Topic Overview LIBE

Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE)

A Prideful European Union: how should LGBTQIA+ rights be protected in Europe, whilst acknowledging and addressing public hostility and reservations of individual Member States?

Chairperson: Lars van der Ent (NL)

Introduction and Relevance

In February 2019, certain municipalities in Poland started declaring ‘LGBT-free zones’ which, by February 2020, comprised “an area greater than the size of Hungary.” The premise of anti-LGBT zones is that they aim to combat propaganda from a so-called ‘LGBT-ideology’ and promote traditional conservative Christian, pro-family values. Polish authorities say that LGBT-ideology corrupts the youth by  accepting, amongst others, pornography, abortion and sexual criminality. Furthermore, the so-called ‘LGBT ideology’  is seen as an ideology imposed on Poland by the West to destroy the ‘natural’ family. In December 2020, the Hungarian parliament amended its constitution, which now neglects the existence of transgender and non-binary people in order to uphold ‘Christian values’. In addition, Hungary has banned the distribution of content relating to homosexuality and sex reassignment to people under the age of 18. The steps taken by Poland and Hungary have met backlash from the European Parliament and Commission. In reaction to the Polish ‘LGBT-free zones’, the European Parliament declared the EU an ‘LGBT-freedom zone’. In addition, the European Commission launched legal action against the two Member States, suing them before the European Court of Justice. While the policies in these countries expose LGBTQIA+ people to discrimination and put their lives in danger, the discrimination and assault on these minorities extends to the whole of the EU. For example, in the summer of 2021, Spain faced a surge in anti-LGBTQIA+ hate crimes. The European Commission has noted that LGBTQIA+ people are increasingly attacked by politicians, “fuelling hate and prejudice.” The European queer rights organisation ILGA calls attention to a “‘pan-European phenomenon’ of anti-gay violence.” The rise in intolerance is often ascribed to ultraconservative nationalism promoting ‘traditional values’. In the face of public hostility and domestic abuse, what should the EU do to protect LGBTQIA+ rights?

Key Conflicts

Politicians in the EU increasingly use  LGBTQIA+ community as scapegoats to divert attention away from economic problems. One of the causes for this increase is misinformation and hate speech spread on social media. Specific conservative media campaigns by anti-LGBTQIA+ movements promote traditional family values and maintain that the LGBTQIA+ community is corrupting children. The consequence is a surge in homophobia and transphobia. Independent investigations have further found that these media campaigns are financed by foreign influences. What is more, EU Member States differ widely in their views on rights of LGBTQIA+ people. Accordingly, their policies and laws on the protection and promotion of LGBTQIA+ rights vary greatly.

Furthermore, while the promotion of equality is primarily the national responsibility of Member States, the EU provides policy guidance. The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) published a report in May 2020 which concluded that little to no progress had been made “in the way LGBT people in the EU experience their human and fundamental rights in daily life.” Discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people, in general, increased from 37% to 43% between 2012 and 2019. The proportions increased more dramatically regarding transgender people: from 43% in 2012 to 60% in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation, especially for queer minors who were forced to stay at home with their families during lockdowns.

Moreover, 58% of LGBTQIA+ people have experienced hate-motivated harassment. The danger of harassment prevents people from expressing their identities, which is a fundamental right – freedom of expression – in the EU Charter for Fundamental Rights. What is more worrying, is the fact that only 10% of LGBTQIA+ people who have experienced harassment have reported this to relevant authorities.

Key Actors

The European Commission is the main legislative and executive organ of the EU. Each Member State offers a commissioner to deal with a certain portfolio. The European Commission proposes new legislation and enforces laws co-legislated by the Council of the EU and the European Parliament. However, regarding social policies, it can only coordinate and supplement action taken by Member States, which are responsible for legislation on combatting social exclusion and discrimination.

Anti-LGBTQIA+ movements – sometimes called anti-gender movements – increasingly spread homophobic and transphobic rhetoric and misinformation. Led by religious extremists and ultraconservative organisations, these movements aim to deprive LGBTQIA+ people of their rights and promote conservative ideas of gender roles, sexuality and the family. Politicians frequently adopt these harmful ideas and target LGBTQIA+ people with laws and policies in the name of promoting ‘family values’.

Moreover, local authorities have significant influence on policy implementation. In Poland, for instance, the ‘LGBT-free zones’ were declared by municipalities – while being supported by the rhetoric of the central government. Local authorities often also have the competence to provide laws and policies regarding police forces.

ILGA-Europe is the European division of the international queer rights organisation ILGA. In Europe, the independent non-governmental organisation made up of over 600 queer rights organisations from European countries, including, for instance, the Dutch COC, Slovenian Roza Klub, the Polish Kampania Pzreciw Homofobii and the Hungarian LGBT Alliance. The umbrella organisation aims to promote and protect LGBTQIA+ rights by advocating for human rights and equality, taking legal action in European courts and providing support for its member organisations.

