Sexual Orientation Discrimination Endemic In Europe Concludes Report To Council Of Europe

The most comprehensive report ever published on sexual orientation discrimination in Europe demonstrates very clearly that discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual persons remains endemic and extremely serious in Europe.

The report has been prepared by ILGA-Europe as a submission to the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. This Committee is collecting evidence on the situation of lesbians and gays in Europe, with a view to making recommendations to national governments and the Council of Europe on combating discrimination.

The report’s findings include that:

Homophobic violence is common, even in countries like Sweden which are world leaders in their support for lesbian and gay rights; Many states are themselves guilty of oppression and discrimination: for example, in 3 European countries or territorial entities same-sex relationships remain criminal, while in a further 19 discriminatory sexual offences provisions remain on the statute books; moreover, in many countries the state continues to discriminate in employment, particularly in the Armed Forces; In some countries in Europe oppressive attitudes remain so dominant that no lesbian and gay community of any sort is able to exist, while in many countries lesbians face even greater isolation and marginalisation than gay men; Young lesbians and gays face problems of particular severity: peer pressure to conform, homophobic bullying, rejection by the family, absence of relevant sex education, absence of support groups and discriminatory age of consent laws; There is much discrimination and harassment at the workplace, but only 9 of the 41 member states of the Council of Europe provide specific protection; The absence of legal recognition for same-sex partnerships often gives rise to hardship and serious practical problems, yet only 7 countries in Europe provide a significant degree of such recognition.

Three areas of general concern are particularly stressed:

The fact that, for many politicians and religious leaders in Europe it remains both legitimate and respectable to express homophobic opinions, in terms that would be wholly unacceptable for any other minority; The extent to which the expression of these opinions, not infrequently in extreme and inflammatory terms, underpins and sanctions the other forms of discrimination, harassment and violence faced by the lesbian, gay and bisexual community; The fact that, when it comes to the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people, the fundamental principle that "all people are born free and equal in dignity and rights" (Article 1, Universal Declaration of Human Rights) is ignored by legislators and opinion formers of all persuasions.

On the positive side, the report documents the world-wide trend in recent years towards recognising freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation as a fundamental right, and stresses the leading role played in this development by the Council of Europe.

The report includes an appendix setting out a list of recommendations for national governments and the Council of Europe to adopt in tackling homophobic discrimination. Particular importance is attached to the express inclusion of sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination in the proposed new Protocol No 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Nico Beger, ILGA-Europe co-representative to the Council of Europe, commented: "the Parliamentary Assembly has recently taken a very positive step in recommending that "sexual orientation" be included in the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the new draft Protocol No 12 of the European Convention. We are now optimistic that they will come up with strong recommendations both for national governments and for the Council of Europe itself in extending the fight against discrimination."

Her co-delegate, Nigel Warner, added: "it is striking that in so many countries in Europe it is the established churches which are at the centre of opposition to lesbian and gay rights (including some initiatives by the Council of Europe). It is anomalous that the leaders of a religion with the basic tenet "love thy neighbour as thyself" should be so insistent on denying equal rights to fellow human beings for no better reason than that they love a person of the same sex; and even more anomalous, that they should do so in terms which can sometimes be virulent and inflammatory".

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