Working for better LGBT rights

Speech by the Director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights to the Council of Europe, Strasbourg.

Working for better LGBT rights - Speech by FRA director Morten Kjaerum on June 23 in Strasbourg

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Ladies and Gentlemen,
‘There are no fags in my classroom; we are not going to talk about this.’
Not my words, but the words of a high-school teacher, that emerged from our
research at the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights looking into
LGBT awareness in schools which confirmed what we just heard.
So, let me ask you, what is the state of health of fundamental rights in Europe
today? Particularly, in relation to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
community? Well, for a proper diagnosis, we need facts. For an effective remedy,
we need recommendations. And for a long-term cure, we need follow-up.
Thankfully, being here, alongside the Council of Europe Commissioner’s at the
launch of his report on homophobia, I can say we are collecting the facts and we
are doing so thanks to our extremely effective cooperation between the Council of
Europe and the Fundamental Rights Agency, as well as other partners. In turn, we
were very happy that our findings and opinions helped shape the Council of
Europe’s 2010 recommendation and this report today. As for follow-up, the
Agency will make great use of the recommendation in our forthcoming reports and
surveys, which will lead to even further advice and guidance to the EU and its
Member States.
In this, as well as in many of our other collaborations between the Agency and the
Council of Europe, we are like a mountaineering team. We take turns in taking the
lead– and only together can we get to the top.
At the FRA we have specialists in data collection, analysis and surveys looking at
the EU context. They collaborate with specialists at the Council of Europe who
have tremendous human rights expertise and knowledge amassed over many years
looking at the wider European picture across 47 countries. The result? Now,
thanks to the Council of Europe, we have a more comprehensive picture of the
LGBT situation in an additional 20 European countries, measured in some
countries for the very first time.

So what does this picture tell us?
Our research from 2008 to 2010 identified three underlying problems faced by the
LGBT community:
1. many are forced to live in silence and invisibility;
2. many suffer violent attacks; and
3. many are not treated equally, for example at work, by landlords or when moving
around the EU.
Our work also revealed some important legal trends, which we could assess
through our initial publication in 2008 and then the 2010 update. For example:
• In the EU, most of the positive developments were in the area of equality in
free movement and family reunification, thanks to changes in the legal
definition of ‘family member’ in seven EU Member States.
• Prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation was also
extended in two Member States, and two more equality bodies now also
cover sexual orientation as part of their mandate.
• There was also some bad news: Five countries went backwards by, for
example, explicitly not recognising same-sex marriage as family.
• This two-speed Europe creates an uneven landscape, where LGBT people
are constantly uncertain what lies over the horizon.
If you want to know more, we now have a summary of these findings, challenges
and promising practices in all EU languages plus Croatian.

This work and the findings of today’s Council of Europe report are what we need,
to bring about change. Change in policies, change in attitudes, change in lives.
Such findings expand our knowledge base and highlight where more work is
needed. Such data is crucial for experts to formulate advice, for policy makers to
shape laws, and for decision makers, nationally and locally, to make a difference
on the ground.
Our report of last year has provided the framework for EU institutions to act. The
European Parliament has used our findings to press for change. I am sure that this
new report will be used in the same way. The European Commission will use our
work to improve LGBT rights in its review of its policies. And national
governments are being asked, for example, to use more respectful methods when
testing LGBT asylum seekers. In addition, promising local practices are emerging:
In one Member State an agreement between a LGBT association and the local
police will ensure homophobic aggression is tackled immediately.
In September, together with the Council of Europe, we will host a roundtable, to
openly discuss these reports with stakeholders. By such direct engagement we
create an opportunity to listen to concerns and raise awareness of the findings.
But this in itself is not enough. We must continue to collect the data and assess the
situation on the ground.
Therefore the agency will conduct a survey into the actual experiences of
discrimination and hate crime of LGBT people across Europe. We will launch
this online survey in early 2012, and we would greatly appreciate your support in
raising awareness about the survey and encouraging the LGBT community to
participate when it is launched.
We will also survey public authorities and law enforcement officers to better
assess the level of assistance and support on offer to LGBT victims and witnesses.
And – with a clearer picture of what the experiences of LGBT people are, and of
what help they can get from public authorities – we will continue in 2013 with the
development of indicators to measure progress.
The results from these surveys will feed policies at EU, national and local levels.
They will assist those who are using the Council of Europe recommendation to
gauge the true situation on the ground and to act. They will show the LGBT
community that their voice is being heard, that action is being taken and that we
are working to make their fundamental rights a reality. So next time, LGBT school
children need not fear intimidation, harassment or discrimination, but just be like
any other pupil.
Thank you for your attention.