United against homophobia in the European Parliament

On the occasion of the International Day Against Homophobia, Presidents of the Intergroup published a column on their current work. It appeared on EUobserver.com on the International Day Against Homophobia, and later in issue 329 of the Parliament Magazine distributed in Brussels.

Logo IDAHOToday the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia marks 21 years since the World Health Organization declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder. The President of the European Parliament marked the Day last week, by hosting a moving exhibition of 20 pictures from European gay prides at our seat in Strasbourg.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people still face widespread prejudice. These pictures from Lithuania, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Russia, Poland, Croatia, Belarus and the United Kingdom tell clear stories of LGBT people and human rights advocates bravely coming out of the closet and taking to the street to demand equal rights for all… despite knowing they will be insulted, intimidated, beaten up, imprisoned and tortured simply because of their sexual orientation, or their gender identity—in Europe, and in 2011.

We may be the most advanced region in the world when it comes to protecting minorities. We may have come so far as to outlaw discrimination on grounds of sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability, age and religion or belief in the workplace throughout the European Union; have adopted positive legislation in the fields of access to goods and services, asylum policy or civil liberties; and regularly adopt strong resolutions on tolerance and fundamental rights in the European Parliament.

But more is needed: a broader, firmer, clearer political courage, which pushes EU leaders not only to issue occasional powerful statements, but to unwaveringly commit themselves to advancing the protection of LGBT people in EU legislation. The EU must become less timid, tackle homophobia head on, and ensure non-discrimination is strictly enforced. The European Commission must take to task Member State governments that fail to protect or promote LGBT rights, in line with our shared values and principles. LGBT people must know they can rely on the EU to protect them and promote their rights.

We must keep working hard to adopt EU texts that, little by little, make a genuine difference to citizens’ lives. We must keep applying pressure so that countries such as Uganda, which benefit from aid and trade agreements with the EU, work to abandon colonial-era laws and fully decriminalise homosexuality. We must keep applying pressure on national governments so that they agree to the proposed Directive banning discrimination in education, healthcare, and access to goods and services. We still have a long way to go before lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people growing up in Europe can genuinely say that it ‘got better.’

Whilst some reluctant Member States, increasingly fewer politicians, and the religious right tire themselves trying to prevent history from unfolding, the fact that a Polish, centre-right President of the European Parliament publicly declares that “homophobia is deplorable” bears witness to one clear fact: they are on the wrong side of history.

We are proud to be Members of a Parliament that represents 500 million Europeans, and condemns the discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Europe and in the world.

Let us work harder yet, so that on 17 May 2012 we may look back, and see that Europe has progressed further down the path of universal human rights.

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