Martine Hess speaks to activists to find out what life is like at opposite ends of the index

BY MARTINE HESS

On International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, Biphobia, and Intersexphobia (IDAHOBIT), a leading LGBTI rights organisation reports “widespread and almost complete stagnation on human rights of LGBTI people”.

ILGA-Europe has, for the past 12 years, published the annual Rainbow Europe Map and Index which ranks all European countries based on their LGBTI rights measures. This year’s Map stands out as it found almost no positive legislative change for LGBTI people in Europe.

The organisation’s Executive Director, Evelyne Paradis, stated that these developments, or rather the lack thereof, is “deeply worrying” and emphasised that this is a critical time for LGBTI communities. 

“In the past year, we’ve seen increased political repression against LGBTI people, a stark rise in socio-economic hardship, and the spreading of LGBTI-phobic hatred on the streets and online across the region,” she said. 

One the countries that has seen a steady decline in LGBTQI rights and measures is Turkey, which remains at the bottom end of the Rainbow Map, like last year. Once seen as a refuge for gay people escaping prosecution in the Middle East, Turkey is now home to LGBTI people facing a growing animosity towards their community. 

The Rainbow Map 2021

In the past year alone, there have been ongoing smear campaigns in pro-government media, and President Erdoğan has been accused of targeting the LGBTQI community to distract the public from the country’s economic problems. 

“Hate is contagious, and the same is courage. What the LGBTI community has been experiencing here in Turkey is also a threat to all the LGBTI people in the world,” Marsel Tuğkan told DIVA. Based in Ankara, Tuğkan works as a part of a civil society support program of the EU Turkey Delegation. In his spare time, he is also a voluntary board member of the Social Policy, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Studies Association (SPoD), which is the biggest LGBTI+ organisation in Istanbul. 

Marsel Tuğkan, an activist from Turkey

The 26-year-old explained that Turkey’s situation is not much different from what is going on in the rest of the world. The problems faced by the Turkish LGBTI community are similar to those in other EU countries such as Poland and Hungary. 

Tuğkan worries that this pattern will continue to repeat itself, as parallels can be drawn between Victor Orban, Andrzej Duda, Marine Le Pen, and President Erdoğan. “It is a broader problem and we should approach it in that way. Otherwise, we would undermine the problem that is a global trend, not a local detail,” he said. 

As Tuğkan suggests, the lack of positive development is not only reserved for the headline-grabbing countries that deal with the most severe cases of discrimination and human rights violations. It is a widespread issue. Across Europe, many legislative processes have been stalled over the past 12 months, and that also applies to more liberal countries such as the Netherlands, Sweden, and here, in the United Kingdom.

For example, ILGA-Europe stated that despite clear commitments on rainbow family recognition, not one country has moved ranking on partnership or parenthood recognition. Aside from Iceland, there have also not been any positive changes for intersex and trans rights.

Lydia Andrle, a medical student from Berlin, explained that despite Germany’s current reputation of being one of the world’s most LGBTI-friendly destinations, the country still has a long way to go. 

“When it comes to having children, it is very hard for same-sex couples. Especially for two women, because the German government defines the mother as the woman who gave birth to the child. Her female partner must adopt the child to be legally recognised as the mother,” she said. If a woman is married to a man, on the other hand, he is automatically recognised as the father, regardless of whether he is the biological father.

Germany has a “long way to go” on LGBTI equality, says student Lydia Andrle

Andrle also pointed out that legally changing your name and gender is a long process. It is only made more complicated if you want gender affirming treatments, as you have to see both a psychologist and an endocrinologist. “Those steps are very time consuming and can delay the start of gender reassignment measures significantly,” said the 21-year-old. 

Katrin Hugendubel, ILGA-Europe’s Advocacy Director, said that it is easy to blame the lack of action on the pandemic, but she makes it clear that the reality is more complex. “In too many countries, progress is stopped because there’s increased political polarisation on LGBTI issues, because some elected officials no longer see gains to be made by supporting LGBTI equality, and because governments don’t see it as a priority issue.”

Tuğkan makes a similar argument, saying that the tense political climate has led to more discrimination, bigotry, and hate. “We all have been experiencing similar things because our enemy is common: the anti-gender movement, hate, and right-wing populism,” he concluded.  

2021’s Rainbow Index

Despite the current situation, there is still reason to be hopeful. As noted by ILGA-Europe, several countries have legislative proposals and action plans on the table. But this is a matter of commitment, and effective action is crucial to ensure equality. 

“There is a silver lining in this story,” says Paradis. “If governments actively choose to do the right thing and take real action, our Rainbow Map can look positively different by this time next year.” 

@martineahess

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