Hate attacks against LGBTQI people are on the rise in Europe – Report


People lay flowers and candles outside the Teplaren LGBTQI bar in Bratislava, Slovakia, following an attack outside the popular hangout for members of the city’s LGBTQI community that killed two people and seriously injured a third. Courtesy: Zuzana Thullnerova/IPS
  • by Ed Holt (Bratislava)
  • Inter Press Service

But then, shortly after, the university student and member of the country’s LGBTQI community immediately began to worry.

“I was afraid for my own safety,” DA tells IPS.

Even now, months later, that fear remains in the community.

“I know people who have told me they are afraid to go out at night or who don’t go out alone and instead stay together in a group. I am the same,’ they said.

The attack on the Teplaren bar, carried out by a teenage far-right sympathizer, left two dead and a third, who later recovered, was seriously injured. It shocked many and sparked debates about attitudes towards LGBTQI people in the conservative, predominantly Catholic country.

But it also highlighted the threat of extreme violence faced by members of the LGBTQI community not just in Slovakia, but across Europe, just months after an attack on a gay bar in Oslo, Norway, that left two dead and another 21. people were injured.

And groups working with LGBTQI communities across Europe say violence is becoming increasingly planned and deadly, leaving many feeling unsafe in countries across Europe.

A report by the European branch of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe), released in February, found that 2022 was the most violent year for LGBTQI people across the region in the past decade , both by planned, savage attacks and by suicides.

It said this violence came in the wake of increasing and widespread hate speech by politicians, religious leaders, right-wing organizations and media pundits.

“We have been noticing an increase in hate speech for some time now and have been signaling it for a number of years. But what surprises us is the sheer brutality and violence of the hate and physical attacks against LGBTQI people,” said Katrin Hugendubel, Advocacy Director at ILGA.

ILGA’s report shows that issues of hate speech – whether online or in public from politicians, state representatives or religious leaders – against LGBTQI people are criss-crossing the continent, from Armenia and Austria to Serbia, Sweden, Turkey and Ukraine, with serious consequences for people and communities “not only in countries where hate speech is widespread, but also in countries where LGBTI people are generally believed to be gradually accepted”.

ILGA’s report highlighted hate speech during debates on transgender laws in the Finnish parliament, while Finnish prosecutors have previously raised concerns about hate speech fueling anti-LGBTQI sentiment in society.

And in Slovakia, politicians, including former prime ministers, have publicly belittled LGBTQI people, labeling homosexuality and transgender people “perversions” and in some cases even calling for legislation to restrict the rights of LGBTQI people.

DA, who said they had friends who had been attacked for their identity, believes this kind of rhetoric, from politicians or anyone else, fuels violence against the LGBTQI community.

“People in Slovakia are often and easily influenced by the type of information they receive on a daily basis. So yes, hateful rhetoric leads to violence,” they said.

In some other countries, politicians have gone even further by passing legislation that effectively prevents any positive public representation of the LGBTI community.

Late last year, a new law was passed in Russia banning LGBTQI “propaganda” and prohibiting any promotion of what authorities consider “non-traditional sexual relations”.

Groups working with Russia’s LGBTQI community said the new law — an expansion of 2013 legislation banning the positive portrayal of same-sex relationships to minors — is the latest piece of a state system designed to further empower the minority. stigma and was introduced amid increasing anti-LGBTQI political rhetoric.

Violence against the community has increased in Russia over the past decade, and they fear the new law will only exacerbate it.

A similar law was passed in Hungary in 2021, and experts there say it has encouraged people to physically express their hatred of the LGBTQI community.

“According to statements made by the perpetrators of hate incidents (and from looking at social media), it appears that the law confirmed pre-existing homophobic and transphobic prejudices and made it ‘okay’ to act on them – citing people that the law is in effect. their side,” said Aron Demeter, program director at Amnesty International in Hungary.

“Since the law is deliberately confusing (and absurd), it is enough for them to understand that it ‘protects children from LGBTI people’ and that it serves as a ‘legal permission’ to be hostile,” she added.

While such overtly repressive legislation is not common in other countries in Europe, human rights activists point out that there are gaps in community protection laws in many states.

“In quite a few countries, there is still a lack of legislation dealing with hate speech specifically targeting the LGBTQI community,” Hugendubel noted.

She added that while this needs to be addressed, it is critical that people at the highest political levels speak out against anti-LGBTQI hate.

“We feel we need to see a lot more from EU institutions and national leaders in a real effort to stop the hate. There must be clear statements from them saying that hate is not acceptable,” she said.

Immediately after the attacks in Norway and Slovakia, many politicians, both at home and in other states, were quick to condemn it and the hatred behind it.

But concerns remain that LGBTQI people will continue to be used by politicians as a welcome source of polarization.

“It is important to see how politicians use LGBTQI as a polarizing tool. It’s something they can use to motivate a specific conservative voter base, and it’s a tool that works to a point. It is also used to divert attention from other issues, such as corruption – it is polarization at the expense of the LGBTQI community,” said Hugendubel.

While hate speech and the resulting violence – prior to the killings in Norway saw a huge increase in anti-LGBTQI hate crimes, from 97 in 2020 to 240 in 2021, according to ILGA – is on the rise in Europe, action is being taken against it with an increasing number of prosecutions for hate speech and crimes in many countries.

Progress is also being made in legal protection for LGBTQI persons.

Despite an increasing instrumentalization of LGBTQI issues by politicians and others against the community, there is growing community acceptance and support in societies, particularly in countries where governments have strong anti-LGBTQI policies, such as Poland and Hungary, according to to the group.

However, more needs to be done, Hugendubel said.

“We call on all political leaders to act, speak up and proactively combat hate speech, rather than being reactive when faced with its consequences,” she said.

Note: *DA’s name is withheld for personal security reasons.

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© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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