Europeans who identify as LGBTI face an increasingly toxic, violent and even deadly environment, despite several legislative victories achieved over the past year, a new report has warned.
Suicides among the LGBTI population have climbed up, migration movements to flee repression have intensified and the space for civil society has gradually shrunk across the continent, the paper says.
The situation of trans people has become of particular concern as hateful rhetoric, polarised politics and deceptive arguments coalesced into a climate of insecurity and hostility.
Meanwhile, education has turned into a “battleground” as the progress on sexual education is “challenged at a fundamental level” in countries like Hungary, Serbia, Russia, Italy and the United Kingdom.
The findings were compiled in the annual report of ILGA-Europe, an umbrella NGO that encompasses over 600 entities across Europe and Central Asia, and make for sobering reading.
Released on Monday morning, the study shows the steepest rise in anti-LGBTI violence since the organisation began publishing its annual report 12 years ago.
The trends in 2022 present not only a marked increase in the number of attacks but especially in the severity and lethality with which they were conducted, such as the shootings in Bratislava and in Oslo, where the attackers were said to have purposely targeted queer people.
“It’s deliberate attacks with a wish to kill,” says Evelyne Paradis, executive director at ILGA-Europe.
The report pays no mind to the traditional West-East divide and instead points the finger at a long list of European countries where anti-LGBTI hate crimes are “on the rise,” including France, Hungary, Germany, Montenegro, Iceland, Romania, Spain, Turkey, Switzerland and Russia.
The reasons behind this violence are multi-fold and vary from country to country but they all can be traced back to one common pattern: hateful rhetoric.
“There’s a rise in hate speech – and hate speech often by politicians, by elected officials, by key opinion leaders and, dare I say, also hate speech that has been allowed to be disseminated by the media as well,” Paradis told Euronews in an interview.
“Hateful speech always has an impact. It always translates, at one point or another, into physical violence, because it does contribute to creating a climate where physical violence is enabled.”
In a positive evolution, the report notes this rise in hate crime has been met with a rise in successful prosecutions as European courts become more responsive to bias-motivated violence.
However, the legal cases take place only “after the fact” and have little bearing in the prevention of the violence itself, Paradis said, which is the task of elected representatives and law enforcement.
‘Enormous backlash’ against trans people
Throughout the study, which covers developments across the 54 countries in which ILGA-Europe’s affiliates are present, a key area of concern is the situation of trans people, who are reported to face an “enormous backlash” and persistent legal obstacles.
Trans people frequently seek legal recognition of their affirmed gender, which is different from the sex they were assigned at birth, through the issuance of a new certificate.
This process, known as gender recognition, is wildly different across Europe: some states provide self-identification to make the change easier while others demand a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, a requirement that activists oppose because it equates the trans identity to a mental health disorder.
Over the years, as trans rights made inroads into legislatures, the debate has turned fiercer and the opposition louder, diluting the human dimension of the issues at stake and endangering the physical and mental health of trans people, Paradis said.
“Trans people are an easy target for right-wing politicians, and they’re an easy target because there is still a prevailing lack of understanding of what the realities of trans people are, what the reality of being trans is,” Paradis said.
“It’s been very difficult to have civil discussions around much-needed laws that actually protect people because amidst all of this people are being dehumanised.”
Spain and Finland are among the European countries that recently passed progressive laws to strengthen trans rights, an effort that came about only after a protracted and heated back-and-forth.
In the United Kingdom, where trans rights are often placed in direct opposition to women’s rights, the subject has become an even hotter topic of conversation, acquiring the characteristics of a culture war.
Last month, Westminster took the unusual step to block Scotland’s new gender recognition bill, based on a system of self-identification, arguing it could have a detrimental impact on nationwide equality laws. In response, Holyrood called the move a “full-frontal attack” on its democratically-elected parliament.
Still, despite the negative trends seen throughout 2022, the ILGA-Europe report highlights positive developments across the continent, including new bans on conversion therapies and unnecessary interventions on intersex children, whose bodies do not fit a strict male-female binary.
Additionally, the study says, 2022 saw same-sex marriage becoming legal in Switzerland and Slovenia, a first in Eastern Europe, and notable progress in same-sex parenthood rights in Finland, Denmark, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Spain.
“All of these positive changes are made possible because people are still fighting and they’re still determined, despite the fact that the context is getting not easier for them,” Paradis said.
“The community is still very much determined and able to create change. So for me, that remains the glimmer of hope.”