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Conference on the Fundamental Rights of LGBT People
8-9 November 2006


2006-11-28 12:45:34

 

Magda Ksn Kovcs

Vice-president of the PES Group, Chair of the Horizontal Working Group Citizens' Europe

 

Underlining the importance of having this conference before 2007 as it is the year of equal opportunities, she stated that generally speaking, intolerance is growing, especially in Eastern Europe with new regressive laws.

She made two main suggestions:

-         The different parties have to take their responsibility, which entails:

o       fighting intolerance against LGBT people

o       working with NGO's

o       preventing violence

o       knowing that any kind of intolerance goes against Europe and its values and the ones who are pro-Europe have to fight this intolerance

-         Solutions can be found, but there is a need for:

o       Better communication and reinforcement of national education in order to extinguish the taboos

o       A review of the categories of criminal law, as non-respect starts with verbal offences, which is hard to combat

She continued saying that the EU is complex and in the new member states, homosexuality is still taboo (in 2002 a Hungarian court judged homosexual relations "against-nature"). Mostly where the (Catholic) church is powerful, the opinion against LGBT is strong. Although it is difficult because it is an issue of morality, she emphasised that she is proud of the socialists for trying to find a constructive solution. She concluded by saying that it is the duty of the European institutions to implement European values.

 

Patricia Prendiville

Executive director, ILGA-Europe

 

About ILGA, she stated that it is a Brussels based, international NGO that represents about 500 organisations (200 in Europe) and has been active for 28 years. ILGA's general goal is to have a world free of discriminations. She highlighted that some goals that have been reached; results are visible but much remains to be done. She stated that there is a need to go back to basics, to the texts of the old human rights treaties.

She mentioned several actions that should be taken:

-         There is a need to establish links with political parties

-         There is a need to be aware of the universal character of fundamental rights

-         There is a need to take a holistic approach covering legal, social, cultural and economic areas (if a directive is for example only covering one sector such as work, it contributes to the creation of a disillusion, as it is only for one aspects of every-day life).

 

The challenges ILGA and the EU are facing are of different kinds, she stated, such as political, legal, social, intellectual and ideological. What is needed according to her is a definition of equality. She stressed that the rights of LGBT people are fundamental rights, not special rights. She suggested that anti-discrimination should be mainstreamed; we should see the different identities of one single person (and the intolerances he or she has to face). Most of the states have their law packages but how to make them respect these laws in practice? We need to improve the political will and we need to work on a stronger social coherence while considering the question what social model do we want in Europe? She furthermore emphasised that, although the respect for religion is important, there is also a right to have no religion and we need to develop a different kind of set of values.

The EP has adopted 2 resolutions this year which will start the debate, she said, and it is important to have debates and conferences. She stressed the importance of working together, to exchange information and to cooperate internationally. She concluded by saying that even today, people are mistreated despite the progress that has been accomplished and it is an absolute necessity to work together.

 

Carmen Montn Gimnez

Member of Parliament (Spain), Rapporteur on the law on same sex marriages and on the law on gender identity

 

She started by discussing the issue of same sex marriage in Spain. The issue showed up that there is still a clear distinction between political parties (improvements in LGBT rights being essentially done in left-winged governments). In Spain, liberties have already been conquered; anyway today there are still a lot of quality related improvements to do. She highlighted that the law reform concerning marriages has been easy from a technical point of view but very difficult from a social point of view because it has the ability to change society. One of the questions this new law had to face, according to her, was: why change the marriage law? The answer being: to truly extend equality. She explained how it was important to keep the same name, marriage; otherwise equality wouldn't have been total as there is no reason to give different names to the same thing. Marriage is also a matter of recognition of dignity and it is important in the interest of the children. She emphasised that a number of studies show that there are no differences between children living in homosexual or heterosexual families. She stated furthermore that it hasn't been easy to implement this law as there has been a lot of protest, also from the church, but not only the church. She argued that the church has a right to give its opinion but the final decision has to be made by the elected politicians. On the topic of same sex marriage she concluded that it is a step which will be made in the most modern societies where individual liberty and the right to be a citizen is more important than some moral or religious code.

