Much of emerging Europe is falling behind on its commitment to equality

In many countries across the region, legislative proposals to boost LGBT+ rights that have been on the table for years are not moving forward.

Published this week by Europe’s leading LGBT+ organisation, ILGA-Europe, the 16th annual Rainbow Map, which ranks 49 European countries on legislative developments in the arena of LGBT+ human rights, shows that while authoritarian leaders across Europe continue to use the scapegoating of LGBT+ people to divide and mobilise their electorates, others are conversely showing robust political will to honour commitments to advancing and protecting the human rights of LGBT+ people. 

At a time when some Italian regions are withdrawing parenthood rights from same-sex couples, when efforts are being made to rewrite guidelines to limit access to trans-specific healthcare in Slovakia, Croatia, France and the UK, and when Russia is taking the unprecedented move of criminalising the ‘international LGBT+ movement’ as an ‘extremist organisation’, the findings of this year’s Rainbow Map make it more clear than ever that only legal protections can ensure that fundamental rights are guaranteed.

Many countries stalling

The Rainbow Map was published just one day after the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights LGBTIQ Survey III report, which finds that over two thirds of respondents encountered hate statements, and a significant increase in violence since the last survey in 2019.

According to ILGA-Europe’s Advocacy Director, Katrin Hugendubel, “Across Europe, LGBTI people are being targeted by hate speech and violence and their human rights are being actively undermined, yet we still see too many countries across the region stalling in moving legal protection forward and not renewing their commitments through national strategies and action plans.

“This non-action is dangerous, as without proper legislation in place to protect minorities, including LGBTI people, it will be much too easy for newly elected governments to quickly undermine human rights and democracy.”

Strong political will in several countries

The Rainbow Map shows some governments stepping up to the mark in the understanding of this—including in emerging Europe. In a year of 30-plus elections across the region, including the EU elections next month, the map illustrates a strong political will to advance the protection of LGBT+ human rights in several countries.

Greece, Germany, Iceland, Estonia, and Liechtenstein all made some of the biggest jumps in the Rainbow Map ranking. Both Estonia and Greece amended their laws to allow same-sex couples to marry and adopt children, Greece also filled the gaps in its anti-discrimination legislation to fully protect LGBT+ people, and Liechtenstein extended adoption rights to same-sex couples.

Countries are also working hard to put crime measures in place that recognise anti-LGBT+ hatred as an aggravating factor. Germany, which entered the top 10 this year, prohibited hate crimes based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics. Other countries legislating against hate crime include Bulgaria, Iceland and Slovenia.

Backlash in Georgia and other EU accession countries

Across most of emerging Europe, however, the picture remains bleak.

Most EU accession countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Ukraine) are falling behind in their commitments, stalling the introduction of legislation and thus putting their citizens more and more at risk of real backlash and the undermining of fundamental rights.

Turkey and Georgia, also accession candidates, are actively eroding human rights and fundamental freedoms, including efforts to pass new legislation particularly targeting LGBT+ people. Georgia, one the most recent accession countries, has been cracking down on pro-EU protests against its ‘foreign agents’ law, which comes directly from the Russian anti-LGBT+ playbook.

According to the executive director of ILGA-Europe, Chaber, “The EU needs to pay close attention not only to the rise of political hate speech against LGBTI people, but also to new tools of oppression, like Russia’s criminalisation of a whole segment of the country’s population.

“The efforts at division and distraction from consolidated authoritarian regimes are further leaking into other European countries at a time where elections could push Europe into the hands of leaders who wish to shape a radical right, anti-democratic European Union. Europe needs stronger laws and policies to protect LGBTI people. Without these, we cannot talk about safety or about rule of law and democracy.”

The region’s best and worst

For the ninth year in a row, Malta continues to occupy the number one spot on the Rainbow Map, with a score of 88 per cent. At the other end of the scale sits Azerbaijan, which along with Russia scores just two per cent.

Emerging Europe’s best performer is Croatia, with a score of 50.6 per cent, closely followed by Slovenia (49.97 per cent) and Montenegro (48.20 per cent). However, Montenegro saw its score fall by 13 per because it failed to adopt a new equality action plan or introduce updated policies on asylum and hate crime.

Poland still sits at the end of the EU ranking with 18 per cent points, followed by Romania (19 per cent) and Bulgaria (23 per cent).

In many countries, legislative proposals that have been on the table for years are not moving forward.

This includes the hate crime legislation and proposal for recognition of same-sex partnership in Ukraine, which despite endorsement by several ministries and support throughout society is still being stalled. It also includes a draft law on legal gender recognition in Czechia that would finally get rid of the sterilisation requirement.

And despite many court cases and recommendations from international institutions, Lithuania has made no progress on recognition of same-sex couples.

Photo by Mercedes Mehling on Unsplash.

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