June is Pride Month, a celebration of LGBTQ+ rights and equality achieved over the years, a call against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia and the opportunity to raise awareness about the discrimination this community still faces around the world. As with any other community, LGBTQ+ is a very heterogeneous community of people living different realities and stories. The acronym is used to represent a diverse range of sexualities and gender-identities, and has been evolving with times to make it more inclusive and representative.
Visibility of this diversity within the community is also an important element of the Pride celebration. Within that diversity, it is also important to recognise the intersectionality which other social or political aspects of an LGTBQ+ person such as race, ethnicity, religion or disability may further increase their discrimination.
While in recent decades legislative developments and policy initiatives have helped build more equal and welcoming societies in Europe, this has not always translated into clear improvements in LGBTQ+ people’s lives. The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights1 has reported how discrimination in everyday life persists for LGBTQ+ in Europe– at work and at school; at cafés, bars and nightclubs; when looking for housing, accessing healthcare or social services; and in shops.
Last November 2020 the European Commission (EC) adopted the first-ever Commission strategy on the LGBTQ+ Equality Strategy 2020-2025.
This strategy sets out a series of targeted actions across four pillars :
- Tackling discrimination against LGBTQ+ people;
- Ensuring LGBTQ+ people’s safety;
- Building LGBTQ+ inclusive societies and;
- Leading the call for LGBTQ+ equality around the world.
These targeted actions need also to be combined with attention to specific LGTBQ+ concerns in enhanced equality mainstreaming in all EU policies, legislation and funding programmes.
In this paper we look at the particular situation of some LGTBQ+ communities in Europe and how different local initiatives are giving visibility and support for those struggling the most, and how to ensure inclusive communication and become an LGBTQ+ ally when referring to this community.
Gender identity is one’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.
LGBTQ+ is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer, or questioning. The “plus” represents other non-normative gender or sexual identities including pansexual, intersexual or asexual. The first four letters of the acronym have been used since the 1990s, but in recent years there has been an increased awareness of the need to be inclusive of other sexual identities to offer better representation.
Sexual orientation refers to a person’s emotional, affectional and sexual attraction to individuals of a different gender or the same gender or more than one gender.
Intersectional discrimination refers to the sociological understanding that some people may experience discrimination on the basis of several characteristics or identities which interact with each other in an inseparable way
Migration and LGTBQ+ rights
There are 69 UN member States where consensual same-sex activity is criminalised by law, including the death penalty in at least six of them, as of 2020. At least 13 UN member states explicitly criminalise transgender people, while it is known that many other countries use different laws to target them. In others, even if not criminalised by law, traditions and social norms make the life of LGBTQ+ people very difficult.
For those who chose to flee their home due to violence, discrimination, abuse or persecution, arriving in Europe may not mean the end of it.
According to the Queer European Asylum Network (QUEAN), LGBTQ+ people seeking asylum often remain unrecognised and invisible in the system unless they specifically come forward and out themselves, providing proofs such as witnesses statements corroborating their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is a challenging requirement, considering many of them may fear talking about it, facediscrimination or put themselves and their families at risk.
Also, QUEAN points out the frequent lack of access to legal and social support for LGBTQ+ people seeking asylum, generating further isolation that can result in trauma, depression or self-harm. To the stress suffered from leaving your country behind and the uncertainty ahead, LGBTQ+ refugees also face the stress of feeling rejected or discriminated against in the host society and by other refugees, which can bring their mental health to a breaking point.
The SOGICA project “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Claims of Asylum” concluded its 4-year research in 2020 highlighting 32 recommendations to the European Commission on the new EU LGBTQ+ Equality Strategy. This includes, among others:
- Improving the statistical evidence base since, in Europe, there are still no clear and comprehensive statistics for claiming asylum on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI);
- Providing information about asylum and the right to make a SOGI-based claim, including in easy-read formats and different languages, at a minimum at ports of entry and at asylum interview, reception and accommodation centres.
