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Making Homophobia a Thing of the Past

Making Homophobia a Thing of the Past


Monday, May 17 marks the International Day Against Homophobia. Europe has seen important progress in addressing the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people -- but there is more to be done.

In March, the representatives of the 47 member countries of the oldest European organization, the Council of Europe, agreed that all individuals must be able to enjoy their rights and freedoms without discrimination -- including on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. They also recognized that nondiscriminatory treatment by state actors, and, where appropriate, positive state measures for protection against discriminatory treatment, including by non-state actors, are fundamental components of the international system protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Last week in Vilnius, Lithuania, European values of respect for agreed human rights standards won out over bigotry and hatred. For the first time ever, the city successfully hosted a gay pride parade. Five hundred people participated in the parade, and roughly twice as many people demonstrated against the event. Regrettably, reports suggest that one policeman and a journalist were injured in clashes with protesters against the parade, but the authorities are to be congratulated for their success in protecting the participants. The right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed by both the European Convention on Human Rights and the Lithuanian Constitution, and the rights of LGBT people cannot be denied. Banning pride festivals is alien to the values of a modern European country and contrary to Council of Europe standards.

The World Health Organization ruled almost 20 years ago that homosexuality is not an illness, and mainstream scientific and medical opinion holds that it is a natural variant of human behavior. I believe that prejudiced attitudes on the part of the majority towards the homosexual minority cannot be used to justify discrimination. I also believe that discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation is as unacceptable as discrimination on grounds of sex, race, or religion.

Of course, the theory may be good, but what is really happening on the ground? Homosexuality has been decriminalized in all member states of the Council of Europe, and yet LGBT persons still face deeply rooted prejudices, hostility, and widespread discrimination all over Europe. Now it's time to do something about it.

In April this year, whilst debating a major report on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, parliamentarians from all over Europe coming together at the Council of Europe voiced serious concerns about violations of the freedom of association and of expression of LGBT persons. They also referred to worrying occurrences of "hate speech by certain politicians, religious leaders and other civil society representatives."

European identity is as much about values as it is about geography. It is not just where we live, it is how we live together that defines us as Europeans. The eradication of homophobia and transphobia requires political will in member states. It is only a constructive debate within societies, initiated and led by visionary politicians, that will finally consign discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity to the pages of history.
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