LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia

Rainbow Europe 2017: Act now or risk rollback on LGBTI equality. It’s that simple.

Progress on LGBTI equality still exists in Europe, but not with the speed or spread that is required to achieve real equality.


European leaders need to be courageous or risk having progressive gains rolled back, warns ILGA-Europe. 

Today (17 May), ILGA-Europe launch the 2017 Rainbow Europe package, to coincide with International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT). 

As ILGA-Europe worked to put together the 2017 Rainbow Europe package, several observations about the current legal and policy landscape in Europe became clear:

  1. Progress exists – but it’s slowing down and is at risk
  2. Progress exists – however Europe needs more political courage to protect it
  3. Progress exists – in new forms and in new places

Legal gender recognition in France and Norway. Civil unions in Italy. A ban on conversion therapy in Malta. These are just some of the major developments that made global headlines in 2016. But these attention-grabbing changes are not happening at the same pace all over Europe. There are clearly risks to progress in countries at both ends of the Rainbow Europe country ranking. 

“One of the most common questions ILGA-Europe get asked by national governments is how to improve their ranking on the Rainbow Europe Map – the answer is political backbone. Political leaders need to understand that, if they don’t act now, the LGBTI equality gains we’ve all made together over the past few decades can be rolled back.” remarked ILGA-Europe Executive Director, Evelyne Paradis ahead of the launch. “At the top of the Map, there is still work to do to make sure LGBTI people can live freely, and at the other end of the ranking, we see LGBTI people are literally living in fear of their lives. Our movement’s work is not over yet...”.

Rollback can start to happen overnight – and politicians across Europe need to wake up to that fact, fast. Some risks are immediately obvious and painful, such as the gross human rights violations in Chechnya – not only for the fear that such actions perpetrate in the local LGBTI community, but also the message of intolerance that this sends to the wider region. Others are not instantly identified as LGBTI-specific scenarios but nonetheless put the achievements of the past decades at risk. 

Evelyne Paradis continued “From the growing use of the refugee debate to shamefully fuel xenophobia, and so-called ‘populist’ parties directly appealing to the LGBTI community by vilifying other communities (and, incidentally not supporting LGBTI policies in practice), to increased security measures in the name of anti-terrorism, and the silencing of independent media or universities, we can see the worrying potential this all has to undermine the work of LGBTI activists.”

The new Rainbow Map, Index and Annual Review chart the advances that have been made across 49 countries in terms of law and policy over the past 12 months and – for the first time - offers targeted recommendations on how to improve the lived experience of LGBTI people in the year to come.

Top 3, Rainbow Europe Map 2017   Bottom 3, Rainbow Europe Map 2017
1.    Malta – 88%  47. Armenia – 7%
2.    Norway – 78% 48. Russia – 6%
3.    UK – 76%   49. Azerbaijan – 5%


“There isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ explanation for what is going on across the whole continent... but those countries that are viewed as traditional equality champions aren’t breaking boundaries like they used to. The European Union isn’t pushing for advances at the same rate that it used to – the EU 28 as a whole score less than 50% on the Index. If national governments are complacent and drag their feet instead of pushing ahead on an incomplete task, they will find themselves dropping down the ranking. This isn’t about ‘reinventing the wheel’ every year; it’s about living up to your basic human rights obligations. In short, it is about having the courage of your convictions and doing what needs to be done so that all LGBTI people get the equality they deserve.” commented Co-Chair of ILGA-Europe’s Executive Board, Joyce Hamilton

Progress does not look the same in Europe as it did ten years ago. While marriage equality might grab headlines, it is not the only marker of improvement. Today, progress looks like increasing protections for trans and intersex people. The rise of Norway to second place overall and the higher position of France are two prime examples of new legal gender recognition laws being reflected in the Map and Index. In this Rainbow Europe package, there is inspiration to be found in the leadership of the LGBTI movement from east to west, north and south. Progress looks like registered partnership and a protection against discrimination act in Slovenia; and it looks like Bosnia & Herzegovina introducing new anti-discrimination laws that include intersex people. Nowadays, progress is multifaceted, taking many forms, in many different places.

As Co-Chair of ILGA-Europe’s Executive Board, Brian Sheehan outlined “And what’s the antidote for potential rollback? In ILGA-Europe’s view, we need a greater push from politicians and public institutions – at national and European level - to drive public acceptance and so embed equality gains in society.  We also need unwavering political support for strong civil society spaces which gives LGBTI and human rights activists the opportunity to continue their work.  All attempts to undermine democratic values and to shut down dissent have a knock-on effect on the activism of the LGBTI movement, no matter where their countries are currently ranked in the Rainbow Europe Index. We need political courage, not just to achieve LGBTI equality, but to ensure that the values of freedom, democracy and equality are real for all people living in Europe.”

Read all the 2017 Rainbow Europe materials here