- Ensuring adequate training for all parties, including decision-makers, judges, interpreters, and service-providers, to improve their confidence in the quality of their work as well as to benefit SOGI asylum claimants.
- Paying particular attention to providing safe and adequate accommodation to LGBTQ+ asylum seekers, since these residents are more vulnerable to homophobic, transphobic, racist and anti-migrant violence and hate crime.
The Rainbowhouse Brussels is home to various French and Dutch speaking LGBTQ+ associations in the Brussels area. As part of their mission, they provide support to LGBTQ+ refugees through both group activities and individual meetings. Through group activities, refugees can make friends and develop bonds for better social integration and network development in their new city. In the individual meetings, they can address issues such as paperwork and regularisation as they work to proceed with their claims for asylum. This two-part approach has enabled many to successfully integrate fully into Belgium after succeeding with their asylum claims. The RainbowHouse also organises several socio-cultural festivals per years and has a café open in the evenings where LGBTQ+ people and their friends can receive information, enjoy a warm welcome or simply meet each other.
Kifkif was founded in Madrid in 2002 due to the lack of support and information for LGTBQ+ international protection applicants when they arrive in Spain. This initiative, in addition to being a support and accompaniment space for the group, is a place for people to chat and share experiences, while organising participatory activities and meetings. To date, the Kifkif accompaniment service has worked with thousands of LGTBIQ+ people in migration and international protection processes. With some 3,000 people accompanied each year, they have managed to expand their service, both face-to-face and online, to many other cities in Spain.
LGTBQ+ visibility in Roma communities
The Roma population constitutes the largest ethnic minority in Europe. Out of an estimated ten to twelve million Roma living in Europe, approximately 6 million are citizens or residents of the EU. Many of them face marginal and precarious living conditions, and face social exclusion and segregation.
The umbrella-term ‘Roma’ encompasses diverse groups, including Roma, Sinti, Kale, Romanichels, Boyash/Rudari, Ashkali, Egyptians, Yenish, Dom, Lom, Rom and Abdal, as well as Traveller populations (gens du voyage, Gypsies, Camminanti, et
Despite an abundance of literature on Roma, there is a dearth of information on the experiences of LGBTQ+ Roma and how structural inequalities and the workings of sex/gender result in oppression for Roma LGTBQ+ due to the intersectional position they occupy in society and the negative social valuation of their non-normative ethnic/racial, sexual/gender and other identities.
The EC states in the LGBTQ+ Equality Strategy 2020-2025 how the actions described in the document need to be combined with attention to specific LGBTQ+ concerns in enhanced equality mainstreaming into all EU policies, including the Strategic EU Framework for Roma equality inclusion and participation. But mainstreaming LGBTQ+ equality actions into Roma inclusion strategies has hardly begun, , and little or no mention is paid to that in the EU framework for Roma equality besides encouraging Member States to ensure that their strategic frameworks reflect the needs of diverse groups through an intersectional approach. This includes bearing in mind how different aspects of identity can combine to exacerbate discrimination, and to set quantitative and/or qualitative targets to ensure that diversity in terms of age, gender, sexual orientation, mobility and other personal characteristics is reflected.
The invisibilisation of LGBTQ+ persons of Roma origin in inclusion and integration policies further reinforces the vulnerability of this group, which faces multiple forms of disadvantage and exclusion. On the one hand, they are discriminated against by majority societies because of their ethnic origin or sexual orientation. On the other hand, they are particularly vulnerable within their own Roma community, which generally perceives queer identity as unacceptable, which can lead to an entire Roma community or family excommunicating an LGBTQ+ person, isolating them from social, family and material ties.
The LGBTQ+ Roma community-led association AraArt explains that “the peripheral position of this community intensifies its vulnerability and increases the risk that it will be the target of hate speech, stigmatisation, homophobia and lack of acceptance by society at large” (ibid). In the face of this multi-dimensional stigma, concealment of gender identity or sexual orientation may be the only bulwark of physical, social and economic protection for LGBTQ+ persons of Roma origin. Therefore, information, support and awareness-raising efforts at European, national and local levels are crucial to uphold the rights, dignity and equality of these persons.
