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Position Paper on Combating Homophobia in Europe

General Context

The Doctrine of Human Rights has been a cornerstone of public policy around the world ever since the adoption of the Declaration of Human Rights in Paris by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. Human rights are conceived both as universal (applicable everywhere) and egalitarian (the same for everyone). They are, therefore, applicable to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people (LGBT’s). The rights of LGBT’s have been concurred slowly: It was not until 2011 the United Nations Human Rights passed its first resolution recognising LGBT rights. urged all countries which had not yet done so, to enact laws protecting basic LGBT rights. Nowadays, however, laws affecting LGBT’s still vary greatly by country, ranging from death penalty to recognition of same-sex marriage.

A vital aspect of the recognition of equal rights for LGBT’s is dealing with homophobia, the irrational fear of, and aversion to homosexuality and LGBT’s based on prejudice.contributes to discrimination of and violence directed at LGBT’s. To ensure equal rights for LGBT’s in Europe, it is necessary to eradicate homophobia and promote a culture of freedom, tolerance and equality among citizens and in legal systems. This will contribute to a Europe in which same-sex partners in all Member States will enjoy the rights and protections enjoyed by married opposite sex partners and consequently will not suffer discrimination and disadvantage. Having said that, a difficult task lies ahead, as homophobia is institutionalised, e.g. being incorporated in religious teachings or being state-sponsored: many world religions, like Christianity and Islam, contain anti-homosexual teachings and in several countries homosexuality is criminalised and penalised. Thus, creation and careful implementation of homophobia-eradicating policies is a difficult task, but its importance is undeniable.

Overarching intentions on EU level

Fighting homophobia is an important facet of the fundamental core of the European Union (EU) on treaty level, where both any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited. Article 2 of the Treaty of the European Union specifically states that “the Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail”. Article 10 and 19 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union respectively specify that “in defining and implementing its policies and activities, the Union shall aim to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation” and that “without prejudice to the other provisions of the Treaties and within the limits of the powers conferred by them upon the Union, the Council, acting unanimously in accordance with a special legislative procedure and after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, may take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation”. Lastly, the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is part of the Lisbon treaty, is the first international charter to explicitly include the term ‘sexual orientation’. Eradicating homophobia is thus a desirable goal at the heart of the concept of the EU.

Specific context of policy on homophobia in the European Union

The principle of equality and non-discrimination is a fundamental element in the protection of human rights, including the rights of LGBT’s, on UN and EU level. Despite that, homophobic acts, which occur on a regular basis in nearly all EU member states, point to the systematic violation of those fundamental rights of LGBT’s within the EU. An example hereof is the increased anti-gay violence in France during and after the adoption of the ‘marriage for all’ law.

Several recommendations and resolutions have therefore been issued to take the requisite measures to combat (incitement to) homophobia. One example hereof is the European Parliament (EP) resolution on homophobia in Europe adopted on 18 January 2006. With this resolution, the EP states that, although in some Member States’ authorities strongly condemn homophobic acts, this is not the case in all other Member States. The EP consequently calls upon the Member States to take further action both on EU and national level to eradicate homophobia and promote a culture of freedom and equality among citizens and in legal systems. Apart from this resolution, the EP has the Intergroup on LGBT Rights as its tool to combat homophobia. The Intergroup’s work consists of monitoring the work of the European Union and ensuring that LGBT issues are included in the reports, amendments and resolution the EP works on.

On all institutional levels of the EU, the fight against homophobia is limited to monitoring issues, writing reports and adopting resolutions or amendments. Given the juridical framework and status of EU institutions, these are the few available instruments EU institutions have to combat homophobia. In terms of policy-making on eradicating homophobia, however, more concrete opportunities should be created and actions should be taken.

Position of AEGEE-Europe

AEGEE-Europe declares in its Statement of Principles its ‘faith in a Europe standing for liberty, democracy’, its ‘respect for human rights and the rule of law’, and its ‘will to cooperate with institutions that promote these concepts’. Consequently, AEGEE-Europe and its members are active supporters of European actions promoting equality and human rights. We recognise their importance in combating homophobia. Eradication of homophobia all legal means will make Europe more inclusive, ensuring equal opportunities and respect among citizens and in the legal systems.

AEGEE-Europe underlines the necessity to strongly condemn discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, as repeatedly stated by the European Parliament. Furthermore, AEGEE-Europe encourages all resolutions and amendments adopted by the various EU institutions that call upon countries in Europe to move towards ensuring equal opportunities, inclusion and respect, and provide protection against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity, and recognition of same-sex families. Hence, we agree that LGBT’s should not under any circumstance be discriminated based on prejudices regarding their sexual orientation and gender expression or identity, but be treated equally on a legal basis. Initiatives taken by European Institutions and civil society, that promote the human rights of LGBT’s and remind Member States and their authorities or their Human Rights obligation, contribute to the eradication of homophobia.

AEGEE-Europe affirms that homophobia, observable in critical and hostile behaviour such as discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientations that are non-heterosexual, should be combated by legal, political and educational means, in order for the combat to be effective and sustainable. We welcome all initiatives by European, national, regional and local authorities taken accordingly.

