Partnership for equality
Today, as the ministers responsible for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) issues and as representatives of the Maltese and Swedish governments, we are hosts to the European IDAHO 2014 Forum to strengthen work on LGBTI rights in Europe.
It is our pleasure that Malta and Sweden have joined forces and are now pushing together to advance LGBTI issues in Europe. Previously, we often adopted different positions on LGBTI rights, but can now state that together we want to improve the situation of millions of Europeans.
Sweden has gone through a journey in the last decades regarding LGBT rights. The Discrimination Act covers both sexual orientation and gender identity. Homophobic and transphobic motives for crime are seen as aggravating circumstances. The Marriage Code is gender neutral and same sex couples can adopt children. The Constitution stipulates that laws and other regulations may not result in disadvantages to any individual on the grounds of his or her sexual orientation.
Malta has been ambivalent until recently on LGBTI rights. That has changed though, and the government is establishing equality for all. It has introduced a civil unions law open to all couples, as well as included sexual orientation and gender identity in the anti-discrimination article of the constitution this year.
LGBTI people in Europe are still subjected to violence, prejudice and discrimination due to other people’s ideas about sexual orientation and gender identity.
In present-day Europe, LGBTI people’s opportunities for freedom of assembly and expression are limited. Same-sex couples and their children face problems with regard to free movement within the EU. The psycho-social situation among LGBTI people is often alarming.
This image is confirmed by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights and its report on the situation for LGBT people in the EU. The report shows that 26 per cent of LGBT respondents have experienced violence in the past five years.
Eight out of 10 LGBT people who have been subjected to violence have, for various reasons, chosen not to report the offence to the police. While, 65 per cent of interviewees state that they do not dare hold their partner’s hand in public for fear of prejudice and oppression from people around them (up to 75 per cent for gay and bisexual men).
We are concerned about the intolerance and hatred against LGBTI people which is spread throughout Europe. Views and opinions that are contrary to the principle of the equal value of all people ultimately challenge democratic societies.
We are greatly concerned about developments in countries in our neighbourhood that are complacent to discrimination, adopting homophobic and transphobic laws, or spreading intolerance. The work for equal rights and opportunities for all people must gain renewed strength.
In this context we want to emphasise a few points of departure that to us are obvious when talking about LGBTI rights. Firstly, human rights and freedoms apply to LGBTI people, just like everyone else.
Secondly, LGBTI people do not only live in the Western World. LGBTI people are born in all countries, into all religions and cultures. To us this is obvious, but we realise, that it must be repeated again and again.
With the IDAHO Forum, as LGBTI ministers in our respective countries, we want to push for further steps to be taken in the work to strengthen the rights of LGBTI people in Europe.
We have invited a number of ministers and other representatives of European countries, as well as representatives of the European Commission, the Council of Europe and civil society, to the meeting in Valletta. We want to put further pressure on the European Commission to propose a comprehensive approach on LGBTI issues.
The Commission can play a vital role in advancing the work at EU level and supporting the member states in their work. Furthermore, we hope that as many countries as possible sign the IDAHO declaration of intent that has been drawn up for the meeting.
Now it is a matter of action aimed at countering the intolerance and ignorance that breeds the vulnerability faced by LGBTI people. It is a matter of political leadership to fight prejudice and improve the lives of millions of European citizens.
Saturday, May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. A day that unfortunately still needs a lot of attention in Europe and the world. The Maltese and Swedish governments are clear in that we want to show political leadership for millions of Europeans.
We are working for a free society in which all people have the same opportunity to realise their full potential without being held back by prejudice and discrimination. We hope that more people want to actively participate in the work to reach this goal.
Helena Dalli is the Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties.
Erik Ullenhag is the Swedish Minister for Integration.