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LGBTQ+ rights in Europe: Malta tops most progressive list

May 17, 2024

A new ranking and EU study shed light on the continent's most and least progressive countries when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights

A mural showing two men kissing
Belgium is one of the more progressive countries when it comes to LGBTQ+ rightsImage: Bernd Riegert/DW

The world celebrates International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia on May 17. To mark the occasion, ILGA Europe — a lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and queer (LGBTQ+) rights group — is publishing its latest Rainbow Map based on 2023 data.

The Rainbow Map, which has been published annually for 11 years now, ranks European countries on their LGBTQ+ rights. It does so according to range of criteria including LGBTQ+ equality, protection from hate crime and discrimination, societal integration and sexual self-determination.

Which countries are leading the way

This year, Malta tops the ranking as Europe's most progressive country for LGBTQ+ rights, scoring 88 out of 100 possible points. Iceland follows in second with 83 points.

EU states Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain, Denmark, Finland and Greece also scored highly, each with over 70 points. Roughly speaking, Europe's northern and western states tend to have stronger LGBTQ+ rights than other countries on the continent.

Russia, Azerbaijan and Turkey, for example, are the lowest-ranked countries. Poland, meanwhile, occupies the lowest out of all EU states with a mere 17 points due to a decade of conservative PiS party rule. Following the change of government last year, Poland may rise up the ranking next year.

Italy undoing progress

The situation has worsened for Italy's LGBTQ+ people since the far-right Brothers of Italy, League and Forza Italia coalition government under Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni took over in 2022. For years, Italy has been in the bottom third of the ILGA ranking due to inequality regarding parenthood, adoption and marriage rights, says Katrin Hugendubel, who coordinates policy, advocacy and strategic litigation work at ILGA Europe.

A father and son are seen waving a pride flag
Italy's right-wing governemnt opposes equal rights for same-sex parentsImage: GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

Meloni is using these legal loopholes to enforce her idea of families made up of heterosexual parents only. "Laws are important for protecting us against political change," Hugendubel told DW. "And we are not seeing see much improvement at the moment."


The ranking of European states has not changed much in recent times because there are hardly any initiatives to enshrine queer rights in law, according to Hugendubel. Germany is a notable exception, which passed a gender self-determination law in spring. Such self-determination is possible only in 11 of the 49 European countries ranked.

"While some countries, including Germany, have made progress, there is stagnation in others, meaning no new laws are being passed," Hugendubel said. "This comes at a very dangerous time with hatred and violence on the rise, and governments trying to undermine human rights, especially those of LGBTQ+ people."

German lawmakers back law easing gender choice

Greater LGBTQ+ visibility and animosity

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) has published a comprehensive study examining how queer people view their own situation based on an online survey with 100,000 people across Europe. It found that LGBTQ+ people are more open about their identity and that LGBTQ+ topics receive more attention in schools than five years ago, when the last major study of this kind was conducted.

At the same time, the survey found that discrimination, bullying and hate speech have increased in everyday life. One out of 10 LGBTQ+ people have been subjected to violence. This is a slight increase compared with the previous study five years ago.

"We can see that openness has increased, LGBTQI-people are more open about being themselves," FRA researcher Miltos Pavlou, who led the study, told DW. "They more frequently want greater participation in society. By doing so, especially young people, tend to be more exposed to violence and intimidation."

Online vitriol

"We see an underlying context. These issues are not only about LGBTQI people, but part of a growing hatred online. We hope that the EU Commission will use new legal tools to fight against this more efficiently," Pavlou said.

FRA does not rank European countries in this regard. "We don't point fingers at countries because there are problems in all countries, such as school bullying," he added. There is also considerable variation between countries whether hate crimes and discrimination are even reported.

A pro-LGBTQ+ rally is seen in Budapest
Many Hungarians appear to be more liberal than their governmentImage: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP

ILGA's Katrin Hugendubel points out that when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights, legal frameworks, everyday life and social acceptance can diverge within countries.

While Hungary is very restrictive and governed by a conservative government with marriage restricted to heterosexual couples, she said, surveys had found that a majority of Hungarians support marriage for all.

This article was originally written in German.

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Bernd Riegert
Bernd Riegert Senior European correspondent in Brussels with a focus on people and politics in the European Union