In order to provide support and raise awareness of the specific forms of stigma towards this group, AraArt, founded in 2012 in Prague, became the first non-profit association in Europe dedicated to Roma members of the LGBTQ+ minority and the issue of their multiple discriminations. An example of their actions is the project “ROMA LGBT+ GOES VISIBLE IN EUROPE” which aims to fill these gaps by improving information, raising awareness, advocating at the European and national levels and working to consolidate and expand the International LGBT+ Roma Platform.
Discover their campaign : “I did a terrible thing”
The Roma women’s led-organisation ‘Rromnjako ilo’, based in Serbia, focuses on ending violence and challenging norms about sex, gender and sexuality in their own communities. They use peer support groups, and offer workshops on sexuality, health and human rights. Founded in 2007, they actively work on the abolition of traditional negative values in Roma communities, such as child and arrange married, discrimination and prejudice, supporting Roma women with sexual orientations other than heterosexual, as well as all women in the community who improve its status by supporting, understanding and accepting the differences. Acceptance in their communities and access to finance are some of the challenges they experience along their journey, but being part of other Roma women’s organisations has allowed them to collaborate with more activists who are joining their cause to push minority and gender issues onto the political agenda .
LGTBQ+ support in rural and remote areas
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, launched the Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas initiative in July 2019, highlighting how rural areas are the social fabric of Europe, with a rich diversity of landscapes, cultures and heritages as the most defining characteristics of Europe. 30.6% of the EU’s population lives in rural areas.
Social inclusion is closely related to the availability and access to infrastructure and services that can pose specific
difficulties for vulnerable groups. For LGBTQ+ people in rural areas, limited access to such services can leave them feeling more isolated. The lack of networks and physical spaces for the queer communities in rural areas makes it more difficult to identify and get support. The Huffington Post reported how in rural Britain, pride events have been forced to fold in the last year since the pandemic, due to a lack of resources and a shortage of volunteers. Interviewers expressed how pride events give the visibility, support and the sense of belonging to a community they often lack in rural areas. Not having more references makes them struggle with growing up as the person they really are.
To break these boundaries, Rural Youth Europe (RYEurope), a European umbrella organisation established in 1957 to promote and activate young people in the countryside, promotes LGBT+ inclusivity within RY Europe and its members as part of its mission. It has produced materials to guide more inclusive activities in rural environments. Meetings, debates, blogs, and some guidelines of the key ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ for creating a more inclusive LGBTQ+ environment within their organisations are part of the activities carried out in 2022.
RURALPRIDE: Reality and challenges of the LGTBQ+ collective is a project in the rural area Sierra Grande-Tierra de Barros, in the Spanish region of Extremadura. Its objective is to promote equal opportunities, participation, and presence of rural LGTBQ+ people in social, economic, cultural, and working life. The objective is full integration of LGBTQ+ people into society in the rural world of the province of Badajoz in general and especially in Sierra Grande-Tierra de Barros. The project carries out research and awareness activities such as events and podcasts to share the realities and challenges of the LGBTQ+ community in this rural area of Spain with the local audience .
Since 2015, the European grassroot organisation European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC), which brings together 31 national and regional farmers’, agricultural workers’ and rural people’s organisations based in 21 countries, has been undertaking a sexual and gender diversity working group, which aims to increase the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community in agricultural and rural areas. In 2021, ECVC published a document entitled “Embracing Rural Diversity: Genders and sexualities in the peasant movement” gathering stories and testimonies from small and medium-sized farmers and rural workers in Europe. This publication “calls for organised action, to add colour to the peasant struggle, break traditional rural stereotypes, embrace inclusive languages, and acknowledge that nature itself is diverse and queer”. Building on this work, the organisation launched a campaign in June 2022 to highlight the diversities of small-scale farming and rural areas. Concretely, they call ECVC members and networks to explain what diversity means to them and spread their stories in social media using the hashtag #ProudToBePeasant or #ProudToSupportPeasants.
