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Home / Resources / News / LGBT rights: should legislation or people’s attitudes change first?

LGBT rights: should legislation or people’s attitudes change first?

Article by Alessandro Valera

Caricatures by Dan Perjovschi

The agorà Transeuropa, the final event of TRANSEUROPA Festival, focused on the rights of minorities. Lesbians, gay, bisexuals and transsexual (LGBT) people are among the minority groups that are still discriminated in Europe. This type of discrimination is sometimes expressed as restriction on individual rights (gay men in most EU countries cannot donate blood, for example) or on access to institutions only opened to heterosexual couples (marriage, adoption etc.).

While the EU is among the most advanced places in the world in terms of respect for LGBT rights, the situation is patchy, with some countries, such as Sweden, Spain or the Netherlands, being close to offer full equality to LGBT citizens and others, such as Lithuania, even banning the word homosexual to be pronounced in schools.

Through the participation to the forum of Renato Sabbadini, President of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA Europe), Antonio Rotelli, President of Rete Lenford, a network of lawyers working on cases of LGBT discrimination in Italy and Jose Diaz Lafuente, an academic from the University of Valencia, as well as Sara Saleri and Alessandro Valera from European Alternatives, the forum was able to present the different legal situations regarding LGBT rights in Europe, and in the EU in particular. These speakers, together with the audience, discussed different way of ensuring LGBT rights were respected across the EU and beyond.

All participants agreed that what we should strive for equality for all groups, including LGBT people. So, rather than asking for special institutions that resemble marriage, like the UK or Germany have done with their civil partnership laws, existing institutions and legal practices (such as marriage and adoptions) should be open to all citizens, despite their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The dialogue continued between one of the speakers and a participant. Mr Sabbadini claimed that in all cases where marriage equality was reached, it was the products of decade of work by LGBT activists, feminists and other friendly groups to educate society about these issues through the production of films, books arts, public debates, pride parades etc. In a nutshell “you have to change society before you can change the laws”, Mr Sabbadini said. A participant from Bulgaria disagreed with this approach, saying that, especially when countries join in the European Union and have access to a certain sets of rights, they should have access to all rights granted by the EU, including the right to marry or to adopt, even if this needs to be imposed by a central authority. In this case “you have to change the laws to change society”. It was broadly agreed that both side of the story had some value and that the two are not mutually exclusive: changing people’s attitudes towards LGBT people and fighting for legal equality should be pursued simultaneously, through political as well as cultural and artistic means.

What’s your opinion? Should society change to make room for legal changes, or should an “enlightened” legislator change the laws so that society, by abiding to them, learns the importance of protecting LGBT rights?

Also, what could the EU do to protect minority rights? And how could equality activists across Europe work together to see everybody’s rights granted in the whole of Europe?