Anti-LGBT violence has hit a decade-high, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association Europe’s (ILGA-Europe’s) 2023 report, which now reveals 2022 was “the most violent year for LGBTI people” across Europe and Central Asia.
The review sheds light on how the positive trends of previous years seem to be reversing, and how rising hate speech from prominent public figures and organisations has serious, tangible consequences on the LGBTI community’s wellbeing, equality and human rights.
How bad is it?
Norway: In Oslo, a gunman opened fire outside multiple bars, killing two and injuring 21, after a queer venue in the capital was already the target of a deadly attack.
Slovakia: Bratislava mourned the loss of two individuals shot outside an LGBT venue in an act of far-right extremism.
Azerbaijan: A queer rights activist and journalist was tortured and murdered by relatives, sparking a public outcry.
Germany: A fatal attack was carried out on a trans man defending two women at a Pride parade.
In fact, ILGA-Europe’s report found that in 16 European countries – including France, the UK and Germany – the rise in anti-LGBTQ violence between January-December 2022 was unprecedented.
Alongside the surge in anti-LGBTI attacks, the report revealed the rates of suicides provoked by hate speech and discrimination soared in parallel. A young couple in Armenia committed suicide after a picture of them kissing circulated online, leading to severe harassment.
Hate speech and discrimination
ILGA-Europe attribute the aggression to a growing phenomenon of hate speech, which, due to the speed it’s spreading across online platforms, is causing great concern. Especially given the number of politicians, state representatives, and religious leaders all over Europe that have led anti-LGBT rhetorics on many public platforms.
Fortunately, the report also notes that the increase in hate speech has been accompanied by increased judiciary responses, making specific mention to the rise in positive court responses to bias-motivated speech and convictions of hate crime perpetrators.
In Bosnia Herzegovina, the Municipal Court of Sarajevo ruled that former MP Samra Ćosović Hajdarević’s 2019 social media post constituted hate speech on the grounds of SOGIESC (sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics).
Amazing news coming out of Bosnia today: the very FIRST judgement has been decreed for discrimination against the LGQTIA community in Bosnia.
The Municipal Court in Sarajevo confirmed that a representative had "violated the right to equal treatment of the LGBTIQ community". https://t.co/qd1Eyiladm
— Arnesa Buljušmić-Kustura (@Rrrrnessa) April 26, 2022
Hajdarević’s tweet described the Pride March as a threat to the state, and criticised “people like this” (as in, those participating in the march), saying they should be “isolated.” She is now banned from making similar statements, thanks to the anti-discrimination law adopted 13 years ago, but first enacted in this particular case.
Although this is a victorious and important ruling, the consequences were not very significant, as she was simply banned from being discriminatory on social platforms again, without any impactful measures taken. This draws attention to how, according to ILGA-Europe’s Executive Director Evelyne Paradis, prosecution is often only considered as an “afterthought,” and has little impact on preventing violence or hate speech itself.
Speech Suppression: Silence on All Fronts.
Going hand-in-hand with hate speech, is speech suppression altogether. For example, the report cites Russia’s expansion of its “propaganda law to prohibit positive and neutral information about LGBT people.”
This law was already enacted when students at Russia’s Perm State University were threatened with expulsion for “posting an LGBT-themed video on a student media platform.” Similarly, five eighth-grade students were accused of “LGBT propaganda” for playing truth or dare.
One way to reverse the growing trend of LGBTQ violence is through education. Unfortunately, in many European countries, the integration of LGBTQ themes in the curriculum is cause for debate.
In Hungary, teachers reported fears of mentioning SOGIESC, while “36 orthodox schools require anti-LGBTI declarations from pupils and parents in the Netherlands.”
In Belgium, SOGIESC was left out of the curriculum, as “attainment targets” were struck down. These attainment targets refer to the “minimum of what pupils have to know and be able to do”, which no longer includes being aware of SOGIESC issues.
