LGBTQ equality strategy, policy
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The Commission announced the adoption of their first official LGBTQ equality strategy – how will this be felt in Member States which oppose LGBTQ rights?

Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, commented: “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.

“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. We are still a long way away from the full inclusion and acceptance that LGBTIQ people deserve.”

The new strategy reflects the Union of Equality concept that President Ursula von der Leyen supports. Sadly, the ILGA-Europe Rainbow Map for 2020 highlights a marked decrease in LGBTQ rights and protections across the EU. With COVID-19 dominating headlines, other fundamentally important policies like the protection of the LGBTQ community were lost in the noise of public health – perhaps even strategically lost. Helena Dalli led the policy reforms in Malta that have firmly established her home country as the best place for LGBTQ equality strategy in the EU. This kind of reform is much needed across Eastern Europe in particular, which is where Dalli hopes that new LGBTQ equality strategies of National scope will be created in line with the larger EU mission.

Key observations for LGBTQ rights in Europe

For the second year in a row, countries are moving backwards on the Rainbow Index, as existing protections are disappearing. Trans rights are where most of the current movement in terms of LGBTI equality is happening, for better or worse – with children’s author JK Rowling coming forward as an anti-Trans advocate, there have been alarmingly polarising debates in West Europe about LGBTQ human rights. The biggest positive step throughout the EU in 2020 are new measures to protect intersex people against discrimination, which were initially modelled in Malta by Dalli. Regression is most visible where civil and political rights are eroded: LGBTI human rights defenders increasingly at risk, authorities taking active measures to undermine civil society associations, and attempts to ban public events.

Right now, Monaco, Russia, Armenia, Turkey and Azerbaijan are listed by ILGA-Europe as the worst countries for LGBTQ equality strategies and protection. This ranges from hate crime protection, to marriage legality, to adoption rights. On the other side, Malta, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark and Norway are the top five places to live in Europe for LGBTQ equality. Malta has kept a score of 89% on this index for the last five years.

The European Commission lacks the power to enforce policies on Member States – the LGBTQ equality strategy is a strongly recommended guidance for policy-making.

What does the new EU LGBTQ strategy say?

  1. Fighting discrimination:

Legal protection against discrimination is key to advancing LGBTQ equality. 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. Following up to the report the Commission will put forward any legislation, namely on strengthening the role of equality bodies. 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.

2. Ensuring safety

LGBTQ people disproportionately suffer from hate crime, hate speech and violence while the under-reporting of hate crimes remains a serious problem. To harmonise protection against anti-LGBTQ hate crime and hate speech, 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 LGBTQ people. In addition, the Commission will provide funding opportunities for initiatives that aim to combat hate crime, hate speech and violence against LGBTQ people.

3. Protecting rights of rainbow families

Due to differences in national legislations across Member States, family ties may not always be recognised when rainbow families cross the EU’s internal borders. 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.

4. LGBTQ equality around the world

In various parts of the world, LGBTQ people experience serious rights violations and abuses. The EU promises to support actions for LGBTQ equality under the neighbourhood, development and international cooperation instrument (NDICI), the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) and the Asylum and Migration Fund.

Vice-President for Values and Transparency Vera Jourová said: “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.”


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