Homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender people in Europe remain at a disadvantage, according to a new EU study. In Germany, they often face discrimination, insults and physical attacks.
Discrimination begins with childish taunts in the schoolyard, continues to cause problems in the job hunt and can even lead to physical violence, according to Christine Lüders, director of Germany's Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (ADS), who spoke with DW.
The ADS helps people who feel they have been discriminated against, among them homosexuals but also transgender people - who don't identify with their gender - and bisexuals.
On Friday, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights published figures in a new study that Lüders found "alarming," describing them as a serious warning to all EU member states, including Germany. In an online survey that ran from April to July 2012, 47 percent of the more than 93,000 participants said that they had been discriminated against or harassed in the last year because of their sexual orientation. In Germany, that figure stood at 48 percent.
A kiss in public? Rather not
Twenty-six percent reported being victims of assault or threatened with violence in the last five years, because of their sexual orientation. That also highlighted another finding: more than half of the survey participants said they don't openly display affection for their same-sex partner.
This fear of hostility is apparently already present in the school years, with nearly all participants having experienced homophobic behavior during that time. Sixty-seven percent of respondents said they often or always hid their sexual orientation as adolescents.
"As long as shouts of 'faggot' are heard on school playgrounds, we still have much to do," said Lüders. "I think it's very important that we include information on sexual orientation and diversity in the general curriculum and train teachers in this regard."
Klaus Jetz, the head of the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany (LSVD), agreed, telling DW that the topic should be dealt with at an interdisciplinary level in schools.
In the workplace, according to the study, one in five reported discrimination due to sexual orientation. Lüders said she has heard examples that left her stunned, such as when a homosexual man was told to wear a woman's blouse as work clothing or when a lesbian was told "quite clearly" in a job interview that she would not fit into the company because of her sexual orientation.
The difficulty that the business world has had with this topic is shown by the fact that "in the upper echelons of the business world, there has never been an openly gay man or a lesbian woman," said Lüders.
'In times of crisis, people are more hostile'
Across the EU, the situation for gays and lesbians js generally more problematic in southeastern and eastern European countries than in middle, north and western Europe. Those living in Scandinavia and the Benelux countries reported the fewest difficulties.
Homo- and transphobia is more prevalent in the areas where people are religious, said Klaus Jetz, though he emphasized that religion wasn't necessarily the source of this hostility. Even a bad economy can sow distrust, toward minorities in general.
Whether it's for economic or other reasons, Jetz believes that equality and tolerance toward homosexuals and transgenders has not made many advances lately. "Around the turn of the millennium we were in euphoric mood - especially when Germany allowed same-sex partnerships."
But lately, he said, there have been negative developments in Europe, such as the mass protests against gay marriage in France or the spread of evangelical fundamentalists in universities offering young people "therapy" against homosexuality.
Jetz and Lüders have called for, among other things, that the German legislature include in Article 3, Paragraph 3 of the Basic Law a ban on the discrimination of homosexuals and bisexuals, as well as transgenders. According to the LSVD, the new version should read as follows:
"No person should experience prejudice or preferential treatment due to sex, his parentage, his language, his homeland and origin, sexual identity, creed, religion or political opinions. No one should be disadvantaged because of his or her disability."