Evelyne Paradis, Executive Director of ILGA-Europe
In two weeks’ time, on 22-25 May 2014, the European elections are taking place. I have probably killed your enthusiasm and will to read further just by mentioning Europe. You probably think – “I am not bothered by the European elections”, “There is no point in voting”, “Europe is far away and does not affect my life”, “Europe is just a bunch of boring grey bureaucrats somewhere in Brussels”, “What Europe has to do with the human rights and LGBTI situation in my country?”
Well, think again. Europe matters an awful lot and this is why you all need to vote in two weeks. You might not be aware but you have the European Union to thank for many rights and protections that you enjoy today in your country as a lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans person.
The EU was the first international organisation to explicitly recognise sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression as grounds of discrimination in law. In fact, several EU countries had no legal protection against workplace discrimination before the adoption of an EU anti-discrimination law. Thanks to the European Court of Justice, this protection was extended to transsexual people. That same court also made sure that same-sex registered partners enjoy exactly the same employment benefits and treated equally under pension schemes as married couples. In the past two years, the EU also adopted important protections for victims of crimes, making sure that victims of homophobic and transphobic crimes are guaranteed adequate and effective support.
The EU also cares for those who come to seek safety on this continent and for those who live beyond the EU borders. The EU now ensures that LGBTI asylum seekers are recognised and cannot be sent back home and asked to pretend not be who they are to avoid persecution. And Europe has become a clear leader on LGBTI human rights at international level, having put the issue at the centre of its external policy.
These are all significant steps forward for LGBTI people in Europe and beyond, but the EU is rarely credited for these victories. And that’s ok. The essential thing is that millions of people have those rights and protections. It is clear that there is so much more to do, and to fight for across Europe. The situation of LGBTI people within the EU varies considerably from one country to another. But the EU is one of the best guarantees we have for progress. It is one of the greatest leverage to set standards and to make sure there are clear mechanisms to challenge discrimination wherever it takes place.
So why it is important to come out and vote?
So many of us have worked so hard for so long to make those gains. Now is not the time to be complacent. Euro sceptics, far right movement, religious extremists are attacking and threatening not just the European Union but also its fundamental principles and values of dignity, equality and human rights for all. The very basis which has allowed all of us to achieve change over the past decades.
The “anti-EU” voters are very active, motivated and will likely over in large numbers on 22-25 May. European elections polls predict a huge increase of those forces in the next European Parliament. This means that all the gains made so far could be at stake if we don’t engage and stay silent.
This is why I urge you to come out and vote! We need to ensure that those candidates who support human rights and LGBTI equality are getting as much support and votes as possible. We cannot afford to be complacent and stay home. Now is the time to stand up for a vision of a Europe of justice, equality and dignity for all.
So just for one moment get political: come out and vote for human rights, for Europe, for LGBT Equality!
Note: Visit European elections 2014 website to see which candidates in your country already signed our Pledge for human rights and LGBTI equality and find out more about the campaign here.