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Towards inclusion: Healthcare, Education and the LGBT Community

13.10.2012 Address by Mr Georgios Markopouliotis, Head of the European Commission Representation in Cyprus, on Saturday, 13 October 2012, 09:30 at the Home for Cooperation, Nicosia.

Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Friends,

I would like to welcome you in Cyprus for this very important and timely conference. It is great to see many friends from both communities in the audience, as well as guests from all over Europe.

The principle of equal treatment is a fundamental value for the EU, which is going to great lengths to combat homophobia and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Article 21 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights explicitly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, while Article 19 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union allows taking appropriate action to combat this type of discrimination.

Yet, sadly, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people across the EU are still too often victims of exclusion, hate speech, hate crime, discrimination and other forms of intolerance.

Homophobia is a mixture of negative attitudes and feelings towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. It is an unacceptable violation of human dignity and it is incompatible with the founding values of the EU.

The Commission's priority is to ensure that EU legislation fully complies with the Charter, including its Article 21.

In its Communication on the Strategy for the effective implementation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights by the EU, adopted on 19 October 2010, the Commission explains how it intends to achieve this priority.
In 2000 the Council adopted a Directive establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation, banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the areas covered by the Directive. This legislation has raised the level of protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the EU countries.

In addition to monitoring the transposition of this Directive, the Commission is implementing a comprehensive anti-discrimination policy which includes:

• funding of a communication campaign to inform citizens about their rights;

• funding of NGO networks fighting against discrimination faced by LGBT people in the EU;

• conducting studies and exchanging good practices related to these issues.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me now turn to the attitudes of the general public towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons across the EU. These vary from one member state to another. There is evidence to suggest that attitudes are influenced by age, with younger people being more tolerant than old, sex, with women being more tolerant than men, and education, with the more educated being more tolerant than the less educated.

Existing national surveys also suggest that attitudes towards LGBT persons vary according to the context. For instance, a general tolerance of LGBT persons as potential ‘neighbours’ does not necessarily translate into the acceptability of LGBT persons being able to marry or adopt children. According to the findings of the Special Eurobarometer survey on discrimination in the EU of November 2009, 47% of EU respondents think that discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation is widespread in their country.

This indicates a slight improvement compared with the equivalent findings of 2008, when 51% of EU respondents perceived sexual orientation discrimination as widespread. It appears relatively rare for individuals to have LGBT friends and acquaintances: the EU average stood at 38% in 2009, with the highest rate in the Netherlands (68%) and the lowest rate in Romania (3%). Using a 10-point ‘comfort scale’ (with ‘10’ indicating most comfortable), individuals were asked to indicate their level of comfort with an LGBT person holding the highest political office. The EU average was 6.5 points, with Sweden (8.7), Denmark (8.4) and the Netherlands (8.2) scoring highest, and Romania (3.4) and Bulgaria (3.2) scoring lowest.

Opinion makers contribute to shaping attitudes. Efforts are made to address the issue of homophobic or transphobic statements in media reports. For instance, the Lithuanian Gay League produced a publication to change the way LGBT issues are presented to the public. In Latvia, a study has identified patterns of homophobic speech and presented a mechanism for monitoring political speeches with regard to gays and lesbians. In some Member States, there are examples of church representatives and politicians who actively lobby against the adoption of rights and protection for LGBT persons or LGBT events, such as gay prides.

To avoid negative reactions, many LGBT persons adopt a strategy of ‘invisibility’ with co-workers, family and friends. This in itself may lead to emotional difficulties and may be connected with the higher incidences of mental health problems experienced by LGBT persons.

More generally, the negative attitudes or prejudices of the population can translate into discriminatory treatment by employers, colleagues, service providers, the media, as well as political and religious leaders. While it is possible to ensure legal protection of LGBT persons against discrimination, this in itself cannot adequately address the day-to-day problems faced in a heteronormative context.

A project realised under the EQUAL programme, which was coordinated by Swedish organisations, showed that in schools, for example, everyone is assumed to be heterosexual. The project aimed to reveal ‘what lies beneath the surface’ and how the assumption of heterosexual exclusivity affects interactions among staff and in the classroom. Research shows that social structures and institutions still work on the basis of an underlying heterosexual norm which can generate consequences at odds with a fundamental rights approach.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are sometimes told that sexual orientation and gender identity conflict with traditional values. Let me be very clear: when we speak about the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender persons, it is not about introducing new rights for one group of people. It is about the same human rights being applied to every person everywhere without discrimination.

The European Commission will continue to do its utmost to uphold the fundamental rights upon which the European Union is founded. Let us always keep in mind that both homophobia and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation are a blatant violation of human dignity that goes against all the founding values of the European Union. They have no place in Europe.

I wish you a fruitful conference. Thank you for your attention.

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