European Commission presents first-ever LGBTIQ equality strategy

The strategy addresses the inequalities and challenges affecting LGBTIQ people, setting out a number of targeted actions for the next five years.

By Lorna Hutchinson

Lorna Hutchinson is Deputy Editor of The Parliament Magazine

12 Nov 2020

The Commission presented on Thursday its first-ever EU strategy for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, non-binary, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) equality.

The strategy, as announced by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in her 2020 State of the Union address, proposes to extend the list of EU crimes to cover hate crime, including homophobic hate speech, and to bring forward the legislation on the mutual recognition of parenthood in cross-border situations.

It also ensures that LGBTIQ concerns are well reflected in EU policymaking, so that LGBTIQ people have equal opportunities to prosper and fully participate in society.

The Commission said that while progress has been made in the EU towards LGBTIQ equality in recent years, discrimination against LGBTIQ people persists with 43 percent feeling discriminated against. The COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated the situation.

Presenting the LGBTIQ equality strategy, Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová said that everyone should feel free to be who they are without fear or persecution.

“This is what Europe is about and this is what we stand for. This first strategy at EU level will reinforce our joint efforts to ensure that everyone is treated equally.”

Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli said, “Today, the EU asserts itself as the example to follow in the fight for diversity and inclusion. Equality and non-discrimination are core values and fundamental rights in the European Union.”

“Everybody in the European Union should feel safe and free without fear of discrimination or violence on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics” Helena Dalli, EU Equality Commissioner

“This means that everybody in the European Union should feel safe and free without fear of discrimination or violence on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics.”

Dalli said that the EU is “still a long way away from the full inclusion and acceptance that LGBTIQ people deserve,” adding that the strategy calls on those Member States that do not have national LGBTIQ equality strategies to adopt one, addressing the specific equality needs of LGBTIQ people within their country.

The strategy for 2020-2025 sets out a series of targeted actions around four main pillars which focus on tackling discrimination; ensuring safety; building inclusive societies and leading the call for LGBTIQ equality around the world.

In the area of fighting discrimination, the Commission will undertake a stocktaking exercise, in particular in the area of employment. The report on the application of Employment Equality Directive will be published by 2022. The Commission will also put forward a regulatory framework that will specifically address the risk of bias and discrimination inherent in artificial intelligence (AI) systems.

Given that LGBTIQ people disproportionately suffer from hate crime, hate speech and violence while the under-reporting of hate crimes remains a serious problem, in the area of ensuring safety the Commission will present an initiative in 2021 to extend the list of ‘EU crimes' to include hate crime and hate speech, including when targeted at LGBTIQ people.

When it comes to protecting the rights of rainbow families, which may not always be recognised across the EU's internal borders, due to differences in national legislations across Member States, the Commission will bring forward a legislative initiative on the mutual recognition of parenthood and explore possible measures to support the mutual recognition of same-gender partnership between Member States.

And finally in promoting LGBTIQ equality around the world, the Commission will support actions for LGBTIQ equality under the neighbourhood, development and international cooperation instrument (NDICI), the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) and the Asylum and Migration Fund.

“The first-ever LGBTI+ equality strategy comes at a time when LGBTI+ rights are under attack from various European governments using the COVID-19 pandemic as a means of suppressing opposition and protest, while introducing cruel and discriminatory legislative proposals” S&D Group

The Commission said it will regularly monitor the implementation of the actions outlined in the Strategy and present a mid-term review in 2023.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, “Everyone should be free to be who they are, love whom they want and live where they want. Today, we proudly present the first ever EU strategy for LGBTIQ equality. This much-needed strategy will help us become a Union of Equality and promote LGBTIQ rights abroad.”

Marc Angel, S&D member and co-chair of Parliament’s LGBTI-intergroup, welcomed the new LGBTI+ equality strategy, adding that it “comes at the right time as the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting some people harder than others.”

“The ongoing restrictive measures, with limitations on leaving the household social bubble, risk having a disproportionate impact on LGBTI+ people when it comes to domestic violence or mental health difficulties. The family rejection that too many young LGBTI+ face in Europe is leading to more people being made homeless or being forced to flee the family home that should be a safe place.”

The S&D Group said it welcomed the ambitious new LGBTI+ equality strategy, adding, “The Commission’s strategy answers the S&D Group’s long-standing calls for a new approach to fighting discrimination and promoting fundamental rights and protection of LGBTI+ people in the EU.”

“The first ever LGBTI+ equality strategy comes at a time when LGBTI+ rights are under attack from various European governments using the COVID-19 pandemic as a means of suppressing opposition and protest, while introducing cruel and discriminatory legislative proposals.”

Kati Piri, S&D vice-president for civil liberties, justice and home affairs, said, “The shameful situation of rising hate crimes in some Member States where national governments are openly attacking and discriminating against LGBTI+ communities are proof of why we need an LGBTI+ equality strategy in the first place.”

“Millions of EU citizens are waiting for this. We need a law that will protect people from governments for which homophobia, hatred, and contempt for others are political tools” Sylwia Spurek, Greens/EFA

“In Hungary, we see the Hungarian government using the COVID-19 pandemic as a cover to harm fundamental rights and LGBTI+ rights. By rushing through plans to limit adoption only to married couples or to single people with special permission from the ministry, Viktor Orbán is employing underhanded and unacceptable measures to effectively put a ban on gay adoption, all at a time when public protest is impossible.”

She continued, “But he is not alone. In Estonia, the far-right have pressured the coalition government into organising a divisive referendum in spring 2021 on putting a restrictive definition of marriage as being between a man and women part in Estonia’s constitution. In Poland, it is simply unacceptable that some cities declare themselves free from “LGBTI ideology”. We have condemned all these actions from the beginning and we need to react when governments flout EU values.” 

Terry Reintke, vice-president of the Greens/EFA group and co-president of Parliament’s LGBTI Intergroup, said that the Commission’s LGBTI strategy is being published at a crucial moment, when the community is facing repeated attacks in the European Union.

“The constitutional changes in Hungary are yet another major assault on fundamental rights and LGBTI people. The Polish government is running a hate-lead campaign against the LGBTI community and supports the declaration of whole regions as LGBTI-free zones.”

Fellow Greens/EFA member Kim van Sparrentek said, “In Europe the rights of LGBTI people are under threat. Half of all of European LGBTI people say they are still discriminated against, and the acceptance of transgender and intersex people remains very low.”

“It's welcome to see the Commission propose the mutual recognition of parental rights across all EU countries. The Commission should also quickly ensure that the rights of LGBTI couples in the EU countries are also mutually recognised.”

Dutch Renew Europe MEP Sophie in t’ Veld said, “We have the strategy, now let’s stop the witch hunt! The Renew Europe Group will lead this fight together with activists and civil society. Progress for LGBTIQ+ rights cannot be taken for granted in Europe, so the fight for equality is needed more than ever.”

Swedish GUE/NGL member Malin Björk said, “With yet more attacks on LGBTIQ rights by the far-right Viktor Orbán in Hungary overnight, today's unveiling of a European Commission strategy to guarantee equality for all is welcomed. It is something we have long called for.”

Irish EPP deputy Maria Walsh said, “A significant day for our rainbow families and friends living across Europe. Today is a stepping stone for many.”

Polish Greens MEP Sylwia Spurek said, “Millions of EU citizens are waiting for this. We need a law that will protect people from governments for which homophobia, hatred, and contempt for others are political tools.”

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