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The European Union has unveiled its first-ever plan to tackle anti-LGBTQ discrimination amid rising homophobia and transphobia in some member states.
Released last week, the plan was developed by the European Commission — the EU’s independent executive arm — and aims to criminalize homophobic hate speech, grant legal recognition to same-sex parents, and better protect LGBTQ rights across the European Union’s 27 member countries, the Associated Press reports.
“This is not about ideology. This is not about being men or women. This is about love,” said Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova. “This strategy is not against anyone. This does not put anyone on a pedestal. But it is about guaranteeing safety and non-discrimination for everyone.”
The European Union contains some of the world’s most LGBTQ-friendly countries, including the Netherlands, Sweden, and Malta, but a rising trend of conservative and right-wing victories in some states has led to backlash against LGBTQ people.
Perhaps most infamously, a number of towns, cities, and regions in Poland have passed ordinances banning the promotion of LGBTQ rights, establishing so-called “LGBT-free zones.”
Anti-LGBTQ sentiment is increasing in the central European nation, led by the ruling right-wing Law and Justice Party, which has repeatedly targeted the country’s LGBTQ population since assuming power in 2015.
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden criticized the “LGBT-free zones” earlier this year, saying they “have no place in the European Union or anywhere in the world.”
Also this year, Hungary proposed legislation that would revoke the legal recognition of transgender people, effectively preventing a transgender or non-binary person from changing their legal gender — a move that one European Parliament lawmaker said would “erase” the transgender community and “deny its existence.”
The move was led by the country’s ruling Fidesz party, which opposes homosexuality and has overseen Hungary’s shift from European integration to a more nationalist and right-wing state.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government even pulled out of the European Song Contest, an international singing competition, because of its LGBTQ-friendly nature and encouragement of LGBTQ representation.
According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 43% of LGBTQ people in the EU said that they felt discriminated against in 2019, compared to 37% in 2012.
The Commission also noted in a press release that COVID-19 crisis has “brought new pressures for the most vulnerable groups, and LGBTIQ people are no exception.”
The European Commission’s plan to tackle anti-LGBTQ discrimination would place particular focus on employment, AP reports, given European Union citizens have the right to move to any EU country to live, work, study, look for a job, or retire.
Ensuring the safety of LGBTQ people across the EU would require expanding the definition of what constitutes hate crimes to include LGBTQ identities and increasing cross-border recognition of same-sex relationships, as well as promoting LGBTQ rights internationally.
Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli said that the EU was “still a long way away from the full inclusion and acceptance that LGBTQI people deserve. Together with the (EU) member states, I trust we can make Europe a better and safer place for all.”
Earlier this year, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen used her first State of the Union address to criticize Poland’s “LGBT-free zones.”
Von der Leyen characterized the “LGBT-free zones” as “humanity-free zones,” and said they have “no place in our Union.” She also said that the commission, the European Union’s politically independent executive arm, would introduce a plan to improve LGBTQ equality in Europe.
“I will not rest when it comes to building a union of equality,” the Commission President said. “A Union where you can be who you are and love who you want — without fear of recrimination or discrimination.
“Because being yourself is not your ideology,” she said. “It’s your identity. And no one can ever take it away.”
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