On the law on gender equality she stated that the Spanish constitution contains the right of free development of one's personality and goes against any discrimination including sex based discrimination. She highlighted that transgender is an unknown reality, misunderstood and forgotten (9 out of 10 transgender people have no job). She stressed that it is not only important to understand this situation but there is also a need for the entire society to acknowledge it. Sexual identity shouldn't be a jail. This is why the Spanish government wants to establish legislation in order to provide solutions to the problems linked to gender identity.

 

In conclusion she said that these two laws allow for full citizenship and for not having second class citizens. She stressed that Spain will be more open and tolerant as a result. These laws give a solution to the problems of people and that is the criterion to see if a government is doing a good job or not.

 

Genowefa Grabowska

MEP, PES

She said she was jealous about the Spanish situation and that she will try to explain the Polish one. She asked herself the question: human rights are taught in Poland like in all the other countries, so why is there this specific situation in Poland?

She subsequently described three phases in order to answer this question:

-         Elimination of the criminality of being an LGBT person

-         Educating people to become tolerant, introducing anti-discrimination measures

-         Equality for all: political, social and family rights

 

This third phase isn't implemented yet in Poland according to Grabowska. She highlighted that, since 1932, homosexuality has officially been away from the criminal sphere, which isn't the case in every country, such as Sudan or Yemen, where LGBT people still have to face death-penalty.

According to her, Poland is now in the second phase with "forced" anti-discrimination measures (there are in Polish laws since 2002). For example a law of 2002 instituted a "mediator" for gender equality and sexual tendencies. She stated that this mediator has been abolished by the current conservative government. Since Poland is a young democracy with still a lot of taboos that do not only concern LGBT people, she emphasised that as themes like LGBT rights are discussed in the Netherlands or Spain, Poland still has to learn democratically. She stressed that it is important to keep in mind that not the entire country is against LGBT rights.

In conclusion, Grabowska referred to the one definition of tolerance in the UNESCO Convention of 1995: "tolerance is respect and the acceptance of all the diversity of the world". We need tolerance in the every-day life of everybody. She concluded by saying that even if a judicial system is very complete, it is necessary to teach children about it in order to have a better and more tolerant society.

 

 

Debate

 

Jan Feddersen:

He stated that all legislative achievements in Europe weren't realised in one day. In Spain it wasn't only the PSOE who fought but also a lot of activists, NGO's and left-wing parties. Spain is the stereotype of a catholic democracy but in reality 76% of the people were in favour of modernising the laws. It's an ensemble of facts which allows this achievement.

Carlo Carnero Gonzlez:

Highlighted the need for unification of different sectors of the law.

 

Marco Volante:

He wondered what actions the LGBT community and the EP have to take together. What are the hopes of the politicians?

 

Luc Roger:

He asked whether, if a country has a homophobic past, the European advances regress at a national level.

 

Patricia Prendiville:

She stated that it is clear that we need more political willingness to improve the situation for LGBT people. 2007 is a very important year; it will be the occasion to increase political pressure.

 

Genowefa Grabowska:

What can the EP do? It hasn't many competences in changing mentalities and it definitely needs the support of member states. Today, harmonisation is a big problem. But progress is made, by reaching consensus in different sectors. If society evolves, the progress will come hand in hand.

 

 

 

PANEL II: 9 November 09.00-11.00

 

Martin Roure

MEP, PES

Stressing that homophobia has to be banished from the EU, she named several measures that have already been taken:

-         The Charter of human rights

-         EP resolutions

-         2007, year of equal opportunities for all

 

She emphasised however that still several heads of governments do not take account of it and that LGBT people still are denounced, beaten up or even murdered. She argued that we have to see how we can react to this situation and how to find solutions.

 

Tomasz Baczkowski

President of the Equality Foundation (Poland)

Presentation of the Equality Foundation: different organisations that came together and organised a parade for equality: the gay pride.

