A reflection on the European Parliament’s efforts on protecting LGBTI rights

© Elio Germani

With the European elections upon us, Siobhán Murphy, Campaign Assistant at Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office, reflects on the steps taken by the European Parliament towards greater protection and fulfilment of LGBTI rights.

Over the last five years, the current European Parliament (EP) has made some progress on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights. Much of this is owed to the EP’s Intergroup on LGBT rights (LGBT Intergroup), which has pushed LGBTI rights firmly onto the European Union (EU) agenda. Memorable advances have included the two directives on asylum qualification and asylum procedures, the EU External Action Service (EEAS) LGBTI guidelines, and the adoption of the EP’s Lunacek report which recommends the enactment of a LGBT Roadmap to guide EU policy on LGBTI rights. There have also been strides forward in some EU countries, such as Latvia, on freedom of assembly and expression for LGBTI people in the last five years.

The EU’s external efforts have rightly responded to situations where LGBTI rights are under attack outside the EU. For example, Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy has highlighted LGBTI rights in Africa in recent statements. The EEAS LGBTI guidelines direct EU external action on the promotion and protection of LGBTI rights , and 7 out of 11 of the EP’s resolutions  on LGBTI rights are related to rights outside the EU. More recently, the EP has called on the European Commission and member states to strengthen their efforts in human rights dialogues with Uganda and Nigeria, and to review aid agreements under the Cotonou agreement. 

But the EU must not forget to be strong within its borders, where the progression of LGBTI rights has also met substantial obstacles. The EP’s Lunacek report recommending the adoption of a LGBT roadmap was strongly contested, and its author, Ulrike Lunacek, MEP for the Greens, received over 40,000 emails in opposition.  Despite some positive developments due to the joint efforts of the EU institutions, NGOs, and LGBTI activists, legislative gaps remain, and the EU is falling down on effective anti-discrimination measures.

Transgender rights, the right to be protected from homophobic and transphobic hate crime and discrimination in areas such as education and health are still not guaranteed under EU law. And there are still attempts to restrict freedom of assembly for LGBTI participants, and to discriminate against LGBTI people by introducing homophobic and transphobic legislation in Lithuania, an EU member state.

ILGA-Europe’s rainbow map clearly depicts the EU’s progress, and where it is falling down in the protection of LGBTI people from hate crime and hate speech, family recognition, laws and policies tackling discrimination, and legal gender recognition.

When all too often human rights seem to play second fiddle to other factors such as the economy, the EU needs to put human rights at the heart of all of its action, internally and externally.

At a recent LGBT Intergroup event, it was great to hear MEP Ulrike Lunacek acknowledge the importance of Amnesty International as a human rights organisation engaged in working for LGBTI rights. I felt proud to be part of the wider movement to combat discrimination, and I strongly believe that the positive steps we have accomplished have only been possible with the joint efforts of the LGBT Intergroup and civil society.

We can and must continue to push the EU to do more. Only then can we concretely achieve better LGBTI rights across Europe and beyond. As part of my work for the Fight Discrimination in Europe campaign, I will continue to urge the European Parliament to keep working to advance LGBTI rights.