Lesbophobic violence: MEPs address questions to four Commissioners for clarification on follow-up actions
Věra Jourová, Commission Vice-President, Values and Transparency
Josep Borrell Fontelles,Commission HR/VP, Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Helena Dalli, Commissioner for Equality
Olivér Várhelyi, Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement
Brussels, 2 July 2021
Subject: Patterns of lesbophobic gender-based violence online and offline in the EU and the region calls for strong EU condemnation
Dear Commission Vice-President, Věra Jourová,
Dear High Representative/Vice-President of the Commission, Josep Borrell Fontelles,
Dear Commissioner, Helena Dalli,
Dear Commissioner, Olivér Várhelyi,
We write to you today with concern over multiple events of lesbophobic gender-based violence online and offline that are taking place both within the EU, in our neighborhood and in countries with which the EU has diplomatic and political ties. In the last several weeks, we have seen these premeditated attacks taking place in France, Albania, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. The multiplicity of events taking place specifically targeting lesbian women establishes a pattern which make very clear that an EU response is lacking and urgently needed.
Let us highlight some of these events:
- France – hate speech, death threats and cyber-violence against Alice Coffin
On 17 June, an event hosting Alice Coffin, Board Member of the EuroCentralAsian Lesbian* Community Network (EL*C), was interrupted in Rouen, France, by a group of men qualifying themselves as “The normals” by bursting on the scene and holding a sign that read “Don’t you like men, madame Coffin?”. This episode is another in a long series of attacks (mostly online) that have taken place against her in France. Since her election in the Paris City Council in 2020 and the publication of her book, titled “Le Génie Lesbien”, she has been on the receiving end of waves of lesbophobic hate speech, hateful public statements by politicians and public figures as well as cyber violence. These include numerous lesbophobic and misogynistic insults and worrying death and rape threats. The latter obliged her to suspend her Twitter account and were considered serious enough to justify her being granted police protection.
These events highlight the violence that lesbians are subjected to, and once more show why counteracting all forms of gender-based violence, including cyber-violence, must be priorities of the European Commission for this mandate. The Parliament will soon vote on two legislative own-initiative reports calling for EU law to be adopted in the matter of identifying gender-based violence as an area of crime under Article 81(3) TFEU, as well as Cyber-Violence.
- Ukraine – attacks by far-right group “Tradition and Order” against Olena Shevchenko and Insight NGO
On the 31 May 2021, 20 members of the far-right group “Tradition and Order” tried to violently interrupt a workshop in Odessa in which Olena Shevchenko, chair of the EL*C, was the organizer with the NGO Insight. Despite the fact that children were present while accompanying their mothers, luckily no one was harmed and the police was called to intervene. At the same time, the headquarters of Insight NGO in Kyiv were invaded by members of the same group far-right group while another workshop was being held in parallel. The attendees were finally brought to safety, although the police did not accept to take the complaint reports of any of the two incidents, claiming (in the case of Odessa) that nothing could be done against the attackers.
These events continue a streak of attacks on LGBTI NGOs to which the Intergroup already alerted authorities in its letter to the Prime-Minister and Minister of Interior Affairs, dated 5 February 2021, which received no response.
The attacks continue to take place despite the fact that there are clear human rights obligations of Ukrainian authorities following the bilateral agreements between Ukraine and the European Union. The 1994 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement “underlines the importance of democratic values, respect for human rights”,  and this has been reconfirmed in the 2014 Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union: ”Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms will guide all cooperation on justice, freedom and security”.
In addition, these events highlight why the reform of the Criminal Code in Ukraine to explicitly mention “sexual orientation and gender identity” are important:
- In its report on the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine, the plenary regretted “the fact that Article 161 of the Criminal Code still does not provide for the punishment of incitement to hatred or violence on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity” and recalled “ECRI’s recommendations and call[ed] on Ukraine to amend the Criminal Code accordingly”. 
- In a recent Written Question to the HR/VP, the Intergroup asked what support the EC was giving to bill 5488, which would extend the grounds covered in Criminal Code provisions on hate crime to “sexual orientation” and “gender identity”, and what high-level outreach has been planned.
- Kazakhstan – attacks against Gulzada Serzhan and Zhanar Sekerbayeva of Feminita NGO
On 29 May 2021, Gulzada Serzhan and Zhanar Sekerbayeva, Board Members of EL*C, were violently attacked by a group of around 30 men at a feminist gathering they had organised with Feminita NGO, during which gender equality was discussed. The group of men came to the venue with the intention of interrupting it. Among others, they filmed and harassed participants, chanted religious calls and homophobic slurs, beat Zhanar and attacked Gulzada, destroying her possessions. The police, who was called for help, sided with the aggressors instead of protecting the victims, aggressively dragging both activists into a police car and illegally keeping them in detention in the station of Abay, Shiymkent. Following this, around 100 men reunited in front of the police to protest against the lesbian activists. Among others, there was incitement for rape, physical assaults and even murder.
Crucially, the perpetrators were neither arrested nor detained. Following their arrest, Zhanar Sekerbayeva was informed that a criminal case would be initiated against her on charges of “insulting a state official” (Article 378 of the Criminal Code of Kazakhstan). However, according to both human rights defenders, the criminal investigation against Zhanar has been dropped. The police opened an investigation for “hooliganism” following a complaint filed by Zhanar, but up to date, no investigation has been opened against the perpetrators.
