OPINION: Time to vote for a European Union rooted in equality

by Adam Long | National LGBT Federation
Thursday, 23 May 2019 12:44 GMT

A polling station sign is pictured in Biggin Hill, Britain May 23, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

With the EU at a crossroads when it comes to LGBT+ rights, gay and trans Europeans and their allies should cast an informed vote for pro-equality candidates in this week's elections

Adam Long is advocacy and communications director at the National LGBT Federation, an Irish NGO

The LGBT+ community is one of the groups with a keen interest in the outcome of this weekend’s European elections as far-right, reactionary forces seek to undermine the equality and human rights framework that has been an essential pillar of the European project.  

Poland is one such country where LGBT+ rights are being targeted as part of a larger assault on core European and democratic norms. Employing increasingly virulent homophobic rhetoric on the campaign stump, government speakers have labelled gay and transgender people a threat to the state. Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church – mired in a local abuse scandal – is being equated to the Polish state itself, with any criticism deemed unpatriotic and “anti-Polish”.

The recent arrest of the prominent LGBT+ and human rights campaigner Elżbieta Podlesna for the “crime” of depicting the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo is being firmly linked to this outpouring of state sanctioned homophobia.

The British Conservative Party also deserves to be called out on these issues, as it is allied to the hard-right Polish governing Law and Justice party in the European Parliament.

The European election campaign has seen growing calls for more robust sanctions against member states that are guilty of flagrantly disregarding fundamental human rights.

Here in Ireland, an ALDE (Liberal Group) affiliated party has called for the EU to take action against governments that engage in anti-LGBT+ discrimination in the same way it does against breaches of judicial independence/rule of law.

Both Hungary and Poland are currently facing what is known as Article 7 disciplinary proceedings for violating the latter.  

Beyond the former Eastern-Bloc, LGBT+ voters also have cause for concern at the creation of a pan-European alliance of far-right extremists being spearheaded by Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini.

One positive that could emerge from the increasing prominence being afforded to the voices of hate and division is the mobilisation of the European progressive majority (including support for LGBT+ rights) in response to such developments. Spain may provide a good template after its Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was recently re-elected with increased support on the basis of an unabashedly progressive message that refused to concede any ground to the far-right.

Meanwhile, the ILGA-Europe advocacy group last week published its annual Rainbow Europe map which ranks countries according to the progress they have made. Malta emerged on top, while the United Kingdom – embroiled in a Brexit mess largely fuelled by reactionary forces – has slipped a number of places – although direct comparisons are difficult, as ILGA this year have added a number of additional categories.

Ireland, where we in the National LGBT Federation are based, also scored disappointingly despite making much progress on gay and trans rights in recent times. We Irish are almost unique in Europe in lacking any kind of hate crime legislation and such an omission was a key factor in our middling rating.

It is clear that Europe is at a crossroads when it comes to LGBT+ equality.

We already are seeing a growing normalisation of racist, misogynistic and homophobic discourse. The European ideal is at its best when it serves as a beacon for human rights and social progress, and LGBT+ voters and our allies can help Europe reaffirm that proud tradition by casting an informed vote this weekend in favour of candidates who will “come out" for an EU firmly rooted in equality and progressive values.