He continued with some words on the situation in Eastern Europe:

-         Homosexuality is seen as something occidental, loaded with stereotypes and prejudices

-         There is a great lack of possibilities of action: Poland for example has no real sexual education

-         Nowadays there are strong feelings of adherence, but the situation related to LGBT people is a new one. Now it is possible to speak about this subject, but, in official contexts, it is only used to divert the public attention, as was the case for the Jewish population.

 

He discussed the gay pride and explained that two years ago it was forbidden, one year later again but nevertheless 5000 people demonstrated. This year people could demonstrate in a legal way and about 10000 people participated. But this result was only possible thanks to European pressure and international support, he stated, for example 15 members of foreign Parliaments participated. He emphasised that the gay pride in Poland is not only a party, but it has political value, the government only allows it to preserve face.

He applauded the work of the European institutions but resolutions sometimes only stay in the phase of paperwork, missing their goal. He wondered whether there are other possibilities for Parliament to act.

He said that the issue of homophobia is for us a very big problem as it is our problem. He stressed that laws have to be applied; we need a legislative framework to implement them. It is a scandal to hear a Member State minister calling LGBT people paedophiles and gangsters without a reaction from the institutions.

In conclusion he stated: we don't want to be tolerated, we want to be accepted.

 

 

Victor Makarov

researcher, Dialogi.lv (Latvia)

He discribed the situation in Latvia: homosexuality was decriminalised in 1992. In 2005 (after the accession) same-sex marriages were banned, in 2006 the sexual orientation criterion was added to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination in labour law and the first gay-pride (first prohibited, then finally allowed) took place in 2005, but at the same time a demonstration against LGBT also took place. In 2006 the gay pride has been prohibited in order to avoid violence and trouble.

He highlighted that a scientific investigation has been made to analyse the feelings and the opinion towards LGBT people and he stated that one of the common prejudices that came out was that homosexuality is an illness. Generally, the study shows, tolerance for LGBT people is linked to the age of people.

He stated furthermore that homophobia is a factor linked to democracy: some people use prejudices against the LGBT community. He argued that if this kind of speech changes, the common opinion may change as well.

He wondered what left-winged parties can do. According to him, they have to defend fundamental rights, the case of LGBT people being the last great test in old Soviet countries, equality and respect for human diversity. He argued that this has to be promoted by the entire party and not only isolated candidates. There is a need for action in countries where the problems are most pressing, as for example an LGBT conference in Latvia in 2007, the year of equal opportunities for all.

 

Stefan Olsson

European Commission, DG EMPL, Head of Unit, Action against Discrimination, Civil Society

He started by saying that progress has been made in Europe, but there is still a long way to go, notably in the new member states. He continued that normally discrimination goes from one individual to another, but in some cases discrimination has been institutionalized and it can be found in political speeches. He argued that this is where the challenge is biggest. As the ILGA report shows, a lot of suffering lies behind this discrimination as 71% of young gay men have contemplated suicide.

 

He subsequently mentioned several instruments of the European institutions:

-         The EU condemns any kind of discrimination, December 2006 is the final deadline for implementing the Employment Directive and the Race Directive signed in 2000 and the Commission is currently checking the implementation of these directives (adopted on basis of Art 13 of Treaty).

-         Commission statements condemning homophobia confirm it as being a violation of human rights.

-         Important to make the people aware of their rights; impact of these directives are analysed, different studies are prepared for different countries.

-         Using 2007 to launch the debate and make these problems visible: a 15m budget is foreseen.

-         There is a budget of 700M from which 23% is taken for anti-discrimination issues with the principal aim to reach the public.

 

In conclusion he emphasised that some positive effects are already visible as governments have identified the different actors to launch the dialogue. He announced that more instruments to fight discrimination will be initialised next spring. He stated that social exclusion is a very important problem and there is a need to adopt a global view and strategy. There is still a lot to be done to have a full involvement of civil society and stakeholders.

 

Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg

MEP, PES

She started by giving an analysis of the situation in Poland:

-         She stated that many young people are afraid and do not dare to 'come out' because the standard is the image of the traditional family model.

