43 years ago, homosexuals fought against police brutality in New York’s now famous Christopher Street. Since then, Christopher Street Day has been celebrated - but the fight against discrimination continues.
Juris Lavrikovs has so much to say that his voice can often cracks with the pace. Lavrikovs is the spokesman of ILGA Europe, the European region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. Discrimination against homosexuals is a problem at the EU level, he said.
Discrimination based on race, for example, is prohibited in all areas where the EU legislates. Discrimination based on sexual orientation, religion or disabilities is prohibited, however only in the field of employment. That must change, Juris Lavricovs said. "But this particular legislation is stuck at the level of the European Council and has been for many years, almost to a halt," said the ILGA spokesman. Member states have so far failed to back the legislation.
Discrimination in the EU member states
As an umbrella organization for around 360 similar groups from 44 European countries, ILGA is committed to fighting discrimination against homosexuals, bisexuals, trans and intersex people. The association works closely with EU institutions to implement its positions and Lavrikovs is satisfied with the cooperation so far.
The EU and the European Council have made significant progress in strengthening the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people but it is difficult to work at the EU level. "After all, EU institutions are limited by the power of the member states," Lavrikovs said.
The ILGA is also active in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSZE) and the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. At the end of June 2012, the Human Rights Council of Europe commissioner, Nils Muiznieks, complained that Member States wanted to prohibit educational information about homosexuality and homophobia. "This is a troubling step back to a time in which homosexuals were treated like criminals," criticized Muiznieks.
ILGA releases an annual report that ranks the severity of the situation in 40 European countries. No country has reached the perfect score of 30 points but the UK, Germany, and Spain top the list with 20 points. Many countries fall in the lower range of minus 12 points. "In this so-called red zone, there are many European countries, starting with the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Belarus." Discrimination is found elsewhere but it is especially bad in these countries, the spokesman said.
Room for improvement
These countries were condemned by the European Parliament in June 2012 for their homophobic laws. Lavrikovs also cited one more advanced country where discrimination must be fought: "In Sweden, transsexuals need to be sterilized if they confess before law to their transexuality. That's pretty traumatizing." We sometimes forget that even progressive states need to catch up.
The idea of fighting for civil rights did not develop until after the Second World War. For decades, Cold War in Europe debilitated the former Eastern bloc countries from developing appropriate human rights policies. The rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people had also fallen by the wayside.
Machismo to blame?
Discrimination based on sexual orientation is acrually worse in some Western European states than in a number of former Eastern bloc states, says Juris Lavrikovs. He cited Greece, Malta, and Italy in particular: "Italy does not have the political will to introduce the appropriate legislation." For example, there have been many failed attempts by members of parliament to consider homophobia as an aggravating factor for certain crimes, said Lavrikovs.
It would be all too easy to refer to all the states in southern Europe as traditional patriarchal societies that reinforce homophobic tendencies, he said. But this isn't the case. He points to Spain and Portugal who have made great progress on gender equality and the rights of homosexuals and transsexuals in the past few years. "These countries have shown that religious majorities or cultural traditions are not opposed to improving the rights of homosexuals, bisexuals, trans, and intersex people," said Lavrikovs. For change to occur, political will must correspond to the necessary political circumstances.
Author: Daphne Grathwohl / hc
Editor: Helen Whittle