LGBT+ rights are under threat as politicians across Europe increasingly use discriminatory language – Vic Valentine

Much progress has been made in recent years but there’s still work to be done to create a fairer and more equal society

February was LGBT History Month in the UK, a time to remember the community’s experiences and historic milestones. There is much to celebrate across the decades: the decriminalisation of homosexuality, equal marriage, adoption rights, the founding of Pride, and the introduction of legal protections against discrimination.

We have been on a journey towards creating a society where we are all able to live true to ourselves, and to be accepted and supported by our families, friends and communities. But LGBT History Month is also a good opportunity to take stock of where we are now. Yesterday, campaign group ILGA Europe published their annual review of the state of LGBT+ rights across the continent. It unfortunately didn’t make for happy reading.

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They chose to highlight the increase in the use of discriminatory speech about LGBT+ people by politicians across the continent. Of course, in any democracy, people should be able to speak freely, including saying things that are offensive, that some people find upsetting, and with which some profoundly disagree. But the things that people say tell us about the values they hold. And just because they can say them, does not mean that we need to agree nor congratulate them for doing so.

There are worrying signs about LGBT+ rights across Europe (Picture: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP via Getty Images)There are worrying signs about LGBT+ rights across Europe (Picture: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP via Getty Images)
There are worrying signs about LGBT+ rights across Europe (Picture: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP via Getty Images)

Countries going backwords on LGBT+ rights

It is always worrying to hear people in positions of power speak negatively of any community, and I’ve written about the impacts of this on LGBT+ people before. But what’s more important is that the choices people make about how they speak about communities tell us about a bigger picture. That bigger picture is one of increasing hostility towards LGBT+ people, of stalling progress for equality, or in some cases, of countries going backwards in terms of how welcoming and inclusive they are.

ILGA Europe’s summary of the past year in the UK paints exactly that picture. It highlights the continuing high levels of hate crime experienced by LGBT+ people across the country. It also refers to the Home Office’s statement in their own report on hate crime that this may be partly explained by media and political discussions around trans lives.

Their summary also highlights the passing of the Illegal Migration Act, which has made the UK's already gruelling and punishing asylum system worse. Nobody arriving in the UK, fleeing persecution to build a better life, should be deported and detained in Rwanda while their asylum claim is processed – particularly when our highest court has ruled that this is not safe. Doing this could pose particular risks to LGBT+ people, who face widespread discrimination and abuse in Rwanda.

Continued delays on introducing measures to end harmful conversion practices are also mentioned by ILGA, as are ongoing problems for both trans adults and young people accessing the healthcare they need to live happy and healthy lives. Last year won’t be a one we revisit in future history months to celebrate progress for our community.

But while our very recent history may not be a tale of success for LGBT+ people, reflecting on just how much has been achieved over the years shows us that there is always a path forward. It’s important that we don’t take for granted the positive changes that have already happened, and instead keep working together towards a fairer and more equal future.

Vic Valentine is manager of Scottish Trans



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