-         She described how the Council of Europe had given out a publication for teachers in which a very small part was dedicated to LGBT people, encouraging teachers for example to establish contact with NGO's and to invite them into their classes. This publication was banned from Poland.

-         She argued that this shows how a link is made between homosexuality, paedophilia and criminal activities and this amalgam is made deliberately.

-         As another example she mentioned that, when she directed a philharmonic society, she invited the "Gay Boston Chorus" which led to demonstrations and a press campaign against her.

About the work of the EP, she said that resolutions and votes are not just papers but texts of law. They always represent a compromise, for example the second resolution voted in June counted 300 in favour and 262 members either abstained or voted against. The Polish vice-prime minister rejected it completely and qualified the Polish socialist MEPs as traitors. She furthermore highlighted that 2007 will dispose of a budget of 15M and that in that same year an institute for equality of opportunities (Gender Institute) will start its work with a budget of 52M until 2013.

In conclusion she stated that tolerance means respect of the diversity and the difference of everyone. She argued that today we need this respect to achieve our goals.

 

 

Debate

 

Justus Eisfeld:

He pointed out that the rights for LGBT people are part of the social cohesion and not just anti-discrimination issues. ADSF (anti discrimination social fund) should also be applied for LGBT people. He also underlined that LGBT people are well protected but that many do not know yet. This knowledge has to be spread around.

 

Gregory Vallianotos:

Welcomed the initiatives of the EU but stated that a lot of work still has to be done. He encouraged the audience to use publicity to get their fights and problems known by the public. He also highlighted the fact that in Greece the situation is not as good as presented.

 

Stefan Olsson:

Concerning the question on ADSF, he answered that Cmmissioner Spidla was willing to use it for every issue relating to discrimination. However, one big problem remains with the lack of actual data. He argued for a technical process to show that help can be realised and quantified. 2007 also has to be used as a big opportunity for the collection of data. Concerning the question on implementation of the two directives, he highlighted again a certain lack of data. He furthermore underlined that implementation may be a very long process. Dialogue is established with Poland, but he said he wasn't allowed to give more information on specific countries.

 

Florentina Bocioc:

She expressed her concerns about the situation in Romania were homophobia is part of the politicians agenda. As the gay pride was organised, a counter demonstration took place, which had the support of politicians. She stated that most politicians do not have the courage to support LGBT people and their rights.

 

Julius Kolenic:

He gave an overview on the situation in Slovakia which is now in the second of the three phases described by Grabowska (educating people to become tolerant and introducing anti-discrimination measures). He welcomed the opportunity given by the year of equal opportunities for all to let things progress further.

 

 

 

 

Ralf-Rene Weingrtner:

Concerning Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg's story related to the publication of the Council of Europe, he stated that the general secretariat had reacted and he called upon the Commission to cooperate.

 

Thibaud Willette:

He underlined that the rights for protecting LGBT people are very well developed nowadays but that nevertheless a fresh outbreak of homophobia can be seen. He also highlighted the need of European help to collect data and asked what the capacities will be of the institute of gender equality.

 

Sabine Gillessen:

She expressed her concerns about the attribution of aid and money. Wondered how to make sure that LGBT is not forgotten and funds allocated in a fair way.

 

Conny Paatzsch:

She highlighted that a lot of discrimination is still present in the area of services. More anti discrimination policy for the youth is needed. Socialists have to take the initiative; otherwise nobody will take it according to her.

Hajnalka Rakaczki:

She called for a more efficient directive on civil partnerships.

 

Frank van Dalen:

He underlined the need for a program supporting local LGBT initiatives.

 

Geringer de Oedenberg:

She highlighted a budgetary problem; since two and a half years the budget has not increased. But, as Europe grows, the need grows. However, governments tighten the belt more and more.

 

Tomasz Baczkowski:

He expressed some hope for changes in Poland and underlined the importance of the conference which shows clearly that they are not alone in their fight. He also highlighted the difficulties for NGOs to get funds as certain governments prefer to loose that money rather than giving it to LGBT rights defending organisations.

 

Victor Makarov:

He underlined the need for political action on national level and the need for support from local social democrats since all cannot be done in Brussels.