Inclusive communication to be a LGBTQ+ ally
Who is a LGBTQ+ ally ?
An LGBTQ+ ally is a person who believes that all people, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation, should enjoy
the same rights, and should be treated with dignity and respect.
A person who celebrates the diversity of individuals, educates themselves, understands the intersectionality of identities, is aware of their privilege, and advocates for equality by giving voice to those affected.
A person who is aware of the inequalities, biases and injunctions of our societies that LGBTQ+ people face, and takes action against assumptions that heterosexuality and cis-identity* are the norm.
*cis-identity/cis-gender are terms which refer to a person whose gender identity corresponds to the sex they were assigned at birth.
How to be a LGBTQ+ ally ?
- Educate yourself and listen to LGBTQ+ stories: learn about the vocabulary related to the diversity of gender identities and sexual orientations, the appropriate pronouns, and the different terms used by the community, which may evolve over time. Keeping informed also means understanding the discrimination, prejudices and stigmatisation that members of this community face. This implies listening to the personal stories of LGBTQ+ people around you, asking questions, and doing your own research.
- Check your privileges: Some social identities and categories (race, ethnicity, class, religion, education, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc.) have social advantages that are not conferred to others and are therefore considered privileges. While it may not be possible to get rid of privilege entirely, acknowledging differences and group-specific discriminations enables reflecting on one’s own intersectional identities, promoting empathy towards marginalised groups and advocating for equality.
- Do not make assumptions : don’t assume someone’s sexual orientation, gender or pronoun. Physical appearance does not make a person’s gender. When you meet someone, ask them what their pronouns are before assigning them to a gender. Current and former partners do not define sexuality. When you are not sure, try to incorporate inclusive language by using neutral terms such as “partner”.
- Respect privacy : Never out someone else. An LGBTQ+ person should always have control over who they come out to and how they come out. Do not impose intimate questions about sexual practices, sex, and trans people’s “dead names*”.
- Take action : To be an effective ally, you must cohesively and visibly support LGBTQ+ equality and defend community members from any kind of discrimination. This can be done by attending Pride Parades, displaying an LGBTQ+ flag, speaking out against harmful words and jokes, reporting homophobic and transphobic acts when you witness them, show that your proud of being an ally : come out as a LGBTQ+ ally!
*Deadnaming is the act of referring to a transgender person’s birth name instead of their chosen name.
Despite recent efforts towards greater recognition, access to rights and equality for LGBTQ+ people at the European level, this diverse community remains subject to multiple forms of discrimination and violence. Tackling these injustices requires the adoption of an intersectional approach which understands that each individual is at the intersection of multiple identities and characteristics which can exacerbate sociological disadvantages.
Intersectionality remains underdeveloped in equality mainstreaming policies at European, national, regional and local levels. In this paper we have highlighted the specific cases of LGBTQ+ migrants/asylum seekers/refugees, of Roma origin and living in rural areas.
This brief overview has allowed us to report on how different local initiatives give visibility and support to marginalised people and advocate for appropriate solutions and policies. However, many local organisations bringing innovative approaches to tackle intersectional discrimination of LGBTQ+ on the ground rely on self-funding, volunteer and ad hoc structures lacking enough capacity to scale up.
The brief also involves disseminating information and raising awareness among different stakeholders (citizens, project leaders/practitioners, journalists, politicians) to ensure inclusive communication and to be an LGBTQ+ ally when referring to this community.
Join us in celebrating diversity and raising awareness about the many discriminations we still need to combat, especially for the most vulnerable of our society #happypridemonth #CelebrateDiversity.
Julie de Galard, Patricia Martinez Saez.