transphobic hate crimes

Several EU states also provide no legal  recognition for same sex couples.

There is evidence of official hate speech from political and religious leaders in countries including Albania, Andorra, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Kosovo, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and Turkey.

Even at the EU institutional level , whilst Commissioner Dalli has positively  stated that the Commission would make advancing LGBTI rights a priority for the next five years, it is salutatory to remember that discussion on the  Council Directive on implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation has been blocked in Council since 2008.

Given this context the Rumorless Cities Transfer Network decided to have an online event that focused on the issue of LGBTI discrimination. 

Juul van Hoof, from the EU Fundamental Rights Agency(FRA) presented the main findings of the FRA 2020 report on LGBTI equality. The report is unique in being  based on a survey of nearly 140,000  LGTBI people. The report highlights the fact that a  majority of LGBTI respondents (58 %) had experienced, ”harassment in the form of offensive or threatening situations – including incidents of a sexual nature – at work, on the street, on public transport, in a shop, on the internet, or anywhere else.”

The report does also  highlight some positive developments especially in respect to schools where such issues are being more positively addressed than before. 

At EU level, the report also highlights how the European Social Fund has in the current period (2014-2020)  dedicated at least 20 % to social inclusion and combatting discrimination so that disadvantaged groups (including LGBTI) have had more support to promote equal opportunities for accessing  the labour market.

Here are the main results report and the full questionnaire in English

For those wishing to go deeper into the report then its possible to access the interactive data explorer 

Iestyn Wyn, from Stonewall Cymru presented an overview of the situation in Wales . Stonewall was established in 1989 and has been one of the leading (if the not the leading) association in the UK pushing for LGBTI equality.  

Stonewall Cymru has undertaken a survey of Hate crimes in Cardiff and Wales and this has highlighted that:

Almost one in four LGBT people (23 per cent) have experienced a hate crime or incident due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the last 12 months.

Four in five LGBT people (82 per cent) who experienced a hate crime or incident didn’t report the incident to the police.

The full report on can be accessed here

Iestyn also told of his personal experience of being subjected to a hate crime and how that for him had resulted in positive experience in that he saw how groups such as Victim Support can play  a very important role in providing an advocacy and counselling service to victims of hate crime and provide a means of mediating with the police 

Marco Burmester-Kruger from the Hamburg  police LGBTI team provided a concrete  example of how the police have begun to also address the issue of LGBTI discrimination both externally and internally within the police force. The LGBTI team in the Hamburg police was created through both political support and also through LGBTI associations highlighting the need to improve relations between the LGBTI community and the police. Such actions have in fact resulted in several LGBTI police groups being formed and in turn this has resulted in the setting up of the European LGBT Police Association.

Paige Collings from the international association FreeMuse. FreeMuse is an independent international non-governmental organisation advocating for freedom of artistic expression and cultural diversity. Freemuse has United Nations Special Consultative Status to the Economic and Social Council (UN-ECOSOC) and Consultative Status with UNESCO. Paige presented the results of a new report called Painting the Rainbow: How LGBTI freedom of artistic expression is denied.

The report highlights  the ways LGBTI artists are being discriminated against because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Many of the LGBTI artistic endeavors worldwide have been marginalized and artists tackling LGBTI issues frequently face different types of repercussions because of their art. However, the pioneering report reveals that even though LGBTI artists have been facing different types of discrimination in many different social, political and legal contexts no laws, traditions, or religions can entirely stop artistic expression around these issues.

In short the key message is that we must not get complacent into assuming that LGBTI equality has somehow been achieved. The struggle has to continue and its salutatory to reflect on the  way that older people have had to deal with the prevailing hostile culture in the past. This video captures the experience of several older people

Haroon Saad

Ad Hoc Expert