 

Stefan Olsson:

He stated the need for action. One goal of 2007, the year of equal opportunities for all, is to launch the debate and create a political boost.

 

 

 

PANEL III

 

Ralf-Ren Weingrtner

Council of Europe, director of Youth and Sport, responsible for the campaign: "All Different - All Equal: European Youth Campaign for Diversity, Human Rights and Participation"

M. Weingrtner presented the campaign against discrimination he is responsible for:

  • He highlighted the importance of opposing discrimination of all kinds
  • He pointed out the need to show the positive aspects of diversity which is richness; most campaigns or actions against discrimination pointing out negative aspects
  • His campaign is a youth campaign, as Weingrtner is convinced that working with young people is essential; they are often victims of violence. There is a need to protect them and to see them as active partners. He also underlined that the Council of Europe is the only international official organisation where the youth has some say.
  • The campaign started in Saint-Petersburg, and the LGBT rights were included in its declaration and were not a taboo, even though it started in Russia, the organisers noticed a strong LGBT participation.

He furthermore pointed out the need for support from the different member states, also in terms of budget.

He referred again to Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg's remarks about the Polish ban of a publication of the Council of Europe and stated that the secretary general of the Council of Europe had asked for clarification in vain. Therefore the issue will be brought up before the committee of ministers.

For M. Weingrtner, tolerance towards difference is unsufficient, the key is education by teaching the right values to the young.

 

Joke Swiebel

Former MEP and former Chair of the Gays and Lesbian Rights Intergroup

 

Ms. Swiebel underlined the fact that this conference was the first one that the PES Group organizes on the topic of LGBT human rights.

In Ms. Swiebel's opinion four things are needed by the European socialists to defend fundamental rights and to fight against homophobia:

  • A vision. Socialists often link homophobia with extreme-right movements (which is of course true) but they tend to forget the old fashioned prejudices about the proper roles of men and women which represents the common enemy of feminist and LGBT movements; European Socialists should recognize that LGBT rights are fundamental rights and not be afraid to discuss this issue in their own party, having a serious introspection
  • A plan would be a position paper or a programme pointing out that LGBT rights are fundamental rights and therefore not negotiable. They have to be mainstreamed at the level of the European Union. The PES should put the issue on the European agenda. The Declaration of Montreal could be a source of inspiration for this plan.
  • A network: this international network shouldn't only depend on party members, it should work as an early warning system, Swiebel welcomed the recent establishment of Rainbow Rose hoping that it will develop into the kind of network that is needed.
  • Credibility: credibility can be won by showing political will. Top leaders of the PES should declare that LGBT rights are on the top of their agenda, not only moral support but practical help is needed. It is also necessary to gain on visibility; LGBT people should get a fair chance to get positions of leadership in member parties as well as in the PES; authenticity and authority are also important to gain credibility. The PES must take the lead in fighting homophobia in Europe, for this the PES should discuss the Declaration of Montreal and consider endorsing it.

 

 

Ms. Sabine Gillessen

policy adviser, Queer Nations - LSVD

Ms. Gillessen informed about the way to manage a LGBT socialistic policy. She pointed out the fact that the big advantage of the Socialist Group compared to others who share some values (like the Greens for example) lies in its size. She argued that the socialists need a top-down process; influence must come from Europe to the member states, to the different parties.

The socialists need:

  • A common goal, as human rights are the same for all, this has to be clear in the different programs.
  • A common campaign, for example based on the Declaration of Montreal introduced by Joke Swiebel. Strategies and structures have to be the same ones on local, national and European level in order to introduce a dialogue that would link the party, NGO's and the government. The European level to be constituted by rainbow rose, the Council and the EP.
  • It would be possible to create a big socialistic network in Europe; even if Socialists working on LGBT rights are well represented, the cross-links are still missing
  • A common topic, this topic should be presented in a positive manner, as homophobia is always presented in a negative sense. It is not necessary that gay or lesbians represent gay or lesbians but it is important to have a person to contact as public relations are very important.

In conclusion she stated that if the socialists manage to build a common campaign they should have no problem to win the leadership in LGBT rights related issues.

