Eastern Europe vs The EU Equality Strategy.

Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, Article 10 and 19 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the Employment Framework Directive 2000/78 are just a handful of the plethora of laws designed to protect LGBTQIA+ individuals from being discriminated against in Europe. Still, Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, and of course Poland continue to have a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. They do not simply 'disagree' with establishing LGBTQIA+ rights, but their opposition to them is a core component of their national identities, touting their intolerance through their constitutions. While the EU (sometimes clumsily) perpetuates its promise to protect LGBTQIA+ people, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia remain rampant and are growing within some of its member states. Worrying statistics from the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights show that 43% of LGBTQIA+ people had declared feeling discriminated against in 2019, compared with 37% in 2012. If progressive steps have been taken to secure LGBTQIA+ rights in Europe, why are members of the Queer community feeling increasingly marginalized?

The Polish President, Andrzej Duda, is renowned across the globe for his relentless attacks against the LGBTQIA+ community. There is no length to which the homophobic politician will not go to limit Queer rights in Poland. From vowing to amend the Polish Constitution to make same-sex adoption illegal (and likening it to enslavement), advocating for the outlawing of LGBTQIA+ Pride parades, and banning the teaching of gay rights in schools, Duda will not rest until Poland is an entirely “LGBT free zone." The Polish President’s cries have not fallen on deaf or tolerant ears, as violence against the LGBTQIA+ community continues to rise in Poland.

Sadly, Poland is not the only country in Europe in which anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiment has been rising. On the 10th of November, Hungary followed in Poland’s steps and proposed a constitutional amendment enshrining “Christian values” and making same-sex adoption impossible. While the Hungarian Parliament must still debate this amendment, it is more than probable that it will pass as the notoriously homophobic Fidesz party has a two-thirds majority. The timing of the proposal is not insignificant. Indeed, the far-right government introduced the amendment only one day after the country entered its second lockdown, making it impossible for Hungarian LGBTQIA+ people and allies to protest it. Additionally, the coronavirus crisis has been used as a justification to enter a 90-day state-of-emergency period where the Prime Minister’s powers are significantly increased. This tactic is reminiscent of Hungary’s first coronavirus lockdown. Earlier this year, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán used his newly granted powers during the state-of-emergency to end the legal recognition of gender changes, thus making it impossible. Orbán’s schemes are not only worrying for the future of LGBTQIA+ rights in Hungary but also for the future of Hungarian democracy itself.

To counter the rising intolerance in the East of Europe, the European Commission has launched its LGBTIQ Equality Strategy. EU Commission Vice-President and proud defender of the strategy, Vera Jourova, declared that Poland and Hungary’s behaviours belonged “to the authoritarian playbook and do not have a place in the EU.” The strategy proposes to criminalize hate speech against LGBTQIA+ people and to guarantee legal recognition of same-sex partnerships everywhere within the EU by 2025. The EU's strong stance against rising homophobia sends a powerful message to European LGBTQIA+ citizens as well as the rest of the world. In the words of Helena Dalli, the EU’s Commissioner for Equality: “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.”

Following this message of hope, Italian activists have hailed a vote in the lower house of Parliament to pass a bill which would render incitement to hatred, violence, and discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation a hate crime.

It appears that the EU and its members are at a cross-road regarding the protection of LGBTQIA+ rights within it. While Brussels seems adamant about righting the wrongs of history and protecting the European queer community, there is still some uncertainty regarding how severe it will be with its more intolerant member states. This ideological collision could lead to a further splitting and weakening of the EU if the offending states refuse to correct the trajectory that the EU has taken. Will LGBTQIA+ rights be the issue that pushes Europe to the brink, potentially destroying it? Or will it unify its members and be the next step towards a more tolerant and just Europe?

By Daphné Querleu

Legal News Writer

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