European LGBTQ rights have eroded in past year, advocacy group warns

"We see concrete evidence of rollback at political and legislative levels," ILGA-Europe's leader said. "There is no more time to waste.”
By Alex Cooper

LGBTQ rights in Europe have eroded over the past year, according to the international LGBTQ rights group ILGA-Europe. The organization on Monday released its annual Rainbow Europe Map and Index, measuring the current state of laws and policies related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in 49 European countries. The map and index, a benchmarking tool, rank each nation on a number of subjects, including nondiscrimination laws, asylum policies, legal gender recognition and family rights.

In what the organization called a first in the report’s 10-year history, European countries have backslid on several fronts when it comes to LGBTQ rights.

“Last year, we warned about the dangers of thinking that the work was done,” ILGA-Europe Executive Director Evelyne Paradis said in a statement. “Sadly, this year, we see concrete evidence of rollback at political and legislative levels in a growing number of countries. There is no more time to waste.”

“In the current increasingly polarized social and political climate, laws and policies are often the last lines of defense for LGBTI communities,” Paradis continued, including an “I” in the acronym for “intersex.” “That’s why we need national and European decision-makers to redouble efforts to secure equality in law and in practice.”

These backward steps, according to ILGA-Europe’s report, include the Bulgarian government’s removal of procedures for people to change their name and gender on legal documents, and the failure of Hungary and Turkey “to uphold fundamental civil and political rights such as freedom of assembly, freedom of association and protection of human rights defenders over the past year.”

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“The result is an increasingly unsafe and unsustainable environment for LGBTI organizations and human rights defenders in a growing number of countries,” the report stated.

The Rainbow Index ranks countries from 0 to 100 percent, with 0 percent being significant violations of human rights. The lowest score went to Azerbaijan, with 3 percent. Armenia and Turkey rounded out the bottom three, with 6 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

Malta received the top ranking with 90 percent, followed by Belgium at 73 percent and Luxembourg at 70 percent. Luxembourg rose 17 positions because of its legal gender recognition law and national action plan on LGBTQ rights, according to the organization.

Overall, Europe received a score of 38 percent.

The rankings this year were weighted differently than in previous years, making a side-by-side comparison difficult. However, Niamh Cullen, a spokesperson for ILGA-Europe, told NBC News that a downward trend was still apparent in some countries, while stagnation was seen in others.

“There are some countries where LGBTI rights are just not on the agenda or they are threatened. When they are threatened, it leads to certain rollbacks,” Cullen said. In other cases, she added, countries may think their “work is done” because they have passed same-sex marriage or nondiscrimination laws.

Kyle Knight, an LGBTQ researcher at Human Rights Watch, was not surprised by the backslide in LGBTQ rights reported by ILGA-Europe.

"There have been some menacing, cynical turns in politics in recent years in various parts of Europe,” Knight told NBC News in an email. “Politicians who perpetuate the notion that gender equality and LGBT rights threaten society are doing so for cheap and temporary political gain. These ideas don’t protect anyone — they only feed dangerous intolerance, homophobia and misogyny.”

Knight cited an example in Poland, where he said the ruling Law and Justice Party has repeatedly “scapegoated” LGBTQ people and LGBTQ-inclusive initiatives, such as comprehensive sex education in schools, to “project an image” that the party is “protecting so-called traditional values.”

“Similar rhetoric in Russia resulted in the now notorious ‘gay propaganda’ law, which has been shown time and time again to be not only discriminatory but also deeply harmful toward children,” Knight added. “Attacking science, diversity and fundamental rights may unfortunately seem politically expeditious — and come at the expense of LGBT people, among others."

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