Dear Parliamentarians, Dear Friends,
I thank the European Parliament’s LGBTI Intergroup for organising this event, and for inviting me to discuss what needs to be done to advance LGBTI equality in the years to come.
An assessment of the current situation for LGBTI people in the EU, provides us a diffuse picture.
On the one hand, the Commission’s Eurobarometer on Discrimination shows that overall support for LGBTI equality amongst citizens has gone up by 5% in 5 years; from 71% in 2015 to 76% nowadays – so superficially the situation is getting better.
On the other hand, the differences between Member States remain large, ranging from 31% support in Slovakia, to 98% in Sweden.
Additionally, while the EU average went up, upon closer inspection we see that in 9 Member States the social acceptance of LGBTI people actually went down.
These differences are not only social.
Similarly stark differences exist in the rights and protections that LGBTI people are afforded and the protection against discrimination they enjoy.
Today marriage equality exists in 14 EU Member States, while another 8 Member States offer registered partnerships to same-sex couples.
Nonetheless, six Member States still provide no legal recognition whatsoever for same sex couples.
A positive development for transgender and intersex people is that more Member States are introducing legal gender recognition procedures without medical requirements, awareness on intersex people’s rights is growing, and some of them are even introducing a third gender marker in public documents.
Although the trend is positive, most Member States are still to take steps in this direction.
The most worrying phenomenon for me is the growing number of violent attacks against LGBTI people – such as attacks on Pride marches, the distribution of stickers to mark whole neighbourhoods and cities as LGBTI free zones, and the adoption of anti-LGBTI resolutions.
These actions are clearly aiming to intimidate and spread fear with the aim to acquire cheap political gains at the costs of vulnerable minorities.
In 1954, the psychologist Gordon Allport developed his escalation model of prejudice and discrimination.
His scale starts with name-calling and teasing, than moves on to avoidance, and than to discrimination, followed by physical attacks and it ends with extermination.
If behaviour occurs at the lower levels it might set the scene for problems that occur at the higher levels in the scale.
Gordon Allport stated the following:
“While many people would never move from name-calling and teasing to avoidance, or from avoidance to active discrimination, or higher on the scale, still it is true that activity on one level makes transition to a more intense level easier”.
Let me be very clear: we cannot allow the distribution of LGBTI free zone stickers, or the adoption of anti-LGBTI resolutions and not feel responsible for the next phase where physical attacks that take place, even if they are then carried out by other people.
In January, just a few days ago, we commemorated the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
We know that LGBTI people were victims of the Nazi and the fascist regimes, and that they continued suffer from victimisation, imprisonment and gross discrimination several years after liberation.
This should be a reminder for all of us: we have a responsibility to never exclude, avoid or discriminate any group in our society.
In this context, let me reiterate again that the Commission condemns any form of violence, hatred or discrimination against LGBTI people, and that it will not hesitate to take any necessary action within the limits conferred to it by the Treaties.
In her political guidelines, President Ursula von der Leyen, stated that she aspires living in a society “where you can be who you are” and “love who you want”.
Her reference is not LGBTI specific, but definitely LGBTI inclusive.
My role is to ensure that this becomes a reality across all of the EU.
President von der Leyen also stated that:
“Too many European citizens feel like they have different opportunities in certain parts of Europe than they do in others”.
This is definitely one of the harsh realities of many LGBTI people in the EU today, and the data issued by Eurostat, the Fundamental Rights Agency and ILGA-Europe proves this.
It is therefore my aim to build on the current List of actions to advance LGBTI equality through the publication of an LGBTI Equality Strategy in the 4th quarter of this year.
The aim is to improve LGBTI equality by building on the proposals of the European Parliament and a group of 19 Member States.
The Commission’s upcoming initiative will also reflect the results of previous stakeholder consultations, such as the high-level conference organised in cooperation with the Finnish Presidency in September of last year, the Eurobarometer results, and the results of the second LGBTI survey of the Fundamental Rights Agency - which will be presented next month.
These consultations and surveys have shown us what are the main causes of inequality, and what our possible solutions could be.
The Commission cannot advance LGBTI equality alone.
We need to work closely with you – the European Parliament, the Member States, and civil society organisations.
Some areas, such as family law, legal gender recognition, and the right to bodily integrity that are crucial for the lives of LGBTI people fall under the competence of the Member States.
I therefore aim to work closely with them to encourage them to adopt measures that further strengthen LGBTI equality.
Change will not happen without activists and civil society organisations being the voice of the LGBTI community in the different Member States.
We will keep supporting them: not only through our financial programmes, but also by ensuring they can have a voice in shaping the measures that affect them.
Last but not least, the European Parliament plays a crucial role in setting the EU agenda and raising awareness.
You are our big ally!
I very much look forward to cooperating closely with Parliament, and especially with the LGBTI Intergroup in the coming years.
Together, we need to strive for a Union of equal opportunities for all.
Let us move from the current diffuse picture and create a European Union where one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics have no bearing on their experiences in life.
A European Union where no-one has to think twice before being their full selves.
I thank you.