With the recent declaration of Europe as an LGBTIQ freedom zone (11/03/2021), Ireland fighting for the ban of conversion therapy, and the Eastern European fight for basic rights, LGBTIQ people in Europe will find themselves consistently talked about in the media.
Sexual orientation is now recognised in EU law as grounds of discrimination. However, the scope of the provisions dealing with this issue is limited and does not cover social protection, healthcare, education and access to goods and services, leaving LGBTIQ people particularly vulnerable in these areas.
EU competence does not extend to recognition of marital or family status. In this area, national regulations vary, with some Member States offering same-sex couples the right to marry, others allowing alternative forms of registration, and yet others not providing any legal status for same-sex couples. Same-sex couples may or may not have the right to adopt children and to access assisted reproduction. Though we have come a long way from the days of criminalisation, there is much more to be done. Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, non-binary, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) persons persists throughout the EU, taking various forms including verbal abuse and physical violence.
While Western Europe tends to be seen as more progressive, Eastern Europeans still have to fight for their basic rights. In 2020, Hungary explicitly banned same sex adoption within its constitution, and many municipalities within Poland declared themselves ‘LGBTIQ Free Zones’. Many of these countries hold conservative, outdated views and the general society is dangerous for LGBTIQ people.
But even within the progressive Western Europe there remains rampant homophobia, transphobia and lack of security for LGBTIQ communities. It raises a question – what still needs to be done?
Countries like Ireland – the first country to legalise gay marriage through popular vote – still have problems of their own. The banning of conversion therapy, a cruel and discriminative practice, recognising non-binary as a valid gender identity, including LGBTIQ teachings in sex education and general sex education in schools and the 12-month blood donation ban on gay or bisexual men who participated in sexual activity with another man are just some of the more legal issues that LGBTIQ people face – it doesn’t include how homophobia and transphobia is dealt with in general society.
We also have countries like Poland, and Hungary, which have been identified as some of the worst places for LGBTIQ+ people according to ILGA Europe’s 2020 report. In these countries we see brave activists, standing up, protesting, campaigning, and speaking out. Where they are struck down – their freedom of speech challenged, their freedom of expression seen as threatening, their right to protest and gather violated. They continue to fight.
So, what can people do? The first step would be to identify the issues in your country – what still needs to be done? What rights still need fighting for? What laws must be changed? Do your research – follow LGBTIQ activists in your country, look at the laws, find LGBTIQ campaigns. Join groups that are fighting already – or if you can’t find one, make one! If you can’t make one, spread awareness, information, helplines through your social media, leaflets. There is a lot we can do when we organise.
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