Campaigners have insisted that there is more for the Scottish and UK parliaments to do on LGBTI rights, while cautiously welcoming Scotland’s rating as the best country in Europe for LGBTI equality, human rights and protective legislation.
The European lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) organisation ILGA-Europe has revealed today, at the fourth annual conference to mark International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, its annual Rainbow Europe results comparing 49 European countries on LGBTI equality.
On the Rainbow Index, which compares laws and government policies, the UK has slipped from first place last year, to third this year. Malta is now in top place, with a score of 88% of the LGBTI equality policies considered. Belgium is in second place on 82% and the UK in third place on 81%.
Welcoming publication of the results, the Scottish LGBTI equality charity the Equality Network noted that while Malta’s laws have improved, the UK’s result is held back by the continuing failure of the Northern Ireland Assembly to introduce equal marriage. In contrast, Scotland has slightly better law and policy on intersex equality than the rest of the UK. Scotland is not included in the ILGA index table, because it is part of the UK but, if it was included, it would be in top place on 90%.
Tim Hopkins, Director of the Equality Network, said: “We congratulate Malta on rising from 11th place to top in the Rainbow Index in just two years. That happened in part because Malta overhauled their laws on transgender and intersex equality, to international best practice standard. Scotland is still behind on that, although we score highly in other areas.”
He continued, “All the parties elected to the new Scottish Parliament session had manifesto commitments to review and reform Scotland’s laws on transgender people. The SNP, Labour, Greens and LibDems – that’s 98 of the Parliament’s 129 MSPs – were elected on more specific manifesto commitments that would bring our trans laws up to international best practice. If the Scottish Government and Parliament deliver on those commitments, and also make progress on intersex equality, Scotland will retain its place amongst the standard bearers for LGBTI equality.”
Angela Crawley MP, the SNP spokesperson for Women, Children and Equalities at Westminster, said: “The fact that Scotland continues to be rated the best country in Europe for LGBTI equality is welcome recognition for the progress we are making to ensure Scotland is a fair and equal country for everyone.
“The SNP is committed to equality and social justice for all. We were proud to pass Scotland’s progressive equal marriage and hate crime laws, but we know that the job of achieving full equality is not yet done.
“The SNP has pledged to reform gender recognition law to secure greater equality for transgender and non-binary people. The Scottish Government is investing record levels of funding in projects to secure LGBTI, gender, race and disability equality, and the SNP is committed to ensuring education, healthcare, gender reassignment, policing and other public services are inclusive and meet the needs of all people, including LGBTI people.
“The SNP will continue to act in government and push the UK government to take action too.”
ILGA-Europe Executive Director Evelyne Paradis observed: “The countries who are on this upward curve tend to be the ones who have protected people from discrimination on grounds of gender identity, or legislated to protect the bodily integrity of intersex people and who have ingrained this change in everyday measures such as equality action plans.”
She added: “Contrary to popular belief, LGBTI equality is far from being a done deal in Europe. The picture is actually very mixed at the moment: a lot of the governments that were leading the way on LGBTI equality a few years ago have slowed down their work, especially when it comes to new standards. In ILGA-Europe’s 20th anniversary year, we don’t want to see so many lagging behind. Now is certainly not the time for complacency.”
Brian Sheehan, Co-Chair of ILGA-Europe’s Executive Board, also commented: “There is an inherent danger in thinking that our equality work is done when we achieve protection in one facet of life, such as equal marriage or parenting rights. Such successes can give politicians the adrenaline needed to keep working towards full equality. These achievements can be the fuel that propels us to further progress; slowing down the pace of this change is a lost opportunity. We must remember that these hard-won advances will only benefit LGBTI people if they are translated into into the daily lived experience of being LGBTI. Having a law is only truly useful if they are implemented. Changing laws does not automatically change lives. What LGBTI people all over Europe need from their governments now is continual, committed and collaborative action.”
Both ILGA-Europe and the Equality Network caution that laws and government policies are only part of the picture for LGBTI equality, and that legislation alone does not automatically mean that life is easy – or even safe – for LGBTI people in all the countries at the top of the Rainbow Europe rankings. Prejudice, discrimination and hate crime still happen across Europe, including in Scotland.
ILGA-Europe also published today their ‘Annual Review’ of key events in 2015 for LGBTI people in the different European countries. The UK chapter records a number of positive measures, but also notes cases of discrimination by employers and service providers, and substantial levels of homophobic and transphobic hate crime across the UK.
The bottom three countries in the Rainbow Index are Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan.
The ILGA-Europe Rainbow Index, Map and full Annual Review are available on the Rainbow Europe website.