By Alex Wright
The European Union's European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) has produced research reports on LGBT issues since 2008. The 2011 report builds on previous FRA legal and social research from 2008 and 2009, enabling, for the first time, a review of legal trends.
The latest periodical report from the FRA takes a broad look at LGBT discrimination over the whole of the EU focusing on six key areas: Sterotyping, violence, asylum, family rights, employment and freedom of assembly and expression. The research was done in a holistic and wide-ranging manner, involving working groups, meetings with NGOs, experts and policy bodies.
Public opinion across the EU seems to show that perception of LGBT discrimination being widespread to be slightly down. Unsurpisingly, the report notes some recurring ideas, that younger people are more accepting of LGBT than older, that some seek ‘invisibility’ to avoid persecution and that actions by political and religious figures can be spurred on by negative public opinion towards LGBT people.
The report finds that violence and abuse can stem from public figures making discriminatory statements, which often characterise LGBT people in a sub-human manner or in a way which implies they are going against societal norms. Attacks do seem to take different forms based on gender and sexual orientation: lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to be attacked in the home, gay and bisexual men are more likely to be attacked in public by groups and there is an implication that attacks on trans people tend to be more violent and can in some cases lead to death . There is also a focus on the impact of bullying in schools on emotional and educational development.
Discussions of violence lead directly into discussions about Pride. There is a reiteration of the unlawfulness of the Russian ban (although they are outside of the EU). It is also mentioned that although many countries will allow Pride parades, they will not provide adequate protection for participants
Although there is an appropriate EU framework to ban homophobic and transphobic discrimination in the workplace, it is not uniformly implemented across Europe. On a positive note, the recent Maruko judgment said that in all instances where a country has registered partnerships for same-sex couples rather than marriage, such partners must be treated as spouses for the sake of employee benefits. Multiple discrimination in employment is also mentioned, the report commenting that understanding and dealing with this is in its early
stages and most NGOs remain single issue eg. Women or disabilities, and are often able to provide advice for such multi-dimensional experiences.
The difficulties of free movement within the EU for same-sex couples are noted as only couples moving from one country to another that both have at least same-sex partnership laws equivalent to marriage can still bring along their spouse. A series of recent cases are analysed, focusing on the need of States to realise the nature of family life is shifting to newer and non-nuclear definitions.
As regards LGBT asylum seekers, proposals to recast the Refugee Qualification Directive are praised for taking into account gender identity issues. Mention is also made of a recent European Parliament resolution calling for experts to educate states on the experience of LGBT asylum seekers and ending fast-track
Previous research is used by ILGA-Europe for their country-by-country guide on LGBT asylum in Europe. An in-depth research project by Sabine Jansen (COC) and Thomas Spijkerboer (VU University Amsterdam) is underway and will be presented at the Fleeing Homophobia conference taking place in Amsterdam in September.
The report makes several recommendations for progress in each section. The most significant ones are:
Combating predjudice and misunderstanding against LGBT people by educational campaigning. Governments and appropriate EU institutions should support these.
The FRA mention that data regarding hate crime is lacking and calls for better categorisation and submission of data by EU Member States. This should help to enable the EU to better monitor where, when and why discrimination happens.
Neither Public order interests nor active counter-events should not be allowed to halt the ability of LGBT communities to have public events such as Prides Parades.
Schools should actively deal with LGBT issues in order to shape attitudes of young people towards acceptance.
Gender identity issues are not clearly understood enough both within employment and in larger society. It is suggested that the European Commission add gender identity to the prohibited grounds for discrimination.
More must be done regarding mutual recognition between Member States of registered same-sex couples in order to facilitate free movement.
It is hoped that the creation of the new European Asylum Support Office will be able to support countries in dealing with LGBT asylum issues. Surprisingly nothing is mentioned regarding recent questions raised by Germany as to the legality of returning LGBT people on the grounds that they can act discreetly to avoid persecution.
Sweden: A project has shown that schools are taught in a heterospecific context and has challenged this, trying to show the problems of assuming a heterosexual norm. The Government’s ‘Living History Forum’ are also working to combat institutionalised heterosexuality’. Of particular note is the ‘Normgiving diveristy’ project, working with the police, church and defence forces to create inclusive workplaces.
Greece: Homophobic intent has been expressly included as an aggravating factor in criminal cases.
Latvia: A group have created a monitoring system for evaluating political speeches regarding gays and lesbians.
Lithuania: Homophobic intent has been expressly included as an aggravating factor in criminal cases however on the flip side, recent law has brought in a ban on ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in the classroom.
The Netherlands: A national plan called ‘Simply Gay’ includes 24 projects by government agencies to improve social acceptance.
The UK: The Government Equalities office is praised for its plan to tackle outdated prejudice regarding sexual identity and gender orientation.
Alex Wright lives in Manchester where he is studying for his Masters in Law at Manchester Metropolitan University. He is currently writing his dissertation on the right of free movement for same-sex couples within the EU. He previously studied at the College of Law and at the University of Birmingham where he was also LGBTQ Officer. You can follow him on twitter @ShinyAlex.
Homophobia, transphobia and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in the EU M...