Green Party: LGBT equality is at stake in next week’s European elections

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Green Party MEP for London Jean Lambert writes for PinkNews on why LGBT rights could be under threat if right-wing parties do well in next week’s European elections.

Conchita Wurst winning Eurovision for Austria was a dramatic moment, not just because it was a powerful pop song, delivered brilliantly by a stylish diva who happened to have a beard. It also delivered an equally powerful message of support for freedom of expression and diversity from citizens across the continent. With homophobia and transphobia still sadly commonplace, and state-sanctioned persecution on the rise globally, this message of tolerance was an example of Europe at its best.

Next week we have a less glamorous and more gritty European vote coming up, but an important one which will hopefully still capture the imagination of LGBTI citizens across Europe – the elections for the European Parliament.

Perhaps more than any recent Euro election there is everything to play for this time round, with the future direction of Europe in the balance. The MEPs who are returned to Brussels will make a difference for the continued progress of LGBTI rights. If recent polls are correct, there’s a real danger that politicians who don’t believe in equality or human rights will make progress on May 22nd. These are people who pretend to speak “common sense” but have no concern for the common good; instead they preach the politics of hate under the auspices of so-called “family values”.

We cannot let them gain ground and return us to the dark old days. If enough of these extremists, xenophobes and homophobes have their fingers on the voting buttons, we will see a stripping away of cross-border protections from discrimination that we have worked to build over the last few decades.

The European Parliament has been at the heart of the battle for LGBTI rights in Europe, putting it on the table of national governments and enshrining equality into EU laws. Recent progress has been made on the protection of victims’ rights, the succession rights of same-sex partners, recognising LGBT asylum seekers, and tackling workplace discrimination.

But legislation is only part of the answer; the protections that exist are still patchily applied and discrimination continues to be an issue amongst all EU members. A major European study found one in four members of the LGBT community had faced violence because of their sexuality, and 91% were poorly treated at school if they were perceived as being gay. While intolerance and discrimination remains, there is work to be done within Europe, as well as outside it.

LGBTI rights are an international issue – they are human rights which know no borders – so within the EU a comprehensive, common approach is needed to make sure everyone is treated with equal respect and dignity.

The European Parliament recently backed calls for a roadmap which would help create this common approach to tackling homophobia and transphobia in the EU, supporting a landmark report written by my Green MEP colleague Ulrike Lunacek. This must be taken forward in the next session.

Yet progress on the roadmap and other LGBTI issues will be stalled or halted if the far right gains ground – we cannot let that happen. The result is not a done deal – the only poll that matters is the one on May 22nd and we need enough progressive thinkers to get out and vote and stop the extremists from gaining ground.

In the European Parliament elections we must send the same strong message that we did at Eurovision: homophobia and transphobia are not welcome here.

Jean Lambert is the Green Party MEP for London.