Have no doubt about it, this week’s elections for the European Parliament are about LGBT+ rights. While we bathe in the aftermath of a public plebiscite on marriage equality, LGBT+ rights are under attack across Europe. Countries once thought to be moving in a progressive direction are backsliding.
ILGA-Europe, the leading LGBT+ advocacy group has kept a close eye on developments across the EU. It highlights a worrying trend which has seen several countries regressing, as laws and policies which had developed to protect the community disappeared or were repealed.
In the UK, Brexit has empowered bigots right across the Kingdom. Hate crimes are increasing significantly. Once sacred safe spaces like Soho have seen anti-gay groups marching. Schools in Birmingham are under attack for teaching about same-sex relationships.
Poland’s government has put the gay community firmly in its crosshairs. Borrowing from the Russian playbook, and supported by the Catholic church, political leaders have initiated a campaign to protect families, seeking to attack and undermine the LGBT+ community, detaining and persecuting activists while downplaying and encouraging hate crimes.
Across the Balkans, where basic LGBT+ rights were only starting to emerge, the LGBT+ community has witnessed a stark attack on equality. States redefining marriage to preclude same-sex couples, revoking only recently secured rights to express a trans persons gender identity on official documentation, delaying implementation of critical gender equality action plans and banning pride marches in major cities, are a testament to a renewed vigour to dismantle protections and sow the seeds of prejudice.
We read stories of brave young people assaulted for daring to hold their hands in public, activists being detained and a surge in online hate speech, bolstered by the growth of social media.
“If ever there was a time to put high political priority on LGBTI equality, it is now” warns ILGA-Europe head Evelyne Paradis. She cautions against complacency and the dangers of thinking the hard work is done, pointing to overwhelming evidence of a serious backslide at both a political and legislative level across the EU.
The EU was something of a quiet leader on LGBT+ rights historically. The EU charter on fundamental rights expressly precluded discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, forcing member states to amend their legislation to comply. Shortly thereafter the European Convention on Human Rights secured a further degree of protection on privacy grounds. It was the dawn of a new age for a community that had been fighting for recognition for so long – here it was written out in international law, it was wrong to discriminate against us.
The EU has been a vocal advocate for LGBT+ rights, both within the EU and around the world. Last year the European Parliament condemned reports of an LGBT+ genocide in Chechnya and only this year denounced Brunei for introducing regressive laws stoning LGBT+ people to death. As a powerful economic force on the world stage, the EU and its institutions command respect. These interventions are important and help to shine a light on the atrocities facing our brothers and sisters around the world.
Closer to home, the European Parliament is a powerful moderator of its member states, highlighting attacks and holding governments to account.
Across Europe, conservative parties are attacking hard won LGBT+ rights to motivate their base, with many influential homophobes seeking election.
Earlier this week we read about a leaked report implicating Mairead McGuiness in seeking to grant greater influence over European legislation to religious groups. As the far right seeks to dominate the forthcoming elections, are they prepared to sell out the separation of church and state?
This week’s elections are about LGBT+ rights. LGBT+ voters should not support candidates who do not fully support LGBT+ rights.
We won’t have a chance to vote again for five years.
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