TheEuropean Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) is an independent organisation made up of statisticians, legal experts and political scientists concerned with the protection and advancement of human rights in the EU. Some of its key topics are immigration and integration, tackling xenophobia and discrimination and improving access to justice. It collects data and analyses those in order to synthesise trends and patterns relating to, for example, human rights violations in the EU. It also recommends legislation to relevant EU institutions and helps properly implement laws. In 2019, it published a report on the position of LGBTQIA+ in EU Member States which demonstrated that little to no progress had been made.

Steps taken so far

Article 19 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU prohibits any form of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The treaty is legally binding on Member States. Should Member States infringe on the rule, the European Commission has the discretion to initiate legal proceedings against that Member State.  In addition, article 21 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights prohibit any forms of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Since the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force in 2009, the European Convention of Fundamental Rights has become equally binding on Member States as the treaties. It is enforced by the European Court of Human Rights.

Member States have different laws and policies in place for the protection and recognition of LGBTQIA+ people. While all Member States have adopted legislation prohibiting discrimination, these vary in content and form. Furthermore, some Member States explicitly prohibit the legal recognition of same-sex couples and same-sex civil unions. So far, only one Member State – Malta – has legally banned conversion therapy. Some Member States still have not adopted laws making hate crimes or speech motivated by homophobia or transphobia illegal. What is more, access for individuals to treatment for transitioning their gender differ greatly per Member States. In fact, most gender or sex reassignment practices infringe on human rights such as human dignity, sometimes even requiring sterilisation prior to surgery. In terms of legal recognition, almost all Member States demand mental health diagnosis of gender dysphoria prior to legal recognition for transgender people1Gender dysphoria is a state of anxiety or sense of unease in a person due to a discrepancy between their assigned gender at birth and their actual gender identity. In many cases, a diagnosis of gender dysphoria is a requirement for legally changing one’s gender. Increasingly, experts agree that medical requirements are outdated for changing one’s gender and declare that legal gender changes should be based on self-identification and self-determination.. Most Member States also do not legally recognise non-binary genders.

In 2019, the European Commission presented its first-ever LGBTIQ Strategy (2020-2025) with proposals to protect the rights of queer people in the European Union. It is based on four pillars: fighting discrimination, ensuring safety for LGBTQIA+ people, building queer-inclusive societies and promoting LGBTQIA+ rights across the world. Primarily, the European Commission relies on Member States to develop their own action plans to improve protection for queer people.

In 2000, the Employment Equality Framework Directive entered into force, which forbids discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, sexual orientation and religion or belief in the workplace. It is legally binding in the sense that Member States are obliged to adopt laws, measures and regulations necessary to comply with the provisions in the Directive. This means that the exact content of laws differ per Member State. No directive on EU-level exists prohibiting discrimination in other areas of life such as education and social services. Some Member States, however, do have such policies in place.

In 2019, the European Commission presented its first-ever LGBTIQ Strategy (2020-2025) with proposals to protect the rights of queer people in the European Union. It is based on four pillars: fighting discrimination, ensuring safety for LGBTQIA+ people, building queer-inclusive societies and promoting LGBTQIA+ rights across the world. Primarily, the European Commission relies on Member States to develop their own action plans to improve protection for queer people.

Questions to think about

  • How can the EU address anti-LGBTQIA+ violence, keeping in mind that Member States have different attitudes and disparate views towards sexual and gender minorities?
  • How can the EU protect LGBTQIA+ by handling the issue of misinformation?
  • With only 10% of LGBTQIA+ people who experience harassment reporting to the police, how can the EU effectively improve reporting on harassment and violence motivated by homophobia and transphobia?

Links for further research

Introductory Clauses

The European Youth Parliament,

  1. Alarmed about the rise in anti-LGBTQIA+ violence across the European Union,
  2. Deploring the fact that political groups increasingly fuel anti-LGBTQIA+ violence by using sexual and gender minorities as a scapegoat for domestic problems,
  3. Aware of homophobic and transphobic social media campaigns in Member States which spread misinformation and promote traditional values on behalf of foreign organisations,
  4. Noting with deep concern that little to no progress has been made regarding the lived experiences of LGBTQIA+ people,
  5. Concerned with the increase in discrimination in the European Union against LGBTQIA+ people in general, and transgender people in particular,
  6. Alarmed that only 10% of LGBTQIA+ people who experience hate-motivated harassment report the incidents to the authorities,
  7. Noting that Member States have disparate views on LGBTQIA+ rights and that laws and policies protecting sexual and gender minorities vary greatly per Member State
  8. Conscious that no framework exists at EU-level which includes sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression as a bias motivation for hate crimes,
  9. Welcoming the first-ever LGBTIQ Strategy (2020-2025) presented by the European Commission,