All across Europe, LGBTIQ individuals suffer from discrimination which affects their educational performance, job prospects, wellbeing and even the exercise of their fundamental rights, such as freedom of movement within the EU. To tackle this situation, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) adopted an opinion at its April plenary session calling for non-discriminatory regulation of the concept of family at EU level.

According to the data provided by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, LGBTIQ individuals are a vulnerable group that needs support from both the European institutions and Member States’ national authorities. In view of this, in 2020 the European Commission adopted its LGBTIQ Equality Strategy 2020-2025, which aims to reduce discrimination and secure the safety and fundamental rights of LGTBI people in the EU through the adoption of legislative measures at European level.                                    The rapporteur for the opinion, Ionuţ Sibian, pointed to the timeliness of the strategy and praised the European Commission’s courage in adopting this strategy “in a context in which homophobia and transphobia are on the rise at European level”. Mr Sibian also insisted on the need for monitoring instruments: “The Commission must facilitate a broad dialogue between European and international institutions, Member States, civil society organisations and social partners”, he said.                                                                                     One of the issues addressed by European Commission’s strategy and the EESC opinion is the divergence between the different national legislative frameworks regarding the definition of family. This disparity means that, at times, the rights of “rainbow families” (families with parents of the same sex bringing up a child or with a single gay or lesbian parent) are limited when they cross a border out of a country in which they are recognised as a family unit.                                                                                                                           To tackle this and make sure that LGBTIQ people enjoy the right to free movement throughout the European Union, the EESC calls on the European Commission to develop a regulatory framework with an standalone definition of the concept of family, which is independent of national law and applies in cross-border situations. The EESC also asks the Commission to make sure that birth documents exchanged following an administrative or judicial procedure are recognised in all Member States in the context of free movement.

Protection in the workplace and beyond

One of the most common forms of discrimination against LGBTIQ people is related to treatment in the workplace and access to the labour market. In this regard, the EESC urges the European Union to establish lines of action on active employment policies to encourage Member States to develop national employment plans that include specific measures for LGBTIQ people.                                                                                                      María del Carmen Barrera Chamorro, co-rapporteur for the opinion, insisted on the importance of implementation: “Private companies must take specific measures to fight discrimination and thus help to put an end to violence and hate crimes against the LGBTQI community”, she said.                                                                                                Beyond discrimination at the workplace, the opinion also welcomes the Commission’s desire to extend the scope of the Equal Treatment and Employment Directive to areas other than employment. For example, Member States should be encouraged to provide medical and social services, shelter, assistance programmes and safe places for LGBTIQ people who are victims of domestic violence, hate crimes and hate speech and for LGBTIQ young people with no family support.

Prohibition of “conversion” practices

More importantly, the EESC calls on all Member States to ban so-called “conversion” practices and therapies. This term is used to describe a wide range of interventions based on the belief that a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity can and should be changed. These practices, which violate fundamental rights and have been classified as torture, are still used in several EU Member States.                                                                       The opinion adopted by the EESC extends beyond the scope of the European Commission strategy and suggests that the Commission should consider recognising the right to gender self‑determination for trans people, thus complying with the highest international standards of respect for human rights and promoting their recognition by Member States and national authorities.                                                                                                                  In this regard, the opinion supports the resolution adopted by the European Parliament which declares the EU an “LGBTIQ-Freedom Zone”. To make this goal reality, the EESC suggests that European Union funding programmes be linked to the EU’s values and funding made conditional on compliance with these vales. In the same vein, the opinion proposes that Member States be required to carry out an assessment of the impact on vulnerable groups, including LGBTIQ people, of large projects funded by the EU.                            The EESC also expresses its concern at the referendums conducted in several Member States to amend national constitutions with the aim of restricting the rights of LBGITQ individuals or stigmatising this community. The opinion supports the initiative to extend the list of “EU crimes” under Article 83(1) of the TFEU to cover hate crime and hate speech, including when targeting LGBTIQ people. The EESC also calls on the Commission to launch an ambitious communication campaign to promote equality between all citizens, addressing the problems experienced in each Member State at local level.                                       Finally, the opinion asks the European institutions to act as guarantor and protector of fundamental human rights in both their internal and external actions, working with other regional and international institutions such as the Council of Europe and the United Nations to secure for LGBTIQ individuals and human rights defenders the safety and equality they deserve.