A Way Forward for the LGBTI+ Community

Michael O’Flaherty
FRA Directory joins the plenary discussion on 'A Way Forward for the LGBTI+ Community' during the World Pride Human Rights Conference in Copenhagen on 19 August 2021.

We work on human rights, on the situation of human rights for people inside the EU.

I would have to say, generally, we live in the worst of times. Right across the world, the pushback against human rights is on a scale that I've never seen before in my career. We have to acknowledge that. We're in a very challenging moment.

If you drill that down to the LGBTI context, again, I've been listening all week, I've been here since Monday night, I've been listening to as many people as I could. I identify – and I'll be very quick – five features of the human rights pressure that's being faced in this context.

The first is, of course, that we still have such a long way to go with law. We still have not had the necessary and adequate law reform to allow people to live their lives in dignity.

Second, we've had pushbacks against previous achievements. Things that were achieved are now being resisted and are being questioned in a way that I would never have thought possible. We even have this extraordinary feature of constitutional locks being placed, so that the pushback will be long-lasting.

Third, we, of course, have widespread human rights abuses and violations. It's really quite extraordinary, the diversity of abuses of human rights: socioeconomic, people refused food parcels because they were trans, or rights of the child. I could go on, but I think it's really important to flag the – I know it's an awful word – intersectionality dimension of human rights abuse. You experience the human rights abuse differently depending on your gender, depending on your age, depending on whether you're on the edge of society already because you're a Roma or you're a migrant, and so on. Again, it needs never to be forgotten in these conversations.

Fourth, I've been struck by how often I've been told to pay attention to the anti-gender movement. It's a real feature. It's a real takeaway for me, from this World Pride, the extent to which we're up against a sophisticated, well-resourced movement, that's seeking to unravel so many basic human rights. Very closely related to the anti-gender movement, of course, is the more widespread phenomenon of populism, which, again, is directly relevant to us and the situation we find ourselves in.

Then finally, I'd flag, in terms of the challenges we face today, the pervasive homo- and transphobia in our societies. Just as with other phenomena, such as racism, we inadequately address the extent to which we have these as problems in our societies that need to be tackled. It's not just about law reform. It's also about working in society to wake people up to the discriminatory attitudes that lurk deep within, I would say, all of us, in different manifestations.

But I don't want to finish with the despairing word; I also want to join with my fellow panellists on the issue of hope.

Things are rough and tough. They haven't been worse in a long time, but there's a firm basis of hope on which we can build for the future.

We should not go away despondent. A few examples here: the first is that we've achieved so much. Don't belittle that. Don't undervalue that. We've come so far. We've made such progress.

Fifteen years ago in the UN, people laughed out loud at the idea that we'd have an independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity. And yet, just a few short years later, it came about. That's progress, a basis for hope.

I'm Irish. Look at my own country. Look how it's been transformed and look how quickly, in the end, we were able to achieve astonishing social change in Ireland. That's a basis for hope.

Then, we have a very powerful toolbox, which we undervalue. That's the toolbox of human rights. I want to come back to that later in the discussion. I really do believe we're not using the toolbox adequately and if we did, we could get better results.

And, I'm impressed by the growing community of allies. We heard about the important role the business world is playing. We heard about that just in the last session. That was good for me to be reminded of, because typically in my work, the business world is problematised. But here today it was spoken of as a champion. Again, it's a reminder of the extent to which the community of allies grows.

A further last point I'd make as to why we should legitimately have hope, is the resilience of civil society. Pride is a celebration of civil society. The fact of the richness and the diversity of the people in this room, and more broadly in Pride, in the parade in a few days’ time, in the endless discussions that are going on in the programme, that itself is a demonstration of why we can be hopeful.

The last thing I'd say is that society is decent, basically. We know that. Eurobarometer was mentioned. We did the world's first survey of attitudes to human rights just before Covid. We asked the people of Europe: ‘Do you believe in human rights? Which human rights? Whose human rights? Where should those human rights be?’.

We found a surprisingly high level of commitment to societies based on values and human rights. When we asked them: ‘Where do you find these human rights?’, more than half of the people, of thousands of people surveyed, were able to name the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It's, again, another basis for us to be hopeful.