Thursday, 11 December 2008

ILGA: Different Families, Same Love exhibition at the European Parliament

10th December 2008
Speech by Silvan Agius in the European Parliament, Policy and Programmes Officer

Distinguished Members of the European Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Guests,
I would like to thank Ms Hélène Goudin MEP for hosting this exhibition at the European Parliament and for sponsoring tonight’s reception. I would also like to thank the LGBT Rights Intergroup for all the work that they have put into making this exhibition possible.
I would like to start my speech by telling you something around the origins of this roving exhibition that we are presenting to you tonight.

Images sometimes speak a thousand words, and we at ILGA-Europe wanted to explore this medium to raise awareness of the various challenges that LGBT families face in Europe. We wanted to put faces to these families, composed of younger and older people, men and women, parents, sons and daughters, and identify 12 of their human rights concerns. Through these images we then wanted to ask the audience:

Do you really want these people’s love and relationships to remain vulnerable, solely on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity?

This exhibition was launched at the end of October at the Vienna City Hall in cooperation with the Viennese Sexual Orientation Anti-Discrimination Unit just a day before the start of ILGA-Europe’s 2008 Annual Conference. It has since travelled to Sofia in Bulgaria, where it was exhibited during an LGBT cultural festival. Before travelling further, we wanted to ensure then that this exhibition makes it to the European Parliament on this very important day – the commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Today is a day of reflection for all of us, particularly those that work directly or indirectly in the sphere of human rights. We reflect on where we have come from, and the human rights challenges that many people in the world still face.

When it comes to the recognition of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) families, we find many firsts in Europe. Denmark was the first to introduce registered partnership during 1989 and the Netherlands the first to provide for marriage equality in 2001. Since 1989, there were significant and progressive developments at national level in many European countries, and currently, half of the EU Member States provide some form of recognition of same-sex partners. Debates around recognition are currently taking place in many of the remaining Member States, most notably Ireland and Austria where bills have been tabled before the respective national parliaments, and Sweden that is expected to introduce marriage equality in the coming months.

In Europe of today, we are also witnessing a growing awareness around the hardship of the celibacy requirement – or rather forced divorces – that transgender persons have to fulfil prior to their recognition in the new gender role.
It has to be said though: This year was a good year!

We have celebrated two important decisions taken by the European courts. In January, the European Court of Human Rights delivered its judgement in a case of E.B. v France stating that the exclusion of individuals from the application process for adoption of children simply because of their sexual orientation is discriminatory and is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. In April, the European Court of Justice ruled that the refusal to grant Mr Maruko his survivor’s pension constituted direct discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, since he and his partner had entered into a German ‘life partnership’ (which partnership is comparable to different-sex marriage).

We have also witnessed some important developments with far reaching consequences ranging from the European Commission’s proposal for a new Anti-Discrimination Directive (to level the protections afforded to the Art 13 grounds of anti-discrimination), to the increasing dissatisfaction around the poor way in which the Freedom of Movement Directive was implemented by several EU Member States when it comes to its application towards LGBT families.

We should however, remain on guard. Not everything is resolved yet. Discrimination against LGBT families is still a daily concern for us and our members. We receive emails drawing our attention to specific issues that may have been overlooked by legislators; problems experienced by refugee LGBT families; loss of social security; unjust inheritance tax and the list goes on.
As the MEPs amongst us will know, since these that these images, that have only been exhibited here since Monday have started a significant debate in Parliament around the core issue that we are all pondering today:

How can we permit ourselves to allow the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
to celebrate one birthday after another without addressing the human rights gaps
of LGBT families?
Of course, this exhibition will not solve the problems
highlighted. We hope however, that as this exhibition continues its tour around
Europe, it will continue to win hearts and minds one by one, and that it will
serve as a tool for our member organisations to make a case for the full
recognition and equality of the diversity of families and family relationships
in their respective contexts.

Thank you.

See photos here:

Silvan Aguis
Policy & Programmes Officer, ILGA Europe
The European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association
Rue Belliard straat 12, Brussels B-1040 Belgium
tel.: + 32 2 609 5417; mob.: + 32 488 35 5423; fax: + 32 2 609 5419
skype: silvan-agius

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