New Internationalist

Is Europe becoming more homophobic?

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Gay pride in Toulouse, France – LGBT people in the Europe still face attacks Guillaume Paumie, under a CC License

A quarter of gay people say they have been attacked or threatened with violence during the past five years, according to major new poll of all European Union countries, plus Croatia. The figure for transgender people – 35 per cent – is even higher.

The survey, published to mark the International Day Against Homophobia on 17 May, might come as a bit of a shock to complacent Europeans who believe that homophobia ‘is no longer an issue’ thanks to equality legislation and a mainstreaming of gay culture.

Of the 93,000 people surveyed by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency, 49 per cent said they had been discriminated against in the past year. Half of the 26 per cent who had been attacked or threatened with violence, said they did not report the incident because they did not think any action would be taken.

It’s often said that that younger people are more tolerant when it comes to sexual diversity. But experience at school for LBGT people in Europe suggests the opposite. Younger and poorer school students tended to get the worst of it, according to the survey. Two thirds of respondents admitted they tried to hide or disguise their sexuality when they were at school.

As might be expected, there were marked differences between the 37 European countries in the survey. The three with fewest attacks were Finland, Denmark and the Czech Republic. The three with most were Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania.

But there were some surprises too. British respondents reported more violence than their Spanish or Irish counterparts, in spite of the dominance of Catholicism in those countries. But then Italy had a far higher rate of attack.

Is Europe becoming more homo- and trans-phobic? In the absence of previous surveys of a comparable scale, it’s hard to tell.

But there are some alarming signs. In recent times, resisting the introduction of gay marriage has become a way in which the French nationalist Far Right can whip up populist support in ‘defence of heterosexual marriage’. In Britain, it’s not surprising that the increasingly popular nationalist UK Independence Party has made forays into homophobia, as the Coalition government attempts to change the law to allow for equal marriage.

Meanwhile, in Latin America, such European battles must appear regressive and distinctly Old World. In Argentina – the topic of a special report in next month’s New Internationalist – an equal marriage bill was passed with little fuss in 2010. Neighbouring Uruguay has just followed suit and Brazil appears to be next in line.

Homophobia can be a puzzling and unpredictable business. Frequently it is used to push other, unrelated-seeming, agenda. But I would suggest that the rise of the far right in Europe is looking increasingly ominous for sexual as well as ethnic minorities.

Vanessa Baird is the author of The No-Nonsense Guide to Sexual Diversity (New Internationalist) and Sex, Love and Homophobia (Amnesty International).

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  1. #1 Matt in London 20 May 13

    ’[...] resisting the introduction of gay marriage has become a way in which the French nationalist Far Right can whip up populist support in 'defence of heterosexual marriage'.’ While the usual reaction from the far right and other religious extremists was to be expected, what was more shocking was to see the ’republican’ right (aka ’mainstream’ right, Sarkozy's UMP party and others) walking hand in hand with the radical catholics, skinheads and other figures from the far right (Front National and others) at the anti-gay marriage demonstrations. While Sarkozy has been pandering to the far right throughout his reign, it is still shocking to hear elected MPs from that party saying that ’gay marriage is akin to murdering children’, ’what's next, why not marry with animals?’ and so on. All that while hypocritically putting themselves under the ’I'm not homophobic, just concerned about family values’ umbrella. While a large number of Tories have supported Cameron to open the marriage to same-sex couples in the UK, in France the quasi-totality of the UMP has voted against this reform (in the lower chamber at least - upper chamber was a bit more even-handed).

    The scary part is that, following Sarkozy's defeat last year, the ’republican’ right is re-organising itself using homophobic feelings to create a sense of unity. Needless to say, not everybody there is happy with that, and there starts to be some opposing voices on that side of the political spectrum - Roselyne Bachelot, Chantal Jouanno, Frank Riester (himself openly gay), Benoist Apparu, and a few others. Roselyne Bachelot said that this reaction was counter-productive and that in a few years time nobody would think about objecting to gay marriage as it would be regarded as ’normal’ (such as interracial marriage, women's right of vote, and so on). We can only hope that time will prove her right.

  2. #2 william duckworth 24 May 13

    Homosexuality is not normal ,it is an aberration.You ve got so many ’enlightened thinkers ’ out their who are forever pushing for recognition for things they know to be wrong.Trying to make these things somehow ’trendy and cool’ Well Ive a message for you all they are NOT ! I feel sorry for Homosexual s ,the reason they are being ’attacked’ is they are in your face,they seem to be desperate to be as I said normal,and cool and trendy.This ( Great Britain ) is STILL aChristian country and we should be guided by the Bible and the Bible unequivocally say s man shall not lie with man .

  3. #3 dojuwabvdziwdv 15 Jul 13

    i'm convinced this east-west political construction is pure rubbish. it's all media run make belief so that politicians have a bogus issue to bother everyone. homophobia is like nose-picking. it's present all over the world and everyone does it. racism still exists. it has to! it's a part of being human. cold war is gone so they came up with this social armageddon situation where nobody can win.

  4. #4 Philippe dufaud 09 Feb 14

    Love is beautiful, weither straight or gay. Homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality. Part of nature, not equivalant to heterosexuality, but complementary. You can observe homosexuality on every continent , every where a certain percentage of the population ( may be as much as 10%) would be attracted by partners of the same sexe. Gays are just obviously less visible in countries where they risk, death or jail. You also observe homosexual activity in many species of animals. We should be humble and stop judging others. Homophobia is just the terrible outcome of a few religions teaching hate for centuries. Repeat a lie, for ever and there will always be people who are not able to think by themselves, to believe it.
    If homosexuality is natural, homophobia, is unfortunatly very humane. It is so easy to reject others when one is unhappy with its life. People are becoming more and more frustrated, may be because of the economic crises, and increasing poverty and unhappiness brings people to blame others. We have seen that happening in Europe, and more specifically in Germany during the second world war. People who are enjoying life are not loosing there time interfering in others.
    Homophobia like any form of racism is a desease, and spreading. The antidote can only be love, love your enemy as Jesus would say. Understand that they are hateful because they are totally unhappy with their lives, and they can stand it if they can make others miserable too. . Those people who call themeselves christians have totally misunderstood his teaching. Jesus is teaching love and forgiveness. May one who as never commited a sin, Throw the first stone.

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About the author

Vanessa Baird a New Internationalist contributor

Vanessa Baird lived and worked as a journalist in Peru during the tumultuous mid-1980s, and she maintains a passionate interest in South America. She joined New Internationalist as a co-editor in 1986 and since then has written on everything from migration, money, religion and equality to indigenous activism, climate change, feminism and global LGBT rights. She also edits the Mixed Media, arts and culture section of the magazine.

Vanessa’s books include The No-Nonsense Guide to World Population (2011), Sex, Love and Homophobia (2004), The Little Book of Big Ideas (2009) and, People First Economics (2010). In 2012 she won a prestigious Amnesty International Human Rights Media award.

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