“This is a really friendly place for LGBTQ people,” says Catherine Camilleri of her small home country, the Mediterranean island of Malta with a population of 520,000. LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. “We are glad that we have a government that supports us. Of course there is always some kind of discrimination. That’s what it means to be an LGBTQ person, but in Malta the advantages outweigh the disadvantages far.” Catherine Camilleri, a long-time US resident, volunteers for an LGBTQ group on Malta’s rural neighboring island of Gozo. She is pleased that the state of Malta is once again the number one country in Europe with the most rights for lesbian, gay and transgender people.
Since 2009, the European branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) has published the rainbow map for Europe, which uses 74 criteria to measure the legal and social acceptance of LGBTQ people.
Malta: re-education banned
Malta has been at the top for years and still meets 89 percent of the required criteria. “The LGBTQ community has really blossomed in the last five or six years. The legislature is very active in Malta. For example, the country was the first in Europe to ban homosexual re-education therapy,” says Catherine Camilleri in Gozo. Of course, there are hateful e-mails or other hostilities from time to time, but when you consider how small and how Catholic the islands are, she was surprised how open you can live in the LGBTQ community here.
A look at the rainbow map roughly shows that there is a west-east divide in Europe when it comes to rights such as marriage for all, adoption rights for gay couples, gender identity, gender recognition and anti-hate crime measures. According to ILGA findings, Poland, which is governed by national conservatives, is at the bottom of the list in the European Union. Only 15 percent of the evaluated criteria are met here.
Poland: Hatred against LGBTQ
Julia Kata knows why. The trained psychologist is involved in the organization Trans-Fuzja for transgender people in the Polish capital of Warsaw. She complains that there is almost no special legal protection for LGBTQ people in Poland. “We don’t have laws against hate speech. We have penalties for hate crimes in the code, but they don’t include attacks based on sexual orientation, gender or identity. It’s considered a normal offence.” In contrast to Malta, discrimination in Poland comes from the ruling party PiS and the media that is obedient to it, says Julia Kata.
Things have been going downhill since 2015, when the extremely conservative PiS governed. “Hate is everywhere. When you hear, for example, ‘Your transgender or gay children are a danger to other children’ and the media publishes this hateful content every day, you just don’t feel safe in this country anymore.” The Trans-Fuzja activist in Warsaw believes that many people left Poland because they could no longer stand it.
There are also Pride marches in Warsaw, but there is a lot of trouble when it comes to social acceptance
You can come out to your family, but you never know if you will be accepted. In Julia Kata’s opinion, it would be urgently necessary to introduce registered partnerships or, even better, marriage for same-sex couples in Poland. It is absurd that children who want to undergo gender reassignment and change their maiden name have to sue their own parents in court. According to Polish law, in such cases, when entering the birth certificate, the parents made a mistake that can only be corrected by a court.
More trans rights in Europe
Overall, the LGBTQ association ILGA sees positive trends in Europe. “While we’re seeing targeted attacks on the trans community, we’re also seeing countries where governments are starting to reform transgender laws, like now in Germany. Politicians have more understanding and are more determined to keep reform processes on track hold,” ILGA official Katrin Hugendubel told DW.
For example, Spain has improved greatly in the ILGA score because it now has a comprehensive gender identity law based on self-declaration. Medical procedures to mutilate intersex children are now prohibited, discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity is prohibited. Moldova and Croatia have also improved in the ILGA ranking compared to the previous year. The pro-European government in Moldova has passed a liberal law on gender identity. Croatia has extended its adoption rights for homosexual couples.
Protest against LGBTQ rights in Poland: lifeguards want to preserve the traditional family (Archive 2020)
“That’s the glimmer of hope that we’re seeing, that’s the good news,” praises Katrin Hugendubel, who has been director of the LGBTQ interest group ILGA in Brussels for many years. Not much can be expected from the European Union as an institution, because it has no competence in family law. It is up to the member states. However, the member states are also blocking the possible extension of the EU’s discrimination directive, which so far only applies in the workplace. Katrin Hugendubel believes that the EU could do more if the member states had the political will.
Germany in the middle
The outlook for Julia Kata in Poland is mixed. Even in the homophobic and transphobic atmosphere in Poland, not everything is black or white. There are advances and setbacks in society. “It’s hard to say, ‘It’s very bad or it’s okay’ because there are so many factors on both sides that make things better or worse. We’re in a kind of chaos, I would say, at the moment.”
Not all that glitters is gold on the lucky leader island of Malta. Catherine Camilleri would like better cooperation between non-governmental organizations and more financial support from the state and a stronger dialogue with the Catholic Church. “Hate has not been eradicated here either, but when something happens, the reactions are strong and society is behind us.”
With 55 out of a possible 100 percentage points, Germany is in the middle of the ILGA assessment. That could change as soon as the traffic light coalition of SPD, Greens and FDP gets its gender identity law through the Bundestag, which would greatly simplify the adaptation of the name to the gender determined by those affected.