„The idea is to make hate speech and hate crime illegal in the EU. We hope that we can include discrimination and hate speech against the LGBTI community. Unfortunately, some countries like Poland and Hungary continuously block the EU proposals regarding LGBTI rights”, says Kim van Sparrentak, Dutch MEP.
Kamila Wilczyńska, EURACTIV.pl: According to the newest ILGA EUROPE index of European countries in Europe assessed in terms of lgbtiq rights and living conditions, Poland is ranked last in the entire European Union (43rd place). For the second year in a row. The Netherlands, on the other hand, is situated definitely higher, in the 16th position. Could you please describe how the situation of the LGBT+ community looks like in the Netherlands?
Kim Van Sparrentak: The Netherlands is well known for their lgbti rights and I guess mainly because we were the first country worldwide in 2001 to legalise marriage equality – so it is our 20th anniversary this year. We have to remember that only 28 counties worldwide have legalised same-sex marriage and only 16 EU member states have. So we were really front-runners.
But this does not mean that we have already achieved our goal. There are still a lot of issues to resolve, both institutional and social, related to the rights of the lgbti community. If we conducted a survey estimating the level of acceptance of LGBITQ within the society, most people will say they accept lgbti people.
I think it would be about 90 percent. But if you ask futher questions, then 1 in 3 people in a survey will say that they prefer the LGBTIQ people not to reveal their identity in public. There is always this discrepancy between what people say and what they actually feel about certain issues.
It has to be said that also in the Netherlands there is still some legislation that needs to be adopted and certain problems still need to be regulated. Those issues concern, among others, the rights of multi-parent families or transgender people. But looking at many other countries in the world we have already come a long way, even if we are still not where we want to be.
So now we know what is the situation like in the Netherlands but let’s look a bit broader. Let’s consider the actions undertaken by the European Parliament. As an MEP could you tell us more what does the Parliament do to successfully fight with discrimination across the continent? Did the EP organize any special events on the occasion of the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia?
The EP takes a lot of initiatives not only on IDAHO but also on many other occasions. The thing is that the pandemic forced a lot of events to be cancelled or moved online, like pride parades, for instance.
Also Transgender Memorial Day was moved online, as well as IDAHO-related events. There were also many different actions in different member states. In Belgium, for example, people wore purple – the color which symbolizes the opposition hate against lgbti community.
In the EP, our goal is to provide a space for people from lgbti community to feel represented, especially if they do not feel supported by their national governments and regional government. Take, for example, the situation in Poland.
Many people from the lgbtiq community are persecuted, and they do not only suffer hate speech from their fellow citizens, but also from politicians. It is our job in the EP to show them that the Parliament will always stand up for their rights.
On the institutional level, we work on improving legislation, more specifically, the anti-discrimination legislation. The Commission has published the first ever EU’s lgbtiq strategy. It has several pillars. In my opinion, one of the most important is the one concerning tackling discrimination against lgbtiq people.
There are some specific regulations that we can actually use to tackle discrimination. One is the horizontal anti-discrimination directive, which has been frozen for over 10 years. The directive basically says that the lgbtiq community cannot be discriminated when looking for a job, for education, or for a house. But our legislative effort also embrace anti-discrimination based on hate speech. We also plan to make hate speech and hate crime illegal in the whole EU
Unfortunately, we do see that some countries like Hungary and Poland continuously block any EU proposal regarding lgbti rights. Also, we still do not have mutual recognition in every EU member state for rainbow families and for rainbow couples to travel. It is absurd that if you are a member of a family with a same-sex couple and you go to another country that suddenly your parents are suddenly considered as not your parents anymore, just because they are same-sex.
As I said before, during the pandemic numerous pro-lgbtiq initiatives moved online. Nonetheless, we have also seen an increase in online hate speech and online hate targeted specifically on the lgbtiq community. It is very important to ensure that not only offline but also online the lgbtiq community members can feel safe.
You mentioned the LGBTIQ Strategy. What does it bring to the EU policy on equality and LGBTIQ protection? Which of its main pillars will be the greatest challenge for the countries and which countries?
Well I think that anti-discrimination pillar is one of the most important but is also one of the most difficult pillars. Discrimination against lgbtiq community is a tough topic, because in certain countries lgbtiq is consider as an ideology, and there are massive campaigns and backlash against the LGBTIQ rights. This is of course incomprehensible, because being LGBTIQ is not a choice. You fall in love with someone or you are someone and you are accused of spreading some ideology.
The measures taken at the European level has to go hand in hand with supporting the lgbtiq community and activist in their own countries and also trying to change the mindset of the people. If we want to have proper legislation at the European level we need support from the Member States.
I think it is going to be really challenging for Poland and Hungary to take them on board. In these two countries, we observe regular institutionalised hate speech against the lgbtiq community. But we do our best to accelerate our actions as much as it is possible and I am also very much in favour of having appropriate procedures against this countries that are systematically discriminating against the lgbtiq community.
