10-21-2011By Avathar St. Vincent
Fighting Discrimination Program
“Many people in Europe are stigmatized because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity and cannot fully enjoy their universal human rights,” writes Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe (CoE) Commissioner for Human Rights, in a foreword to the comprehensive report on Discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in Europe.
The study’s analysis and conclusions are based on the information and data gathered from the 47 member States of the intergovernmental body, with a geographic span from Portugal to Russia. The report presents an inclusive view of the reality of LGBT rights in a wider Europe and the governmental policies and public attitudes that affect these rights.
Here are some highlights from the Commissioner’s study:
The Good …
The majority of the member States had some sort of legislation that prevented discrimination based on sexual orientation. Same gender couples can marry in seven of the states, and in thirteen of the states, they have access to legal partnerships. Of the states, ten allow second parent adoption. This is where the good news from the report ends.
… The Bad …
The study found strong antigay attitudes present in all 47 member states of the Council of Europe. A majority of the countries do not have clear protection under the law for transgender individuals. Even in the states that do offer legal protection for LGBT individuals, such laws are seldom enforced or monitored and discriminatory practices persist. Discrimination, harassment, and bullying in schools and work places have been identified in several member States. In most Council of Europe countries, LGBT individuals have trouble accessing health care, education, and other necessary services.
… And the Ugly
LGBT communities are among the groups most vulnerable to hate crimes, and are often targeted by virulent public rhetoric that vilifies or scapegoats LGBT people. Hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation or gender identity bias are rarely investigated properly, while hate speech is rarely condemned. In some cases, state agencies are responsible for blackmailing and harassing LGBT individuals—instead of protecting them.
LGBT individuals face violence because of their identities, and the authorities are not doing enough to protect them. LGBT-phobic hate crimes are not classified as such in most countries. Human Rights First’s report card shows that only 14 CoE nations include sexual orientation or gender identity in the list of protected categories. With or without such protections, hate crimes are rarely prosecuted properly. For example, Moscow City police have recently dropped all charges in the case of a violent assault on the openly gay news reporter Yelena Kostyuchenko, who was attacked in broad daylight in front of many TV cameras in May.
Fearing such violence and harassment, many LGBT people flee their country of residence. Some LGBT refugees originate in Council of Europe member States, though most arrive in Europe from Africa or the Middle East, where antigay persecution is often state policy. While 33 of the CoE countries officially recognize sexual identity as a relevant reason to request asylum, only 6 nations recognize gender identity, and LGBT asylum applicants still face considerable hurdles and even discrimination.
Bans or restrictions on gay pride parades and equality events still persist in Europe. Commissioner Hammarberg reports 12 countries where LGBT demonstrations have been either banned or deterred by the officials, and in some cases, the police have actually ignored violence towards LGBT demonstrations. In 2011, Human Rights First continued to monitor Pride events, documenting half a dozen setbacks, including one in Split, Croatia, where thousands of ultranationalist supporters gathered to protest the town’s first gay pride by throwing rocks, firecrackers, bottles, and trash at the marchers. Such attacks and counterdemonstrations are often driven by negative state rhetoric and government attempts to ban “homosexual propaganda.” Across the Council of Europe region, you can still find official textbooks containing references to homosexuality as an illness, despite international medical declarations that say otherwise.
The report concludes with a series of concrete policy recommendations for governments. If implemented, the new policies would go a long way toward improving the state of gay rights, and human rights, in the Council of Europe member States.