The European Union’s Executive Commission launched its first strategy to protect the rights of LGBT people on Thursday, a challenge for right – wing governments in Poland and Hungary that have become increasingly homophobic over the past year.
The Commission said that LGBT people were facing growing discrimination in Europe, although most in the bloc were increasingly accepting of gay rights.
“We will defend the rights of LGBT people against those who now have more and more appetite to attack them from this ideological point of view,” Vera Jourova, Vice-President of the European Commission, said at a news conference. “This belongs to the authoritarian gambling book and it has no place in the EU.”
The Commission launched its LGBTI Gender Equality Strategy and defined the term as “lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, non-binary, intersex and queer”.
According to survey figures cited by the Commission, 43% of LGBT people said last year that they felt discriminated against, an increase from 37% in 2012. This increase came even though 76% of EU citizens said that lesbians, gays and bisexuals should have equal rights to heterosexuals, an increase from 71% in 2015.
“It’s 2020, and hatred and discrimination against people from sexual minorities does not really belong in Europe,” Jourova said.
The new strategy comes when right-wing governments in some former communist Eastern EU countries have made gay rights campaigns a central part of their ruling ideology.
Before his re-election earlier this year, Polish President Andrzej Duda fought against an “LGBT ideology” that he found more destructive than communism. He has promised to ban the teaching of homosexual rights in schools.
This week, the Hungarian right-wing government proposed a constitutional amendment to require children to be brought up with a “Christian” interpretation of gender roles and a law that would effectively ban same-sex adoptions.
“Family law is the competence of the member states, we fully respect it,” said Jourova. “However, when applying national law, Member States must respect their international human rights and applicable EU law. Member States should also respect the fundamental values on which the Union is founded, including gender equality and human rights.”
Earlier this year, the Commission reduced EU funding to certain Polish cities which declared themselves “LGBT-free zones”. The Polish government compensated the cities.
“We can never accept LGBT-free zones because they are in fact human-free zones,” EU Commissioner for Gender Equality Helena Dalli told the press conference.
Jurova and Dalli made it clear that the EU would not fund any projects that did not respect LGBT rights.
The Commission has proposed including homophobic hate crimes in a list of so-called “Eurocrimes”, which include major crimes such as terrorism and human trafficking, where the EU can set minimum rules. It would require unanimity among EU members.
The EU strategy would also seek to ensure that conditions in families that include LGBT people cannot be revoked when they cross borders.