“Every year ILGA-Europe releases their Rainbow Map, ranking countries based on LGBTQ+ rights in the region. It’s a very insightful tool, as it highlights the disparity between east and west, but also demonstrates what work still needs to be done in nations considered to be the most progressive. This year Moldova, Finland, and Spain each moved up the ranks, and countries like Armenia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan remained at the bottom.” -Lucy Middleton
Western Europe is historically considered to be more accepting of LGBTQ+ people. Western nations account for 17 out of the 18 countries to have legalised same-sex marriage, and in recent years, countries such as Spain and Germany have moved towards self-identification processes for transgender people.
By contrast, eastern Europe has seen a rise in proposed anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. Hungary launched its anti-LGBTQ+ ‘propaganda’ law in 2021, while Poland has undergone vigorous legal battles after multiple authorities across the country adopted ‘anti-LGBT zones’. Tensions have been worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, with Vladimir Putin frequently targeting LGBTQ+ rights as a symptom of the so-called western liberalism to be rejected.
Even still, it’s not a black and white divide. According to the European region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe), homophobia and transphobia are increasing in both the west and east, with a stark rise in violence against LGBTQ+ people in countries including Austria, Iceland, and the U.K. in 2022.
Here, Lucy Middleton, deputy editor of the LGBTQ+ news platform Openly, highlights some of the biggest stories happening across Europe which demonstrate how rights are developing across the continent.
Image by oversnap / Getty Images
LM: “The European Commission launched a lawsuit against Hungary’s anti-LGBTQ+ law last year, with huge wider significance for the EU. On the one hand, it demonstrates how the bloc is willing to protect LGBTQ+ rights as a European value, yet on the other, it shows how such a stance can be heavily influenced by geopolitics. Does the EU care deeply about LGBTQ+ rights, or is it fighting a larger-scale battle against Russian influence in eastern Europe? Here, activists share why they are so interested in watching the case unfold.”
LM: “Sometimes in the world of LGBTQ+ journalism it can be rare to have good news, which is why I like this story so much—the pictures alone are emotional to look at. Spain has passed a law which allows trans people to self-identify and protects people against unnecessary intersex surgeries. This article was a reaction piece to the bill being first approved and the impact of the legislation is tangible in every quote—you can feel the joy and relief being shared.”
LM: “There is a common misconception that Italy is more advanced on LGBTQ+ rights than its reality. On ILGA-Europe’s Rainbow Map it ranks the lowest out of the western European countries, and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni appears to have no intention of introducing legislation to improve its score. This article details how a city court was ordered to stop registering same-sex couples as legal parents to their children as part of Meloni’s opposition to non-traditional families.”
OPINION: Six Months After the Brutal Terrorist Attack on a Gay Bar, Nothing Has Changed in the Czech Republic or SlovakiaOpenly
LM: “This is a powerful opinion piece written about the impact of the Bratislava shooting in 2022, in which two people were killed and a third injured. It details what life as an LGBTQ+ person is like in both Slovakia and Czechia, with the prime ministers of both countries dismissing homosexuality as a ‘lifestyle’ after the attack. The author, activist Krystof Stupka, accuses both countries of being institutionally homophobic and transphobic.”
LM: “This is a really informative blog which details the barriers to LGBTQ+ rights in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. Serbia was the centre of a storm last year when it tried to host EuroPride for the first time, sparking a huge backlash from the religious conservative right. This piece contextualises societal feelings towards the LGBTQ+ community against the region’s post-war history, which is crucial to understanding how the pattern of progress across Europe has unfolded.”
LM: “This article delves into the divide between western and eastern Europe, with a particular focus on Hungary. It is interesting to hear one gay parent describe how acceptance is improving societally in Budapest, in deep contrast to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s flagrantly anti-LGBTQ+ policies. It is a good demonstration of how each country has its own dichotomy, particularly between urban and remote areas.”
Azerbaijan: Attacked by State and Society, What Life Is Like in Europe’s Worst Country for LGBT Rightsinews.co.uk
LM: “Azerbaijan is the worst country in Europe for LGBTQ+ rights, according to ILGA-Europe. The community is completely unprotected in law and this feature details what it is like to live in a place where even advocating for rights can be extremely dangerous. Activists describe how the government plays a major role in creating anti-LGBT prejudice, with the situation only worsening with a series of anti-gay crackdowns starting in 2017.”
LM: “I chose this story because it presents a different way in which LGBTQ+ people can struggle in Europe, which is often overlooked. Protection against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is part of the EU’s labour law, but research has shown this can vary drastically in practice depending on the country. In this case a gay freelance TV Editor lost his job after posting a video promoting tolerance of same-sex couples. It is also another example of how the EU can intervene when LGBTQ+ people are being unfairly treated—which has often led to new laws.”
LM: “Conversion therapy is, staggeringly, still a controversial topic for a lot of European nations, including the U.K. and Germany. This story details the huge strides Iceland has made on LGBTQ+ rights, and also highlights the inclusion of trans people under the ban, something that has been a sticking point for nations elsewhere. Iceland jumped up the rankings of LGBTQ+ rights this year, and this is part of the reason why.”
LM: “This story is illustrative of the ways in which rights can change inside the EU and also calls attention to the difficulties of being queer in Romania, a country which has also considered its own Russian-style law against ‘LGBTQ+ propaganda’. The country has now been told it must legally recognise same-sex relationships, but it remains to be seen whether this will ultimately bring it more in line with western Europe, or push it further away.”
Lucy Middleton is Deputy Editor of Openly, a global digital platform delivering impartial LGBTQ+ news. She has extensive experience, writing for multiple publications including the Mirror Online and Metro.co.uk. She also previously worked as a broadcast journalist with Deutsche Welle while living in Berlin. She can be found on Twitter as @Miditun.