Hate Speech: A milestone for the LGBTI community

The extension of the list of EU crimes to cover hate speech and hate crimes, including when targeted at LGBTI people, will be one of the most important acts of this legislative term, argues Marc Angel.
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By Marc Angel

Marc Angel (LU, S&D) is co-president of the European Parliament’s LGBTI Intergroup

28 Jun 2021

The European Agency for Fundamental Rights’ recent report on discrimination, entitled “A long way to go for LGBTI equality”, highlighted the fact that Europe’s LGBTI community suffer disproportionately from hate speech and hate crimes.

Earlier this year, we were all deeply shocked by the murder of a young member of the LGBTI community in Belgium and by the deadly attack against another LGBTI person in Latvia.

These are only two of the most shocking examples of hate crimes targeted at the LGBTI community. These crimes are often underreported, out of fear of LGBTIQ-phobic reactions, victim-blaming or simply through a lack of trust in law enforcement. 

“The Commission’s proposal comes at a crucial time, with anti-gender movements at the forefront, and spreading across the EU. Hate speech targeted at LGBTI people is no longer limited to a few ultra-conservatives; it is being supported, and actively pursued, by some of the highest elected representatives in many Member States”

Action is thus urgently needed and the extension of the list of EU crimes to hate speech and hate crimes, including when targeted at LGBTI persons, is a milestone for the LGBTI community in the EU.

Currently, legal protection against anti-LGBTIQ hate crime and hate speech varies significantly between EU Member States. With the extension of the list of EU crimes, attacking LGBTI persons verbally or physically - will finally be a crime in all 27 Member States. This is a crucial step in ensuring the mental and physical integrity of LGBTI persons.

A human right and a fundamental right enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which of course cannot always be granted if we do not want a total surveillance society.  

As is already the case with other hate crimes, there will be a legal remedy against hate speech and hate crimes based on sex and sexual orientation. This means that, for example, a physical attack against a LGBTI person will no longer be punished as a simple assault.

If based on the sex or the sexual orientation of the attacked persons, this must be taken into account by judges as aggravating circumstances. While this is an enormous step, as a member of the European Parliament’s LGBTI Intergroup I would have preferred if the initiative had also proposed hate speech and hate crimes based on gender identity and/or expression and sexual characteristics.

This wording would broaden the scope and provide further protection to everyone within the LGBTI community, including those who are transgender and intersex.

This extension will be no ‘best-seller’, given the two-step procedure it entails. In fact, before the European Commission can present any legal text regarding harmonisation on content and penalties, the Council will first have to accept the Commission’s proposal and take a decision to identify hate speech and hate crime as “other areas of crime that meet the criteria specified” in Article 83(1) TFEU.

This decision will have to be taken by unanimity after consultation with the European Parliament. Only then can the Commission propose substantive legislation such as a directive that would harmonise the definition of hate speech and hate crimes and its penalties. 

While the consultation of MEPs poses no problem, reaching unanimity in the Council, however, is more difficult. This is particularly the case on matters of gender equality, which seem to have banned status at the Council.

The LGBTI intergroup calls on the Council to adopt its decision on this proposal as soon as possible. The EU cannot continue to turn a blind eye on discrimination against minorities and vulnerable groups like the LGBTI community and it is the duty of the Council to legislate, not to block legislation as it does with the horizontal directive. 

The Commission’s proposal comes at a crucial time, with anti-gender movements at the forefront, and spreading across the EU. Hate speech targeted at LGBTI people is no longer limited to a few ultra-conservatives; it is being supported, and actively pursued, by some of the highest elected representatives in many Member States.

The recent vote on amendments to the Child Protection Act, Act on Business Advertising Activity, Media Act and the Family Protection and the Public Education Acts in Hungary, that ban the “portrayal and the promotion of gender identity different from sex at birth, the change of sex and homosexuality” to those under 18, unfortunately, is just one example of many when it comes to state-sponsored discrimination against LGBTI people.

The LGBTI community has become the scapegoat of many far-right parties, looking to divert attention from their own failures.

“History has taught us that words become actions. The persecution of minorities always starts with hate speech and discrimination, fanned and ordered by political leaders. It now lies within the hands of the Council to stop this and to avoid further suffering of the LGBTI community and other vulnerable groups facing hate speech and hate crimes”

History has taught us that words become actions. The persecution of minorities always starts with hate speech and discrimination, fanned and ordered by political leaders. It now lies within the hands of the Council to stop this and to avoid further suffering of the LGBTI community and other vulnerable groups facing hate speech and hate crimes.

The extension of the list of EU crimes to cover hate speech and hate crimes, including when targeted at LGBTI people, will be one of the most important acts of this legislative term.

Citizens will take a close look at which Member States support this initiative and which ones block it. We all know that today that the LGBTI community are the targets of hate speech and hate crimes. Tomorrow it could be women, and then who’s next?

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