Friday, 21 June 2013

Equal Rights, Human Rights

Jonathan BrimmerCommunications Coordinator
Ministry for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties
May 2013
At a time when the fundamental rights of LGBT persons are being discussed in national parliaments across the European Union, a European-wide survey conducted by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) found that nearly a half of all respondents had felt discriminated against on grounds of sexual orientation in the past year before the survey. The results were presented during the first international ministerial forum organised by the Government of The Netherlands to mark the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) on 17 May 2013, which took place in The Hague.

Around 93,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from all across the EU and Croatia completed the survey, making it the largest and most comprehensive survey of its kind to date. LGBT people were asked whether they had experienced discrimination, violence, verbal abuse or hate speech on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Participants were also asked to identify where such incidents took place, such as at school, work, when seeking healthcare or in public places.

Minister Helena Dalli signing the Call to the European Commission to adopt a comprehensive policy approach on combatting discrimination against LGBT people

It is worrying that the largest LGBT hate crime and discrimination survey ever conducted shows that many LGBT people in Europe cannot be themselves in their daily lives. As the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights has put it, “Many hide their identity and live in isolation or even fear. Others experience discrimination, and even violence, when being themselves.”

 Minister Helena Dalli meeting with students at the Hofstad Lyceum

This is one of the reasons why ministers from 13 EU countries and the Flanders region in Belgium met in The Netherlands to sign a joint declaration calling on the European Commission to adopt a common policy approach on a European level to combat discrimination on the basis on sexual orientation and gender identity. This declaration was signed amongst others, by the Maltese Minister responsible for civil liberties and equality, Dr Helena Dalli.

The joint call to the European Commission recognises that the EU is already a key player in combating discrimination against LGBT people, however “it is now time to consolidate its position in this area, by ensuring that its actions are and will remain, consistent and sustainable.” The call goes on to say that EU action “is necessary to coordinate and promote efforts at the EU level and share good practice and to support efforts at the national level in order to make progress towards a Europe free from homophobia and transphobia. Taking action to prevent discrimination and providing remedies can make a difference not only for the millions of LGBT citizens in Europe, but for all.”

Addressing fellow ministers, the Dutch host, Jet Bussemaker, Minister for Education, Culture and Science, said that equality and social acceptance require an alert and active government. National governments, she said, has the responsibility to create legislation as required, based on the “responsibility to protect” and ensuring the “right to a relationship”. Referring to NGOs and other individuals who are at the forefront in this ‘fight’, Minister Bussemaker said that national governments must support those who spearhead the cause by “encouraging them and standing up for them.”

In a read speech to mark the occasion, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said that the fight against homophobia is a core part of the broader battle for human rights for all. He said that this fight sits alongside the long-standing work of the UN to eliminate racism and promote gender equality. While promising his commitment to the struggle to combat this form of discrimination, Ki-moon said that “for far too long, their (LGBT people) suffering was met with silence in the halls of power”.

Minister Helena Dalli said that the fight for more rights to LGBT people is a struggle for more human rights. During her speech before the signing of the joint call to the European Commission, Dr Dalli said that “Our commitment as policy-makers and decision-makers is to ensure that our citizens, whom we were elected to represent, are respected and treated as equals. We are duty bound to uphold their fundamental rights as human beings. We have the responsibility to listen, act and legislate to ensure that they live in happiness as anybody else.”

Visit to Hofstad Lyceum

As part of this conference, the ministers were taken to a secondary school, called the Hofstad Lyceum, where students and teachers are actively committed to ensuring a safe and tolerant environment to all people, irrespective of whom they are or where they are coming from. The school, which celebrates and embraces diversity, is built on an American concept which has proven successful.

Students attending the school discussed diversity and discrimination issues with the ministers. They explained to them their extra-curricular projects in this area. The students have recently produced a short film and a publication on society, homosexuality and discrimination.

Minister Helena Dalli believes that discrimination can only be eliminated if we start teaching our children from a young age to embrace diversity as a norm. Education, she said, has to start from the family and at school. She explained that discussions between her Ministry and the Ministry for Education and Employment are underway on how best to introduce sexual diversity education in schools.

Royal Encounter

The IDAHO conference in The Hague saw the participation of Queen Máxima of The Netherlands, who is still settling in her new role as Queen consort.

Queen Máxima is a strong supporter of LGBT rights and marriage equality. As princess she attended an LGBT conference supporting full equality in 2008. She was the first royal ever to take such a public stance. In a royal first, the new Queen has indicated she will attend and open a marriage equality conference this summer. She will be the first Royal to attend a marriage equality event.

The Queen was eager to learn more about the Maltese Government’s plan to address discrimination and grant rights to LGBT people. Minister Dalli and Queen Máxima discussed what has been achieved so far and where Malta intends to go on this issue.


The countries which have signed the joint call to the European Commission, including Malta, hope that ultimately it’s not only the governments, or the European Union, which should uphold equal rights but the people themselves should embrace diversity and apply the rules and legislation enacted by governments to protect their citizens.

As the Dutch Minister has said during her speech, “As a society, we are not a collection of individuals. Each of us exists in relation to others. Being open to others, accepting them in their ‘otherness’ is a prerequisite for everyone to live in harmony. As partners, as a family, as neighbours, as colleagues, as passers-by in the street. If LGBT people are not safe when they walk hand in hand in public, if transgenders encounter harassment at work, and if stereotypes and prejudices hinder young people in their development – then it’s not just their problem alone. It’s a problem that affects all of society.”

Salient points of the EU LGBT survey:
  • Some 26% of respondents (and 35% of transgender respondents) said they had been attacked or threatened with violence in the past five years.
  • Most of the reported hate attacks took place in public and were perpetrated by more than one person, with the attackers predominantly being male.
  • More than half of those who said they had been attacked did not report the incident to the authorities, believing no action would be taken.
  • Half of respondents said they had felt personally discriminated against in the year before the survey, although 90% did not report the discrimination.
  • Some 20% of gay or bisexual respondents (and 29% of transgender respondents) said they had suffered discrimination at work or when looking for a job.
  • Two-thirds of respondents said they had tried to hide or disguise their sexuality at school.
More information on the research findings can be obtained from the website of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights

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