When talking about LGBT+ rights in a European context, you may be forgiven for thinking that the part of the world that produced Eurovison may be a utopia and the land of milk, honey, and free subscriptions to Gay Times magazine. But the 2016 annual International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) Europe Rainbow Map shows a Europe of two distinct halves when it comes to how the 49 different nation states treat their LGBT+ citizens.
Top of the list for LGBT+ rights and quality of life is Malta (though technically, if we treat Scotland as a separate entity from the United Kingdom, it would be top of the list) followed by Belgium and, at the bottom, is Azerbaijan followed closely by Russia and Armenia. ILGA Europe uses a number of differing criteria to determine the rankings of each country and has expanded on those ever since the first map was produced in 2009. There are 52 points in all – based on legal recognition and protections of those who are LGBT+ in the 49 different countries – each of which is assigned a specified percentage or "weight" that contributes to that state's overall score. That percentage translates to a scale on which the countries are placed with 0% indicating (gross violations of human rights, discrimination) to 100% (respect of human rights, full equality).
It's no surprise that countries such as Azerbaijan, Russia, and Armenia are bottom of the list as they have often been in the headlines for instituting crackdowns on pride parades, expressions of gender identity, and shutting down LGBT+ NGOs; what is surprising however is seeing several highly developed Western nations among the bottom of the pile. Monaco, for example, ranks 45th (10.8% out of 49 countries, just behind Ukraine on 13% and just ahead of Turkey on 8%). Italy, having just passed a law that affords limited state recognition to same-sex couples without adoption rights, ranks number 35th on the list on 19.75% and has actually dropped three places since 2014. Italy is by far the most surprising on the list as many people consider Italians to be liberal, forward thinking, and socially progressive, but the Catholic Church still holds a lot of influence over the legislature there and change is slow.
A number of countries that you might otherwise expect to be nearer to the bottom of the list have actually appeared nearer to the top. For example, the former Yugoslav republic of Croatia has come in at number 9 on the list, ahead of countries seen as more liberal towards LGBT+ rights, such as Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands, which is interesting as all of the latter have had equal marriage laws in place for some time and yet Croatia does not. That being said, the acceptance of LGBT+ people in Croatian society is relatively low compared to other European Union member states and with social conservatives winning a majority in Parliament recently, it remains to be seen how this will affect legislative protections for LGBT+ communities there.
Ireland is probably the success story out of all 49 countries on the list, having risen six places since 2014 to claim the 17th place on the index with an overall score of 54.7% - likely due in part to the result of the marriage equality referendum in May 2015, the implementation of the Gender Recognition Act, and amendments to employment equality laws. The United Kingdome as a whole has dropped from being top of the list to number three behind Belgium and ahead of Spain with a rating of 81.44%. There are a number of reasons for this, but the biggest is that Scotland's devolved parliament is the most progressive in Western Europe, and if ranked as an individual state within the index, Scotland would top the table ahead of Malta with a score of 90%. England and Wales on 82.3%, which would place them on number 2 on the index, ahead of Malta. Northern Ireland would come in at number 4 ahead of Spain, but the failure of the NI Assembly to implement adequate gender equality laws, the long awaited Government sexual orientation strategy, and the continued ban on same-sex marriage have prevented the UK from topping the index.
It cannot be understated that the rating on the index is no indication of wider societal views towards LGBT+ people. Hate crimes towards transgender people and those with minority sexual orientations is still present in many of the countries within the top ten on the index and there is definitely an inconsistent approach towards tackling LGBT+ inequality within the European Union's member states. They range from top of the list (Malta) to bottom of the list (Latvia) – mostly going from West to East when it comes from great to terrible, but as mentioned before, there are a number of exceptions.
There is no such thing as the LGBT community in Belfast or Paris or Toronto – we are a global community and we have to watch each other's backs
It is my hope, and certainly that of ILGA Europe, that one day we will not need a ranking of countries based on their treatment of LGBT+ communities, but that is not the reality and will not be for a long time. These annual audits are a helpful and powerful reminder that we can often be too insular in our thinking towards the rights of our community. There is no such thing as the LGBT community in Belfast or Paris or Toronto – we are a global community and we have to watch each other's backs. Too often I have seen the winning of equal marriage rights in one jurisdiction in one part of the world celebrated as the be all and end all of the struggle for LGBT+ acceptance. It is not and it stinks of privilege and selfishness. I may be able to sit in my house with my boyfriend and not be afraid that I will be fired or evicted because of that fact. But an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and as long as we have to rate how our community is treated based on what passport it holds or what language it speaks or where their parliament convenes then we can not be complacent.
Taking pleasure in the fact that your country is nearer the top of the list than others is a small victory because all it means is that others are being left behind. We need an inclusive and global approach to our rights rather than silo thinking. What does it mean for the Isle of Man to have an openly gay Chief Minister when gay couples in Uganda can face prison for expressing their love for one another in private? Or transgender kids are more likely to be put out of their homes in Russia or Moldova? I live in hope and that in itself is a luxury whilst others continue to live in fear.
Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed on our Artist Corner and Blog are exclusively of the author and do not reflect the views and opinions of Punk Out as an organization.