THE BLOG

For LGBTI Equality, We Must Come Out in Favour of Europe

09/03/2016 17:27 GMT | Updated 10/03/2017 10:12 GMT

So far the EU referendum campaign continues to be a war of stats and soundbites, with the political classes scrambling to take ownership of this debate and turning it into a lackluster affair. For LGBTI rights activists we must use this an opportunity to spark some life into this debate and stand up for equality at home and abroad by coming out for Europe.

For LGBTI Brits, the journey to equality has been and remains paved with bitter memories. Policies such as the notorious Section 28 that prevented our teachers speaking about same-sex relationships, or or the heartache at the stats showing 44% of young LGBT people surveyed have considered taking their own lives. Futher, LGBTI people still face institutional ignorance with research commissioned by Stonewall showing one in ten health and social care professionals expressed a belief that someone can be 'cured' of being gay, lesbian or bisexual.

The experiences faced by LGBTI people across the country could lead us to question why the UK currently stands number two for human rights provisions in the Rainbow Index of Europe, with Scotland being crowned number one in 2015. At present the UK is only overshadowed by Malta in the rights it affords to LGBTI citizens. In terms of the larger European countries we are strides ahead even of nations often perceived to be more tolerant such as Denmark or the Netherlands, who sit at 7th and 10th, respectively.

While our LGBTI rights may not be directly on the ballot paper at June's EU referendum, our ability to influence EU-wide rainbow equality may be significantly diluted. The state of LGBTI rights across the European Union is patchy at best, with the Rainbow Index of Equality revealing that only 55% of rights, on issues such as trans recognition and adoption rights, have been introduced in the EU overall. If you want to get a civil partnership with solid rights, your choice comes down to 12 nations, and if you want to get hitched the traditional way, you have only eight capital cities to get married in.

Broken down, by each individual EU member, the state of equality makes for difficult reading. Latvia for example offers its LGBTI citizens no protection from hate speech or the right to access goods and services without discrimination. Even in the nation that has provided cuisine for many a date I have had, Italy, civil partnerships have still to be introduced.

Even with these gross inequalities, progress is slowly being made at the EU level. Only this week 27 out of 28 EU member states agreed to a bold and ambitious series of actions to be implemented by the European Commission on gender recognition and LGBTI equality. Even in the face of continued LGBTI inequality, Vĕra Jourová Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, stated "No one will lose out if LGBTI people get the rights that everyone else can already enjoy."

The UK has the opportunity to make lasting change by providing a progressive voice that champions LGBTI equality across the entire EU. By being at the top table, we can do more than simply shout from the sidelines, we can influence decisions and create change.

Our collective voice of around 500 million in the EU gives our condemnation of gross breaches of LGBTI rights around the world more power, and allows us to shout even louder than doing so in isolation. We only need to look across at the Middle East where gay people continue to be persecuted by being thrown off buildings at the hands of ISIS or in Nigeria where gay people face death by stoning.

Irrespective of where you live across the European Union, I passionately believe that we are united in our struggle for equality; to be accepted by our families, not to lose our jobs due to discrimination and and to live without fear or intimidation.

For once our pride in Europe is bigger than getting nil points at Eurovision, it is about maintaining our ties and strength in a truly global fight for justice and equality, for all.