Pride Alliances and Policy: Towards a Union of Equality

Sirpa Rautio
FRA Director delivers a keynote speech during the 'Pride Alliances and Policy: Towards a Union of Equality' conference on 17 May 2024 in Brussels. The Belgian Presidency of the Council of the EU event to mark International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia.


Dear State Secretary Leroy, Commissioner Dalli, dear colleagues, and friends,

It is an honour to address this conference today and I would like to thank the Belgian Presidency, both for hosting this event and for the prioritisation of this issue. It is timely, given that we are over halfway through the lifetime of the first ever EU LGBTIQ Strategy.

It also provides us with the opportunity to reflect on what is known about the lived experiences of LGBTIQ people in Europe.

Just this week, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights published the findings of the third wave of its LGBTIQ survey, looking at the experiences, concerns and struggles of people living in 30 European countries. With over 100,000 respondents, it is one of the biggest surveys of its kind globally.

The findings convey a conflict between conclusive progress and disheartening backsliding. They also speak of a widening divide between members of this community, between those who can enjoy their rights and freedoms, and those who continue to be denied.

Let’s start with the positives. In many countries, most of the population supports same sex marriage. The majority supports equal rights for LGBTIQ people. Tangible, conclusive legislative change has been won, as seen in the ILGA Rainbow Map, for example in Estonia and Greece, where laws have been amended to allow same-sex couples to marry and adopt children.

In everyday life, more LGBTIQ people now live openly, and feel safer with their partners in public. Schools have begun to deal with diversity and equality issues more proactively and positively. Discrimination, although still too high, is gradually decreasing.

Such signs of progress are palpable. We see them in our communities, in our schools, on our TV screens. Diversity is being embraced, but more importantly, it is being normalised. We have reached this point thanks to years of advocacy by civil society, in particular LGBTIQ organisations, and through legal initiatives and political efforts by the EU, Member States, national human rights institutions, and equality bodies.  

Unfortunately, these positive trends are limited.

Our findings also indicate a fierce backlash against equality across Europe. More LGBTIQ people now face violence. Everyday harassment is on the rise, and it is most often happening on our streets. Bullying in schools has increased sharply with two thirds of people saying they were affected. Online campaigns inciting hate and spreading disinformation are prolific.

Such instances of hatred are worse for the trans community, and worse again for intersex people.

Especially worrying, it is young people who struggle the most. They face more violence, harassment and bullying than other age groups. Moreover, these experiences have a devastating effect on their mental health. The most disturbing and shocking statistic in FRA’s report shows that two thirds of young LGBTIQ people considered suicide in the year before the survey.

At the same time, the survey sheds light on intersecting and compounding forms of discrimination, harassment and violence, for instance against those with disabilities, in financial hardship and members of ethnic or racial minority groups.

This is the moment to confront the backsliding and to build on what has been achieved so far. We must keep pushing for equal treatment and respect for all. As one of our respondents told us: "The only thing we want is a peaceful life, with the same rights and obligations as anyone else.” And this is exactly the crux. These rights are enshrined in law. They are not dependent on identity or orientation, nor does their application differ from person to person.

We must also safeguard our progress and denounce any attempt to roll back rights, loudly and unconditionally. We must call out anyone who tries do so, and support those working to revive equality efforts. We must stand firm against any attempts to undermine the hard-fought and fragile equality that we are moving towards.

The deterioration of LGBTIQ rights is symptomatic of a wider backsliding of rule of law and disrespect for fundamental rights. Where these are not respected, nobody’s rights are protected. EU institutions and national governments should lead by example – know that your words and behaviours matter.

So, what needs to be done to achieve equality in the EU?

Our survey data show where action is needed. I encourage all EU countries to use the data to guide their efforts in protecting the rights of LGBTIQ people, specifically:

  • Combat impunity in respect of violence and harassment.  Invest in police training to ensure they recognise, record, and properly investigate hate crime so that victims feel safe to report attacks and are treated fairly.
  • Tackle online hatred and disinformation campaigns. Address the risk of bias in algorithms and ensure the accountability of digital platforms under EU law.
  • Create national policies to embed human rights and equality education, and support teachers and educators to create a safe and supportive environment at school.
  • Secure access to quality healthcare, including mental health support and end ‘conversion’ practices and non-vital medical interventions.
  • Build upon the progress made through the LGBTIQ Equality Strategy and use the findings of the progress report and FRA’s surveys to identify areas which continue to require attention. The conclusion of a strategy – no matter how successful – does not mean that complacency should be allowed in EU and national efforts to protect the fundamental rights of LGBTIQ people. We welcome the Declaration in this respect, and support its calls in respect of a new LGBTIQ Strategy and a renewed equality mandate under the next Commission.  

FRA’s findings demonstrate that we are at a critical moment for LGBTIQ equality; at a crossroads. And here, a welcome paradox has emerged. Hostile attitudes towards LGBTIQ people are not in sync with public opinions. The latest Eurobarometer shows that acceptance of LGBTIQ people is increasing across all EU countries.

Our survey findings show that discrimination decreases in locations where LGBTIQ equality is more publicly discussed and more visible in daily life. The situation deteriorates when society, and in particular, public figures, engage in negative public discourse. This is why we must keep talking.

Faltering on commitments now risks undoing the monumental progress we have made so far.

Thank you.

See also