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ILGA-Europe Annual Review of the Human Rights Situation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex People in Europe 2016

Welcome to the fifth edition of ILGA-Europe’s Annual Review of the Human Rights Situation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex People in Europe. The publication includes events that occurred between January - December 2015. It provides a snapshot of what happened during the year, at national, regional and international levels, and it documents progress and trends regarding the human rights situation of LGBTI people.

 

ILGA-Europe in brief

ILGA-Europe is the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans & Intersex Association (ILGA).

ILGA-Europe works for equality and human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans & intersex (LGBTI) people at the European level.

ILGA-Europe is an international non-governmental umbrella organisation, bringing together 433 organisations from 45 countries in Europe.

ILGA-Europe advocates for human rights and equality for LGBTI people at European level organisations such as the European Union (EU), the Council of Europe (CoE) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

ILGA-Europe strengthens the European LGBTI movement by providing trainings and support to its member organisations and other LGBTI groups on lobbying, advocacy, fundraising, organisational development and communications.

ILGA-Europe was established as a separate region of ILGA and an independent legal entity in 1996. ILGA was established in 1978.

Since 1997, ILGA-Europe enjoys participative status at the Council of Europe.

Since 2006, ILGA-Europe enjoys consultative status at the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC) and also advocates for equality and human rights of LGBTI people at the UN level.

ILGA-Europe has its office in Brussels.

ILGA-Europe receives funding from public and private donors.

 

Introduction

Welcome to the fifth edition of ILGA-Europe’s Annual Review of the Human Rights Situation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex People in Europe. The publication includes events that occurred between January – December 2015. It provides a snapshot of what happened during the year, at national, regional and international levels, and it documents progress and trends regarding the human rights situation of LGBTI people.

While the institutional reviews and country chapters focus on 2015, our highlights section puts these trends in context, with reference to further developments that took place in early 2016, prior to the Review’s publication.

Once again, we must stress that this document is not an exercise in apportioning blame. ILGA-Europe’s goal is not to point fingers at specific countries. Instead, this publication intends to serve as a tool for the exchange of best practices and policies, and as an open invitation for enhanced cooperation between governments and LGBTI civil society.

For the purpose of documentation and comparability of information, this Annual Review remains largely faithful to the format established in previous editions. Major developments will be emphasised with colourful textboxes and the index directs readers interested in particular topics to the most relevant chapters. We have also included a glossary containing some of the most commonly used acronyms and definitions to help make our country chapters as clear as possible. The country chapters contained in the Annual Review will also be available to view online through our website and our updated Rainbow Europe web module.

ILGA-Europe want this publication to meet our readers’ expectations and needs, and welcome any suggestions for improvement at annualreview@ilga-europe.org

We hope that you will find this edition of the Annual Review informative and useful.

 

Highlights, key developments and trends

2015 was a year of conflicting emotions – from the dizzying highs that grabbed global headlines to the sobering reminders that many LGBTI communities had very little to celebrate since our last Annual Review was published.

Arguably the most dramatic changes came from unexpected places. Malta, the smallest EU country rose to the top of our country ranking in 2015, buoyed by an irresistible combination of determined activism and unprecedented political leadership at national level, which led to the adoption of ground-breaking legislation and comprehensive public policies. Ireland shook off its mantle as a socially conservative state, inextricably linked to Catholic doctrine, when an overwhelming majority of Irish people from all over the country, not only voted in favour of marriage equality but also embraced the change. Both islands gave valuable gifts to the European LGBTI movement: hope and inspiration. Hope springs from the fact that profound political and social change really is possible. Witnessing the tangible power of civil society mobilisation combined with political leadership was truly inspirational.

However, 2015 overall was the year of the reminder. Several times we were prompted to recognise that the news headlines Ireland and Malta inevitably attracted often masked the more complex situation across many parts of Europe. Achieving equality in one facet of life, such as equal marriage, does not signal the end of our advocacy journey. It should provoke more action, not represent a reason for political leaders to ease off.

Some of the most important developments again related to the growing recognition of the human rights of trans and intersex people. 2015 was a year when national and European institutions stepped up their efforts to learn about and to take action to protect the rights of intersex people. In many ways, Malta again led the way with its visionary Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act, which made it the first country in the world to prohibit any unnecessary surgical procedure on the sex characteristics of a person without their consent. Human rights ideals were also put into practice in schools through a comprehensive policy for trans, intersex and gender variant students.

The Maltese focus is indicative of a growing impetus all over Europe to be proactive about protecting the rights of intersex people. In addition to the advances made in Malta, Greece also introduced explicit protection from discrimination on the grounds of sex characteristics on 24 December. Finland’s updated Gender Equality Act now includes a reference to “gender features of the body” which is intended to protect intersex people against discrimination. A court in Tours recognised an intersex person as gender neutral, the first time a French court has recognised an individual as having a gender other than male or female. At European level, two high-level publications gave the issues faced by intersex people valuable public exposure. Launched on the same day in May, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency and Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner’s papers contained human rights-based recommendations to improve the lives of intersex people. Both these publications put intersex issues firmly at the heart of the European agenda, as well as serving as a timely reminder to policy makers to include the voices of intersex people in their work – “nothing about us without us”.

When it comes to the rights of trans people, as we already mentioned, Malta’s GIGESC Act was revolutionary in a European context, as it contains provisions relating to adults and minors alike. Ireland also introduced the long-awaited Gender Recognition Act based on a self-determination model (for people aged 18 and older) following years of campaigning by national trans activists, inspired by the persistence of Dr Lydia Foy. More countries are expected to follow suit: Sweden is currently planning amendments to its gender recognition process and the French authorities are examining proposals to remove the need for surgery from their own practice. Several politicians in Belgium spoke out in favour of abolishing medical intervention criteria and potential changes to existing legislation were also raised by expert groups in Finland, Greece, Germany and Norway. At Council of Europe-level, the ECtHR ruled that sterilisation is not a necessary precondition for individuals undergoing gender reassignment surgery to have their gender legally recognised in the case of YY v Turkey.

That said, the journey for many trans people in Europe is another useful reminder for the wider LGBTI community. We must continue to highlight milestones while not allowing these achievements to render us oblivious to the work that still need to be completed. It is worth remembering that Lithuania is still trying to find a way to implement the L v Lithuania judgment from the European Court of Human Rights. That decision was handed down in 2007; trans people in Lithuania still waiting for practical answers. Poland’s Gender Recognition Act had passed both houses of parliament in the summer of 2015 but a presidential veto was not overturned and the trans community was left without a codified legal recognition process. On a positive note, the Eurobarometer survey – the first EU wide public opinion survey to cover trans issues – did reveal that 63% of people questioned thought that trans people should be able to change civil documents to reflect their gender identity. However, when you analyse the individual country reactions, only 34% of the Hungarian respondents agreed, with 29% support reported in Bulgaria and Romania. These figures demonstrate two things: how vital it is to continue advocating for the rights of trans people and how important it is to communicate this need for change among the general public.

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