In its resolution on Kazakhstan, the Parliament stated the following:“Insists that the rights of the LGBTI community must be fully respected; calls on the Government of Kazakhstan to guarantee the principle of anti-discrimination against the LGBTI community, including by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation by law; calls for proper training for judicial and police officers, as well as service providers, to ensure that LGBTI people are given appropriate care and protection;”
- Albania – online hatred fuelled by media interview against Xheni Karaj
Since mid-June, another Board member of the EL*C, Xheni Karaj, has been subjected to numerous death and rape threats online. These followed her intervention defending the right for two mothers to register their teens and both be recognised as mothers in Albanian national TV, during which the journalist interviewing her resorted to a homophobic rant. Xheni denounced that media are fueling this climate of hatred towards her, especially on social media. Among them were gruesome threats of sexual and physical violence, as well as murder.
In its resolution on the Commission’s reports on Albania, the Parliament:
- expressed “its support for inclusive policies and call[ed] for progress to be made in adopting measures to effectively protect the fundamental freedoms and rights of all people, with a special focus on women, children, persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities and LGBTQI+ persons;”.
- called most importantly “on the Albanian authorities to foster social acceptance of LGBTQI+ persons, who still regularly experience discrimination and hate speech;”
In light of the previous, dear Commissioners, we have the following questions:
- Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová and Commissioner Dalli, concerning France:
- The upcoming own-initiative legislative reports would be the first steps in a strategy which would in the long-run provide harmonisation of EU law to criminalise gender-based violence online and offline. What are the Commission’s considerations on these steps in order to achieve a true “Union of Equality” and to make the EU an “LGBTIQ Freedom Zone”?
- What actions has the Commission consider apart from the ones already mentioned to fight in particular lesbophobic hate speech and crime?
- HR/VP Borrell, concerning Ukraine:
- Will the EU Delegation in Kyiv condemn the attacks against LGBTI organisations?
- Will the EU Delegation in Kyiv condemn the attacks the lesbian activists from Insight?
- What concrete actions is the EEAS taking to support the current bill 5488 at political and diplomatic level?
- Is the Commission providing any assistance or helping to assess the review of the implementation of the National Human Rights Strategy which expired in 2020 with a view to its potential continuation, namely concerning the rights of LGBTI persons?
- HR/VP Borrell, concerning Kazakhstan:
- What actions has the EU Delegation in Kazakhstan taken to approach authorities concerning the rights of LGBTI persons in general and the recent attacks against lesbian feminists from Feminita in particular?
- In which instances, if any, has the EU Delegation in Kazakhstan reminded authorities of their international obligations to protect LGBTIQ persons? Has the Delegation addressed the need to start decisive measures to investigate and punish those who are involved in hate crime and spread of bias-motivated speech against LGBTI persons and other HRDs?
- What contacts were held at diplomatic/political level to convey the views of the Parliament concerning the need for training of judicial and police officers, in order to avoid further instances of lesbophobic or more generally LGBTI-phobic attacks?
- Commissioner Várhelyi, concerning Albania:
- What actions has the Delegation of the EU to Albania taken to convey the views of the Parliament’s position on the matter, namely in relation to hate speech against LGBTI persons, and in particular in the case of Xheni Karaj?
- Are there ongoing or upcoming projects that specifically target actions to eradicate hate speech on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, to foster diversity and inclusion, or to train media actors on ways to counter hate speech? If not, what other actions, if any, are being undertaken to ensure the full enjoyment of LGBTI person’s right to be free from harm and not discriminated against on account of their sexual orientation or gender identity?
- Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová, HR/VP Josep Borrell and Commissioner Dalli, concerning the EU Strategies and foreign policy:
- What actions is the Commission planning to take concerning the implementation of the LGBTIQ Equality Strategy, the Gender Equality Strategy, the Gender Action Plan III, the Council guidelines on protection of LGBTI persons and EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, namely in light of the recent developments of lesbophobic hatred?
Marc ANGEL, Co-Chair, LGBTI Intergroup (S&D)
Terry REINTKE, Co-Chair, LGBTI Intergroup (Greens-EFA, Vice-President)
Liesje SCHREINEMACHER, Vice-President, LGBTI Intergroup (Renew Europe)
Malin BJÖRK, Vice-President, LGBTI Intergroup (The Left)
Maria WALSH, Vice-President, LGBTI Intergroup (EPP)
Alice KUHNKE, Vice-President, Greens/European Free Alliance
Gwendoline DELBOS-CORFIELD, Vice-President, Greens/European Free Alliance
Marisa MATIAS, Vice-President, The Left
Aurore LALUCQ (S&D)
Cyrus ENGERER (S&D)
Erik MARQUARDT (Greens-EFA)
Gabriele BISCHOFF (S&D)
Hanna NEUMANN (Greens-EFA)
Hilde VAUTMANS (Renew Europe)
José GUSMÃO (The Left)
Karen MELCHIOR (Renew Europe)
Kim VAN SPARRENTAK (Greens-EFA)
Manuel BOMPARD (The Left)
Monika VANA (Greens-EFA)
Niklas NIENASS (Greens-EFA)
Radka MAXOVÁ (S&D)
Rasmus ANDRESEN (Greens-EFA)
Rosa D’AMATO (Greens-EFA)
Sándor RÓNAI (S&D)
Sara MATTHIEU (Greens-EFA)
Stelios KOULOGLOU (The Left)
Sylwia SPUREK (Greens-EFA)
Tilly METZ (Greens-EFA)
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