AEGEE-Europe strongly resents the current anti-gay movements in Europe. Herewith we especially refer to the new Russian law banning ‘homosexual propaganda’ and the outburst of violence in France in response to the approval of the ‘marriage-for-all-bill’. In turn, we approve the advance of samesex marriage throughout Europe.

Recommendations

Recommendations for NGO’s

First, AEGEE-Europe invites NGO’s working in the field of Human Rights and LGBT rights in particular, to increase their initiatives to combat homophobia. NGO’s should develop various educational strategies to inform European citizens about LGBT issues and rights linked to equality. Starting from regular public actions (e.g. International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO)) to Non-Formal Education initiatives (e.g. round-table discussions, working groups, international seminars, internships). We strongly advise the undertaking of joint initiatives and active cooperation with a variety of other relevant stakeholders to ensure the widest possible outreach.

Second, NGO’s are urged to keep track of and document international, European and national developments regarding homophobia and LGBT rights, and submit these in the form of reports to relevant stakeholders, policy makers and European, national, regional and local authorities.

Third, NGO’s are encouraged to pay special attention to promote their initiatives combating homophobia towards youth. AEGEE-Europe strongly believes including the younger generations of European citizens in those initiatives. This will actively inform them about the importance of respect, equality and human rights for LGBT’s will grow more tolerant human beings.

Fourth, NGO’s are encouraged to practice what they preach by promoting and facilitating equality and human rights for LGBT’s within their organisation.

Fifth, we stress the importance of cooperation of NGO’s with policy makers in developing operational strategies on combating homophobia, as law is a necessary condition for policy to work. The combination of education, political and juridical means is essential in successfully combating homophobia in a sustainable way.

Lastly, AEGEE-Europe underlines the importance of virtual campaigns in addition to personal contact and encourages the use of social media and online forums as tools for raising awareness on equality and human rights for LGBT’s and starting discussions regarding the matter.

Recommendations for collective action

First, AEGEE-Europe expresses its will to support the sharing of best practices and the promotion of joint activities. Only when active links between various sectors and different relevant stakeholders are forged, can homophobia be effectively combated. Establishing cooperation between NGO’s, academic institutions, enterprises, research institutions and political institutions will enhance the affectivity and efficiency of combating homophobia across varying market contexts. Participation in platforms like the European Youth Forum, which represents 99 youth organisations, will get the message across to tens of millions of young people from all over Europe and convince them to represent their common interest.

Second, we invite all relevant stakeholders, ranging from citizens and enterprises to political and educational contingents, to join, actively support or promote the yearly Pride Parade in their country or region. These Parades serve to create favourable conditions for the international and local openness and acceptance towards LGBT’s, and henceforth help to combat homophobia.

Third, AEGEE-Europe urges all relevant stakeholders and other interested parties, as well as policy makers, to actively support and take part in the IDAHO. This Day, created in 2004, opts for drawing attention of policymakers, opinion leaders, social movements, the public and the media to the issue and is therefore an easily accessible, effective, low key and visible moment to take action.

Finally, we underline the importance of sharing these practices outside the European continent. Both the Gay Prides and IDAHO already are examples of worldwide initiatives to combat homophobia. AEGEE-Europe encourages cooperation and initiatives between all networks worldwide operating around the common goal of promoting equality and human rights for LGBT’s and combating homophobia.

Recommendations for policy makers

First, AEGEE-Europe recognises both the difficulties and importance of the creation of overarching policies aiming to combat homophobia and strive for equality and human rights for LGBT’s. Despite the limited legal influence of EU institutions, a European-wide legal and policy framework should be established. This overarching, homogeneous framework should contain a clear set of rules for countries to ensure equality and human rights for LGBT’s in accordance with the Treaty of the European Union, the Treaty of the European Community and the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. Although the core ideal (equality) should remain the same, we realise that in different national legislations, the (protection and insurance of) equality and human rights for LGBT’s may be implemented differently.

Second, policymakers are encouraged to pay special attention to youth. AEGEE-Europe’s expertise in the field of youth and Non-Formal Education may be helpful towards developing creative and broad initiatives that enhance young people’s understanding of equality and human rights for LGBT’s. Policymakers are invited to facilitate these initiatives of AEGEE-Europe and organisations alike in the broadest sense of the word.

Finally, AEGEE-Europe stresses the need for empirical, evidence-based research and documentation on homophobia and the position of LGBT’s in all European countries. We urge policymakers to keep themselves informed on the most current situation at all times and respond accordingly.

About AEGEE

AEGEE/ European Students’ Forum was born in 1986 with the vision of creating a unified Europe, based on democracy and respect for human rights, bringing together students with different cultural backgrounds. Today, AEGEE is Europe’s largest interdisciplinary youth organisation: 40 countries, 200 cities, 13 000 friends.

This network provides the ideal platform for young volunteers to work together on cross-border activities such as international conferences, seminars, exchanges, training courses, and case study trips. In line with the challenges young people are currently facing in Europe, AEGEE’s work in the period 2011-14 is focused on three main areas: promotion of youth participation, development of European relations with its neighbours, and inclusion of minorities.