The pandemic and the long lasting lockdown have affected profoundly various aspects of our lives. How would you comment the influence of these factors on the LGBTIQ community in Europe? Have you observed any significant positive or negative changes?
Although to the best of my knowledge still lack precise data on the matter, there is already a lot of anecdotal evidence that the pandemic and the lockdown have been incredibly hard for people from lgbtiq community.
On the one hand, as I said before, the pandemic made it impossible for us to gather. We were unable to organize and participate in pride marches and we had little opportunity to talk with other people about our problems.
Also, we have seen an increase in domestic violence. Just imagine being lgbtiq still living at home, not being able to go to school and having parents that don’t accept who you are or who you love.
This is very hard for LGBTIQ kids, who during the lockdown were deprived of a possibility to go somewhere or to go to school or meet with friends.Yet another issue is that the lines to regular public healthcare of course has got longer. This also includes the access to mental healthcare, but also trans-care, for example intersex care.
Yet another possible consequence of the pandemic that we are very afraid of is the rising number of homeless people. The exact number of homeless citizens is of course difficult to measure.
Still, in the European Parliament we pay a lot of attention to the problem homelessness and we have already observed an increase in the percentage of the lgbtiq people within the homeless part of the society. This is particularly worrying, as we see that the young lgbtiq kids get kicked out of their homes when they come out as homosexual or transsexual.
Moreover, since we don’t have proper anti-discrimination rules, the LGBTIQ people are also often discriminated when trying to when they get a house. So it is very important that we keep monitoring the situation within the LGBTIQ community, as we are expecting further increase in homelessness, and we really have to make sure that the lgbtiq kids that are suffering homelessness are receive sufficient support.
One court Zagreb issued a ruling critical about discrimination against same-sex couples in the adoption process. Do you think that such decisions of courts are the result of cooperation between EU countries? Do the measures by the European Union really help societies in the member countries to improve the legal situation of lgbtiq people?
Yes, absolutely. First and foremost, we have to recognise that starting a family and being who you are is a right that everyone should have.The more courts agree with this, not only because of moral reasons but also because the law says so, the better.
People should not be persecuted because of their sexual orientation. I think such rulings are a very important sign for the lgbtiq community and it shows to people that is not just a wish of LGBITQ people to live in freedom but it is their legal right.
Could you tell us more about the initiative called „lgbtiq freedom zones”? How significant is this declaration by the European Parliament and how will it contribute to the improvement of the lgbtiq situation?
I consider it a very important step. There is more and more places, especially in Poland, that have declared themselves lgbtiq-free zone. This is a signal of systematic hate campaign against lgbtiq community, which is 100 proc. intolerable. Such initiatives are a message for people from the community saying that they are not welcome in certain municipalities. We, in the European Parliament do our best to ensure they are safe and their rights are respected.
I spoke with many activist from the communities that are in this lgbtiq free zones and they told me for them it is very important to know that there are still people fighting for their rights. Of course declaring the EU an lgbtiq freedom zone doesn’t change anything from the legislative point of view.
But it has a real influence on people’s minds and contributes to real changes in our societies. If the EU top institutions insist that everyone deserve the same rights then it really means something.
Poland rejects the inclusion of a “third gender” into the new EU identity cards. What does such decisions mean for a EU country? Could they contribute to further worsening of the country’s relations with the EU? And finally, can the European Parliament do something about this?
If we want to have an inclusive ID system that works for everyone, then it has to be adjusted to everyone. In the Netherlands in starting from 2024 we won’t have gender stated in the ID anymore.
The idea is to simplify and facilitate administrative procedures.. gender is included into the ID card, that means one’s necessity to choose between the available options, It is very difficult for transpeople to change their personal date and if you are intersex it becomes even more difficult. So in the Netherlands we decided to solve the problem in a way that we just get rid of the information about the citizen’s gender from the ID and passports.
I already expect that there will be a big clash in the Council, when such an idea is discussed at the EU level, but we feel support from the European Parliament. I also consider it very important that if we have an European ID card it is inclusive and suitable for everyone. It is essential that we don’t misrepresent people in their ID, as it can honestly be a matter of life and death.
What can we do, as the European civil society, to influence the situation of the LGBTIQ community? Could you give us a few recommendations on how can we, the EU citizens, make our society more inclusive and open for diversities?
Firstly, we have to start meeting each other again. I think the most powerful thing we can do as European citizens is to get together, celebrate who we are, and discuss how we are going to fight for our rights.
Achieving equality requires a lot of effort, therefore we have to continue our actions, which include gathering, advocating for what is right, sharing best practices on how certain things have been achieved in certain countries, discuss certain struggles, sharing information with each other, and truly stand united as a community again. I think this is the first step we have to take as soon as we can start traveling again.