Mid-November, the European Union unveiled new policies to combat the rise of intolerance against the LGBTQ+ community in its right-wing blocs, notably Poland and Hungary.

According to a European Fundamental Rights survey conducted in 2019, about 43% of people felt discriminated against based on sexual orientation and gender identities. This survey comes following the EU commission’s previous attempts towards increasing tolerance.

The situation

Hungary and Poland have historically been at odds with much of the EU’s agenda. Recently, this is especially noted with issues on abuses to rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, and the rights of minorities. The EU has attempted to apply political pressure to these countries, but without concise legal tactics, they have thus far failed.

During his election campaign in June, current Polish President Andrzej Duda called human rights for LGBTQ+ people an “ideology” more dangerous than communism. Growing homophobic rhetoric has remained prominent for many Polish politicians. Leader of the Law and Justice Party Jaroslaw Kaczynski called homosexuality a “threat to Polish identity, to [the] nation, to its existence and thus the Polish state.” He has cited gender theory to be “imported” as well as not an “internal Polish mechanism.”

Homophobic rhetoric has expanded beyond political frontiers:

“We are talking about physical violence, beatings, insults, but also the destruction of offices of activists”

Mirka Makuchowsk, from the Campaign Against Homophobia in Poland.

And in Hungary, a recent law came into effect that has outlawed changing birth genders on legal documents. This legislation implies that birth reassignment will become illegal.

“The vote to end legal recognition of transgender people in Hungary not only speaks to the anti-LGBT climate brewing in [Hungary], but mirrors a wider anti-equality movement that has become fashionable in European politics”

Hadley Stewart, freelance journalist

The European Union’s counter

In order to counter this rise of intolerance, earlier this year the EU Commission cut funding to several Polish towns. These towns had promoted themselves as “LGBT-free-zones”. Despite EU-action, the Polish government ended up compensating and supporting these locations without consequence. Further, the EU has often resorted to applying political pressure as a way to incentivize tolerance. Both tactics have seen little to no promising results.

Recently, however, the Commission has unveiled policies to strengthen the rights of LGBTQ+ people by designating hate crimes as “Eurocrimes.” Meaning that hate speech, including homophobia, would be on the same basis as offenses such as drug trafficking and money laundering. This gives the EU more premise to crack-down on its blocs behaving inconsistently with EU standards.

My takeaway

I don’t necessarily see these policies incentivizing enough change in the EU, especially in Poland and Hungary. However, they set up a crucial basis in which real action has the premise to take place. By no means do I think the EU is doing nearly enough to combat hate and inequality but taking a hard stance against intolerance is a significant priming step.

One thing we can do is hold our representatives accountable, a statement ofter over-said but under-looked. Further, we can encourage our own domestic representatives to hold international entities accountable as well.

On this website, we can see what the EU Commission has done thus far to advance LGBTQ+ equality.

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