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EU unveils its first strategy to improve LGBTQ rights in Europe

Supporters of LGBTQ rights protest in Warsaw in August
Supporters of LGBTQ rights protest in Warsaw in August against rising homophobia in Poland.
(Czarek Sokolowski / Associated Press)

The European Union has unveiled its first-ever strategy for improving the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, intersex and queer people amid deep concern about widespread discrimination in some of the bloc’s member nations, notably Poland.

The EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, wants to extend the list of crimes in Europe to cover homophobic hate speech, propose new laws to guarantee recognition of same-sex parenthood and ensure that LGBTQ concerns are better reflected in the bloc’s policies.

“This is not about ideology. This is not about being men or women. This is about love,” Commission Vice President Vera Jourova said Thursday. “This strategy is not against anyone. This does not put anyone on a pedestal. But it is about guaranteeing safety and non-discrimination for everyone.”

The commission said some progress was being made toward LGBTQ equality but that, according to a European Fundamental Rights survey in 2019, about 43% of people still feel discriminated against based on their sexual orientation and gender identities. Coronavirus lockdowns are thought to be making things worse by forcing some young people to remain in places where they might face violence, hostility and bullying or suffer anxiety or depression.

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A handful of European countries have had out LGBTQ heads of government, including Ireland, Belgium and Luxembourg.

But in Poland, for example, the president and other officials in the right-wing government have cast the movement for civil rights for LGBTQ people as a threat to families led by heterosexual couples and to the country’s Roman Catholic values. Dozens of towns in conservative parts of eastern and southern Poland have passed symbolic resolutions declaring themselves free from “LGBT ideology.”

Poland’s LGBT community feels angry and fearful after a political campaign that cast their rights movement as a dangerous ‘ideology.’

The rise in hostility has left many Poles who identify as LGBTQ living in anger or fear, and some have emigrated.

“We are still a long way away from the full inclusion and acceptance that LGBTQI people deserve. Together with the [EU] member states, I trust we can make Europe a better and safer place for all,” EU Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli said as the new strategy was made public.

The plan is intended to fight discrimination, notably in Europe’s job market; ensure people’s safety with new laws and by extending the list of hate crimes; boost rights such as the cross-border recognition of same-sex partnerships, and promote LGBTQ rights around the world through EU foreign and neighborhood policy.

Dalli urged member countries that don’t have a national LGBTQ equality strategy to adopt one suited to the specific needs of their citizens. The commission plans in 2023 to review any progress made.


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