Tackling sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination: next steps in EU and Member State policy making About

Taking stock

Over the last decade, there have been some positive trends in recognising sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for discrimination in EU and national legislation. The EU has played an important, and often leading, role in improving the situation. The principle of equal treatment constitutes a fundamental value of the Union that ensures both respect for human dignity and full participation in economic, cultural and social life. Indeed, Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights prohibits “any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, […] or sexual orientation”.

The EU-wide protection of LGBT people against discrimination is well established in the area of employment and occupation. Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is prohibited by the Employment Equality Directive. The principle of equal treatment also protects transgender people against discrimination, as enshrined in the Gender Equality Directive (recast), in the Directive on access to and supply of goods and services and - with explicit reference to gender identity and expression - in the Asylum Qualification Directive and the EU Victims’ Rights Package.

Although EU protection for LGBT people against discrimination does not currently extend to areas beyond the employment sector – such as education, access to healthcare, housing or other services available to the public – individuals enjoy substantial protection through a variety of legal instruments at national and international level. In 2008, the Commission proposed a Horizontal Equal Treatment Directive that would comply with the principle of equal treatment between people irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation, thus banning discrimination on these grounds in all areas of EU competence (i.e. social protection, education and access to and supply of goods and services). In 2014 this Directive had not yet been adopted by either of the co-legislators.

In order to address existing gaps in the legal and policy framework, the European Parliament has repeatedly stressed the need for a comprehensive EU multiannual policy to protect the fundamental rights of LGBTI people, either in the form of a programme, roadmap or action plan. This call has been reiterated by a group of EU Member States, with 13 ministers calling on the Commission to issue a comprehensive EU policy for LGBTI equality. Recognising the need for such a comprehensive framework in the context of the EU’s external action, in June 2013 the Council of the EU adopted Guidelines to promote and protect the enjoyment of all human rights by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

Challenges ahead

Although significant progress has been made towards the realisation of equality, many reports over the past decade have also highlighted the discrimination, hate crime and other challenges that LGBT people face in their daily lives. FRA’s EU LGBT survey, was the largest-ever study of hate crime and discrimination experienced by LGBT people in the EU. It showed that many LGBT people live in isolation or even fear. Many others experience discrimination, and even violence, for just being themselves. 

  • 47% of respondents said that they had felt personally discriminated against or harassed because of their sexual orientation in the year preceding the survey. 
  • 19% felt discriminated against at work or when looking for a job, despite legal protection under EU law.
  • 26% of respondents had been attacked or threatened with violence over the preceding five years.
  • On average 66% of respondents across all EU Member States were scared of holding hands in public with a same-sex partner.
  • Only 22% of the most serious hate crime incidents were brought to the attention of the police.
  • Almost half of the respondents who did not report to the police felt the police would do nothing.
  • 2 out of 3 respondents hid their sexual orientation at school.
  • At least 60% personally experienced negative comments or conduct at school because they were LGBT, while over 80% in each EU Member State recall negative comments or bullying of LGBT youth at school.

These and other challenges, including those that intersex persons face, will form the centre of discussions at this conference, focusing particularly on next steps in policy making and implementation, including discussing the role of public authorities, civil society and professionals in addressing:

  • hostility, violence, and hate crime towards LGBT people
  • discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity
  • bullying and homophobic attitudes in schools.