LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia

Changing laws and changing lives are not always the same thing

Rainbow Europe 2016 launch logo

Rainbow Europe 2016 examines the situation of LGBTI people in Europe 

Officially unveiled today (10 May 2016) at the fourth annual conference to mark International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, ILGA-Europe’s 2016 Rainbow Europe package reveals an increasingly unequal picture of developments for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people across Europe. 

Rainbow Europe 2016 showcases the current state of play of the laws, policies and practices that affect LGBTI people in Europe today. This year’s benchmarking exercise shows three distinct patterns: 

  1. countries who are demonstrating leadership by introducing standard-setting equality measures; 
  2. countries who are now standing still, including some traditionally seen as progressive; 
  3. and the countries who are actively targeting LGBTI people with restrictive laws. 

The latest Rainbow Europe Map, which reflects legal and policy developments, confirms that a few countries are still setting new standards for LGBTI equality and being propelled upward on our country ranking as a result. ILGA-Europe Executive Director Evelyne Paradis noted “The countries who are on this upward curve tend to be the ones who have protected people from discrimination on the grounds of gender identity, or legislated to protect the bodily integrity of intersex people and who have ingrained this change in everyday measures such as equality actions plans. Malta’s rise to the top of the Rainbow Europe rankings for the first time is a prime example of this standard-setting in action. These advances represent very welcome progress” 

Rainbow Europe 2016, Top 3 Rainbow Europe 2016, Bottom 3
1. Malta - 88% 47. Armenia - 7%
2. Belgium - 82% 48. Russia - 7%
3. United Kingdom - 81% 49. Azerbaijan - 5%


Unfortunately, too few countries fall in this first category. Speaking at the 2016 launch in front of an audience that included ministers from several European countries, civil society groups and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, Evelyne Paradis remarked “Contrary to popular belief, LGBTI equality is far from being a done deal in Europe. The picture is actually very mixed at the moment:  a lot of the governments that were leading the way on LGBTI equality a few years ago have slowed down their work, especially when it comes to new standards. In ILGA-Europe’s 20th anniversary year, we don’t want to see so many lagging behind. Now is certainly not the time for complacency.”

Brian Sheehan, Co-Chair of ILGA-Europe’s Executive Board, also commented: “There is an inherent danger in thinking that our equality work is done when we achieve protection in one facet of life, such as equal marriage or parenting rights. Such successes can give politicians the adrenaline needed to keep working towards full equality. These achievements can be the fuel that propels us to further progress; slowing down the pace of this change is a lost opportunity. We must remember that these hard-won advances will only benefit LGBTI people if they are translated into into the daily lived experience of being LGBTI. Having a law is only truly useful if they are implemented. Changing laws does not automatically change lives. What LGBTI people all over Europe need from their governments now is continual, committed and collaborative action.” 

In the countries at the bottom of our country ranking, LGBTI people and their families are faced with a scenario where their rights are actively being eroded. ILGA-Europe’s latest Rainbow Europe package also contains a stark reminder that Europe is not just damaged by this slowing legislative process. The absence of supportive laws and policies is one thing, the legalisation of oppression is another threat altogether. Regressive laws, targeting both individuals and the work of LGBTI activists and NGOs, are a pernicious and real threat in many European countries. 

Co-Chair of ILGA-Europe’s Executive Board, Joyce Hamilton said “2015 has provided many timely reminders for both the LGBTI community and national governments. It reminded activists that our work is far from over. Regression is all too possible if we don’t work to shore up the change we have fought so hard for. Governments cannot be passive, especially those who blazed a trail for LGBTI rights in the past. Not only does their passivity mean that they will be bypassed on the Rainbow Europe Map, more importantly, it will give traction to those voices who are trying to undermine the equality gains made by the LGBTI movement. This is a wake-up call for all of us.”

Laws by themselves don’t automatically mean that life is easy – or even safe – for LGBTI people in all the countries at the top of the Rainbow Europe country ranking. A truly accurate picture is one that combines legal conditions and living conditions, that’s why it’s important to use our Map and the Annual Review in tandem.

In 2016, for the first time, readers can now use our Rainbow Europe web module to go ‘behind the dots’ to read the national laws and see why points are awarded. Of course, the articles in the statute books need to be translated into real change for LGBTI people; this is also acknowledged in the 2016 Index as points are now only awarded for action plans where we have evidence that the plan is specifically working for LGBTI people.

Download all the Rainbow Europe 2016 documents here