In the EU, LGBT issues are being discussed more and more with great improvements in many member states. A recent example is Luxembourg, where a law enabling same-sex marriage and adoption was passed some days ago. Even if we welcome these progresses, a lot of work remains to be done in Europe in favour of LGBT rights. Indeed, in many member states LGBT rights are not on the agenda. Many politicians do not care about the issue, as they do not consider them as relevant for their voters: no action is undertaken neither in favour nor against the LGBT community. For example, in Greece there is no ministry or public office in charge of anti-discrimination against the LGBT community, reported Gregory Vallianatos (Lesbian and Gay Community of Greece, OLKE).
At the European level, LGBT issues are unfortunately not high on the agenda either. Despite the efforts of the European Commission and the Parliament, new legislation on anti-discrimination has been blocked in the European Council by the member states for years. Lousewies van der Laan, Vice-president of the ALDE Party, calls all LGBT activists and politicians to work together and put pressure on policy-makers. She also underlines that the new composition of the European Parliament plays a decisive role in the fight for LGBT rights: the fight may be harder with a conservative majority but especially with the eurosceptic populist parties, which are clearly homophobic. The challenge for the LGBT activists lies in convincing other European parties to continue fighting and putting LGBT issues on the foreground.
However, the situation of LGBT rights is much worse outside of Europe: in Russia and in Uganda, for example. In these countries, and in many others around the world, LGBT activists risk their lives every day. Because homosexuality and LGBT issues in general are considered by many governments as an imposition of Western values or even a sign of Western cultural decline, in opposition with their traditional values and culture, they strongly condemn homosexuality. President Putin presents himself as the last defendant of Russian traditions against decadent European values.
As reported by Kseniya Kirichenko (Project coordinator at the LGBT Organisation “Coming Out, Russia), in 2013 the Russian parliament adopted new legislation to outlaw pro-LGBT activism – the anti-LGBT-propaganda bill. New legislation is in preparation to withdraw parental rights from LGBT parents. Furthermore, civil society organisations in Russia are persecuted under the foreign agents law. These laws severely reduce the space for LGBT civil society organisations to be active, as they expose themselves to punishments when organising public events in favour of LGBT rights. But “information is power, and without being able to inform people about LGBT, things will not change”, explained Ksenyia. In addition of being arrested, LGBT activists have to face physical and psychological violence from extremist groups, which use the anti-LGBT-propaganda law as a green card for violence. Even if they are arrested and prosecuted by the justice, they are often released without any charges.
In Uganda the situation is even worse – there people, who beat to death LGBT activists, are not even arrested. Auf Usaam Mukwaya (LGBT activist, Uganda) told his own story, which is the same for many Ugandan LGBT activists. Newspapers, largely financed by evangelic churches with funds from the USA, publish photos of LGBT activists with their name, workplace and personal address and with the mention “Wanted! Payment in exchange of his arrest!”. Therefore, it becomes impossible for LGBT activists to go out in the street, to take public transports and so forth. “In Uganda, I was not free!”, said Auf Usaam Mukwaya. Many LGBT activists have thus decided to flee the country: around 700 Ugandan LGBT activists have asked for asylum in the European Union.
At the question, what can the European Union do to improve the situation of LGBT rights in the world, answers were multiple. On short-term, member states should agree on asylum policies and facilitate the delivery of visa and documents for LGBT activists from all countries, where their lives are threatened.
Auf Usaam Mukwaya also called for stopping European and international funds towards the security forces, who implement the anti-homosexuality act. In his view, international aid should be largely redirected from budget support to the Ugandan government towards NGOs and the civil society. However, this solution raises other challenges, as underlined by Lousewies van der Laan and Kseniya Kirichenko as well as members of the European Commission and the European External Action Service. Indeed, by cutting funds for development programmes managed by national authorities, many projects, which benefit the entire population, would stop and lead the country into a deeper crisis. This in turn might increase resentment against LGBT people.
However, the European Union through its different financial instruments and programmes should develop new mechanisms, be more flexible as well as innovative, so that NGOs are able to continue their work without facing funding problems due to restrictive laws. Indeed, in Russia NGOs decide to register in European member states or are private companies in order to continue working in spite of the foreign agents law. But this means that the European Union has to adapt its funding opportunities adequately.
All panellists agreed on the importance of information campaigns on LGBT issues and the sexual education in schools. Through education and information, propaganda against LGBT people could be counterbalanced. As Lousewies van der Laan reminded, LGBT issues became a central part of the political debate in the US thanks to their appearance in TV-programmes. “When gays and lesbians suddenly arrive in your living room through your TV, it starts to become normal”, Lousewies van der Laan said.
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