LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia

Eurobarometer report on LGBTI acceptance is not the full picture

Welcoming the Eurobarometer 2019 report, which reports positive findings on the acceptance of LGBTI people, ILGA-Europe Executive Director, Evelyne Paradis says they need to be taken into account with the rise of anti-LGBTI hate speech and attacks on the fundamental rights of LGBTI people in general in EU Member States.

The Eurobarometer spring 2019 report, which was published this week, polled of more than 27,000 EU citizens on the social acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people across the EU and perceptions on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The overarching findings suggest that there is progress, with 72% of Europeans saying there is nothing wrong in a sexual relationship between two persons of the same sex, 69% saying same-sex marriage should be allowed throughout, 59% agreeing that transgender persons should be able to change their civil documents to match their inner gender identity, and 46% agreeing that official documents should offer a third option besides male and female.

However, drilling down through the responses by country, another picture emerges, showing a large difference in attitudes between member states. In Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia, for instance over 50% of respondents do not believe that LGB people should have the same rights as heterosexuals, while high numbers across 11 member states believe there is something wrong in a sexual relationship between two persons of the same sex.

There are equally large and worrying figures across the Member States in terms of non-acceptance of transgender people, and in particular intersex people.

Politicians Can’t Hide

Reacting to the report, Executive Director of ILGA-Europe, said: “Despite the differences between member states, there is an overall positive trend and increasing public support for LGBTI people. We need to harness this support and build from it, not hide behind ‘lack of public support’ for LGBTI human rights to justify the absence of political action and policy. Politicians cannot use the argument that people are not ready for LGBTI rights, because as the Eurobarometer report confirms, a strong majority in the EU are supportive of equal rights.

“The results also seem to indicate a correlation between higher social acceptance and the existence of laws and policies protecting LGBTI people, showing that laws matter.”

The survey also finds broad acceptance of LGBTI people in politics, with 64% saying they would feel comfortable seeing an LGB person in the highest elected position, 54% would be comfortable with an intersex person and 53% comfortable with a transgender prime minister. The rates for acceptance of a work colleague are equally high.

“These relatively high rates of acceptance do not say anything about the experience of discrimination of LGBTI people in the workplace or politics,” says Paradis. “They also say nothing about whether discrimination still excludes LGBTI people from being voted for or employed in the first place.”

Central Anomaly

Another finding of the survey is that only 55% of respondents would be comfortable if a person of the same sex was in a love relationship with one of their children, with 44% for intersex people and 43% for transgender people. 

“This points to a central anomaly,” says Paradis. “While 72 per cent of Europeans say there is nothing wrong in a sexual relationship between two persons of the same sex when it is closer to home, the findings are significantly less accepting. The clear takeaway from this finding is that so much more work is still needed. The real test of acceptance is how we feel when it’s about the people who we are closest to.

“Added to this, the stories from activists behind the figures are more worrying than four years ago, when the last Eurobarometer report was published, and there has been a sharp rise in hate-speech against LGBTI people in member states.

“What’s not reflected in the figures is that the governments of some countries and other forces within the EU are overtly turning the tide on LGBTI and other minority rights, seeking to replace democracy and diversity with ‘traditional values’.”

Next spring, the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) will launch an EU-wide LGBTI survey, collecting the experiences of discrimination and hate crime as well as the views and challenges faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and, for the first time, intersex people across the EU, North Macedonia and Serbia. 

“The findings of the Eurobarometer 2019 survey will be further clarified by the publication of the FRA report,” said Paradis. “Surveys of the experience of discrimination in most cases draw a more worrying picture.”

  • Read the Eurobarometer LGBTI findings here.