Mr. Martin Engman and Rodrigo Martn Galn

Rainbow Rose

Mr. Martn Galn and Mr. Engman presented a European network whose goal it is to help bring progressive equality. The network has to take into account the disparities of the different European regions. Differences are visible in a political (laws) as well as a social way (how far is homosexuality accepted).

The rainbow rose network was born in 2005 as LGBT socialists had come to Madrid to assist the organisers of the Gay pride. The PES recognised the network as a working group. Nowadays, socialists need this network to stay leaders in the defence and promotion of fundamental rights.

The network coordinates action and provides information and support. It raises awareness on the LGBT situation by collecting data and benchmarking the ways to change reality with respect to different backgrounds. Its message is clear: change is possible; it is a question of time, political will and patience. M. Engman presented the example of Sweden, remembering that 16 years ago it was a homophobic country, but that now same sex parenthood is recognized. Here the Socialists had been the driving force against injustice. Three things are needed to allow for changes: organisation, education and influence. One possible strategy is for example harmonization. In the 5 Nordic countries, as soon as one had reached something in relation to fundamental rights, the others followed.

M. Engman concluded by highlighting that this conference is a historical one as it is the first conference organised by the European Socialists for LGBT people.

 

 

 

 

Debate:

 

It was stated that the attitude showed by socialists is inapproachable in practice as well as in declarations. He pointed out the importance of figuring out different strategies and to watch out for opportunities to implement mainstreaming. He also asked for a more clarified legislative situation.

Jan Feddersen:

He pointed out that until now there is no monument recording the suffering of LGBT persecuted by the Nazis during World War II. And this is not only due to historical reasons.

He also underlined that taking up the theme of the family is a positive one, but that negative aspects can't be put aside as hatred is not bearable.

 

Hanna Isbom:

She raised the question about the tools of the PES to put pressure on its members and . how to follow the examples of Spain or the Netherlands.

Frank van Dalen:

He warned not to put too much socialistic policy into the NGO's in order to avoid that people refuse the dialogue, seeing in them only a left-wing organisation.

Justus Eisfeld:

He stated that a lot of work remains to be done and that even in countries like Sweden the situation is still far from perfect, especially for transgender people.

Sabine Gillessen:

Agreed with the fact that it is bad for both the party and NGOs if NGOs are to politicised. The work has to be done in parallel manner.

She stated that the success in Spain was to be attributed to the fact that they were able to propose a counter-model. In Germany there is a need for positive examples. family could be the one.

 

Joke Swiebel:

She gave some indications as to how to put pressure on PSE members either to develop a position paper or the organisation of a panel at the next meeting where members could be asked what they are willing to do in matters of LGBT rights.

 

Martn Galn:

He highlighted that it is important to share the best experiences. Rainbow Rose can provide for this kind of information.

 

Martin Engman:

He informed the participants about Rainbow Rose's attempt to have a panel at the Socialist group meeting in Porto in December. He also pointed out that there is still a lot of work to be done in Sweden.

 

Ralf-Rene Weingrtner:

He highlighted the importance of being involved in mainstream initiatives and to reach out to young people.

 

Concluding Statements

 

Lissy Grner:

She thanked everybody for the quality of the conference and highlighted that much remains to be done. She underlined the importance for the different groups to join the network and stressed the fact that they are not alone in their fight as socialists are a big family.

 

Ms. Martine Roure:

She pointed out that even though equality of chances is a fundamental value, it is not respected yet. Discrimination based on sexual preference or sexuality has to be excluded. Therefore there is a need for a better transposition of European legislation. Ms. Roure highlighted that this legislation already exists and it is the duty of European Socialists to assure that it is respected. There is a need to create an early warning system. It is equally important to make sure that the rights are well-known and to praise diversity. PES and member states need a common program. It is the duty of the EU to defend the victims of persecutions also outside the EU and to promote European values outside its borders. Ms Roure insisted on the fact that "we" have to defend the rights of everyone everywhere in the world.

 

Nicolas Anen

PES Group trainee

 

 

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