Comment: It’s time to act on LGBT rights across Europe

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Labour MEP Anneliese Dodds writes for PinkNews to mark the start of Pride season, and calls for co-operation across Europe on LGBT rights.

As Pride season begins, I’m looking forward to, once again, joining friends celebrating the diversity and role that our LGBTI community plays in society.

Sadly, there is still much more we need to do – including on transgender rights – before we have full equality regardless of sexual orientation or gender.

As a member of the European Parliament’s LGBTI Intergroup, I’m so pleased that Ireland has taken the historic step of voting for equal marriage, but across the EU, seven of the twenty eight countries actually ban marriage for same-sex couples.

It’s not that there’s no provision in the law for marriage to take place between people of the same gender – it’s that this is explicitly banned in law. And many more countries — including Northern Ireland — do not legally recognise equal marriage.

Even more shockingly, five member states of the EU do not have laws banning hate crimes against LGBTI people. This is appalling.

I don’t want my young son to grow up in a world where the vilest acts of violence and prejudice are tacitly condoned in law and where my lesbian and gay friends, who I’m marching proudly alongside this summer, feel they have to hide who they are for fear of homophobic abuse, or even physical harm.

Some might use the poor LGBTI rights record of some member states to argue that the UK might be better off outside the EU. Why link ourselves in partnership with nations whose reputation for defending the rights of their LGBTI citizens is so disgraceful? I disagree.

LGBTI rights don’t stop at borders and it’s only together that we make a real difference.

Change is not only possible, it’s probable. The LGBTI Intergroup is the largest Intergroup in the parliament, with 130 MEPs from different countries and different political parties — all working to promote the rights of LGBTI people across the EU and around the rest of the world.

We can see the positive impact that the EU has and can have on LGBTI rights and equality in accession countries; it cooperates closely with candidate nations to support their efforts to end discrimination on grounds such as sexual orientation or gender identity and advance human rights.

One recent success has been the peaceful second Pride parade in Podgorica/Montenegro last year.

In my role as Head of Delegation of the European Parliament to Montenegro, I regularly meet with Montenegrin politicians to raise LGBTI issues with them and support the work of their LGBTI NGOs to change attitudes.

For those who think that changing these countries is too difficult, or who despair at how much there is still to do before we have true equality – I say look at how far we’ve come in the UK in the last 18 years.

The last Labour government repealed Section 28, equalised the age of consent, made homophobia a hate crime, passed the Gender Recognition Act. And the support of Labour MPs meant that equal marriage became law.

There is so much more to do – here at home, across the EU, and further afield – but, by working together, we can create a world where everyone loves without fear and lives safe in the knowledge that their rights and relationships are respected.

Anneliese Dodds is a Member of the European Parliament for South East England, and a member of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT rights.