Italy’s new right-wing PM Giorgia Meloni publicly advocated for a “ban on sex education in schools and the exclusion of LGBT people in children’s books.”
Even in the UK, there has been increasing government pressure to withdraw guides supporting trans students.
Giorgia Meloni says that her right-wing government will govern for everyone in Italy, yet she seems to want to exclude migrants, minorities, and LGBT people. That's not everyone. When rights are selective, no one's rights are secure. pic.twitter.com/cBPojvIHuq
— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) September 28, 2022
Education: The Roots of Change
Education is key in normalising LGBTQ rights and reducing negative responses to these communities.
In Eastern Europe, for instance, LGBTQ acceptance and rights have been lagging for decades. Politicians have been trying to minimise LGBTQ trends, hoping that the old-fashioned mindset will slow down public acceptance of this societal development.
Yet, these efforts are becoming fruitless.
Two-thirds of Polish people now support marriage equality, and 60% support the abolition of anti-LGBT resolutions.
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In Russia, the number of people who know members of the LGBT community has doubled from eight to 15%. This indicates a more open and positive environment, encouraging more people to come out.
Three in four people now support trans healthcare for minors in Sweden, and there has been an increasingly positive attitude towards the LGBT community in Ukraine.
To continue on this more positive note, Scotland and Spain have recently both voted on legal gender recognition (LGR) laws that include self-determination. In Spain, self-determination is accessible from the age of 16, or even earlier with parental or court authorisation.
Spain joins the growing number of countries that will move to a demedicalised system of legal gender recognition. Scotland would be joining them if the UK Govt hadn’t blocked the legislation. The UK continues to be a global outlier on progressing LGBTQ+ rights. https://t.co/TmYO11pNRV
— colin macfarlane (@Cmacf76) February 16, 2023
In Scotland, however, the implementation of LGR laws has stalled. Last month, Westminster took the unusual decision of blocking Scotland’s new self-determination law, arguing that it could have a negative impact on the overall homogeneity of laws in the UK.
Additionally, Andorra, Latvia, Slovenia, and Switzerland have all made significant progress in passing new laws promoting marriage equality, abolishment of a waiting period for second-parent adoption, as well as civil and material status for same-sex couples.
However, there still remains a long road ahead to ensure that the LGBT community is safe and accepted.
So, what must be done?
The report does not provide recommendations, but, as a society, there are things we must do to reverse the past year’s trends.
Firstly, there must be a battle on repressive education. The inclusion of LGBT representation and comprehensive sex education is key to normalising the growing presence of this community in our society.
The issues surrounding social and mainstream media, in general, must also be dealt with. There could be harsher consequences for hate speeches and crimes to fully decentivise anyone from partaking in such discriminatory acts of aggression.
These consequences should also be extended to politicians promoting anti-LGBT rhetoric, a narrative typical of right-wing groups.
Media companies should engage in the fight by filtering harmful content because, according to Paradis, hate speech is “not just words” but a “real problem with dire consequences for people and communities.”
Additionally, there should be more opportunities for members of the LGBT community to gather in a safe and accessible way.
For instance, although certain European cities have lively and accepted “gay neighbourhoods,” many countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia simply don’t have safe spaces to gather, with “raids on bars” and “police brutality” remaining significant issues.
In Central Asia, the report exposes how LGBT people still lack protection due to the absence of anti-discrimination legislation and the use of corrective rape against lesbians.
Working on providing accessible, safe spaces to LGBT people is crucial in decreasing violence and boosting overall morale within the community.
Finally, activist groups should be granted more leeway to help the community, instead of working under constant threat and fear for their lives. Many activist groups have faced attacks and restrictions, becoming targets of anti-LGBT groups as well.
The work of activist groups is crucial in promoting safety and acceptance. Repression, threats and violence against activists would be extremely detrimental to future progress.
Next year, ILGA’s annual report must bring better news. For that, society must take more progressive steps towards accepting the LGBT community and ensuring their safety.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: LGBT flag. Featured Photo Credit: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.