In response to the backsliding of LGBTIQ rights in member states of the European Union, notably Poland and Hungary, MEPs declared the EU an ‘LGBTIQ Freedom Zone‘ on Thursday 11 March.
This happened a few days after David Polfliet, 42, from Sinaai in East Flanders, was murdered in a park in Beveren. On Saturday 6 March Polfliet had hooked up with a guy on gay dating app Grindr. But that guy wasn’t a guy, it was three teenagers (17, 17 and 16) wanting to rob and beat him. That treatment was fatal for David.
On Thursday also, Mister Gay Belgium 2020 Joren Houtevels testified about being catfished, lured into dating and being abused.
A lesbian couple in Harelbeke, West Flanders testified how they received a lesbophobic letter saying they’re not welcome.
A friend of prominent gay politician Lorin Parys (N-VA) had his house sprayed with messages as “pedopophile” and “I like young boys”.
Although these events are unconnected as such, this week has been a rollercoaster for LGBTQI people in Belgium, especially in Flanders.
LGBTIQ Freedom Zone
Two years after the first Polish local authority declared itself an ‘LGBTIQ-free zone’, European Parliament declared the EU to be an ‘LGBTIQ Freedom Zone’ in a resolution adopted by 492 votes in favour, 141 against and 46 abstentions.
Since March 2019, more than 100 Polish regions, counties and municipalities have adopted resolutions declaring themselves to be free from ‘LGBTIQ ideology’.
According to these resolutions, local governments should refrain from encouraging tolerance towards LGBTIQ people and withdraw financial assistance from organisations promoting non-discrimination and equality.
Increased discrimination and attacks against LGBTIQ people in Poland
MEPs also highlight that these ‘LGBTIQ-free zones’ are part of a broader context in which the LGBTIQ community in Poland is subject to increased discrimination and attacks, notably growing hate speech from public authorities, elected officials (including the current President, Andrzej Duda), and pro-government media. They also deplore the arrests of LGBTIQ rights activists, and the attacks and bans on Pride marches.
Although the European Commission rejected applications for EU funding under its town-twinning programme from Polish towns that adopted such resolutions, MEPs urge the institution to go further.
The Commission should use all tools, they say, including infringement procedures, Article 7 of the Treaty on EU, as well as the recently adopted regulation on protecting the EU’s budget, in order to address violations of the fundamental rights of LGBTIQ people in the EU.
Deteriorating situation in Hungary
The EP resolution also mentions the deteriorating situation in Hungary. In November 2020, the Hungarian town of Nagykáta adopted a resolution banning the ‘‘’dissemination and promotion of LGBTIQ propaganda’.
One month later, the national Parliament adopted constitutional amendments that further restrict the rights of LGBTIQ people, that do not take the existence of transgender and non-binary persons into account and limit their right to a family life.
“LGBTIQ persons everywhere in the EU should enjoy the freedom to live and publicly show their sexual orientation and gender identity without fear of intolerance, discrimination or persecution, and authorities at all levels of governance across the EU should protect and promote equality and the fundamental rights of all, including LGBTIQ persons”, MEPs conclude.
Terry Reintke (Greens-EFA) from Germany and co-chair of the European Parliament’s LGBTI Intergroup says: “The step the European Parliament took today might have been a symbolic one for many, but it is a sign for civil society, activists and LGBTIQ citizens in Poland, Hungary, Romania and all across the EU that they are welcomed and loved across the Union. And yes, this declaration is a goal, not a reality. But while the rights of minorities are not made conditional by the will of majorities, in this case, proudly so, we have a majority advocating for their protection. And this is a signal to all governments which are against equality measures that the pro-LGBTIQ majority in the European Parliament will defend European values, even if national governments are not willing to.”
Marc Angel (S&D) from Luxembourg and co-chair of the LGBTI Intergroup: “The declaration of the Parliament today is but a starting point – from here, we wish to see local councils, regional governance bodies and national authorities making this declaration a reality. Ideally, we would see cities across the EU adopting similar declarations. But more important than that, we need them to involve their constituents in these discussions.”
“‘What will it take to make the EU an LGBTIQ Freedom Zone?’ This is the question to ask. And who better to respond than national allies, civil society, anti-discrimination and equality bodies who have been following this topic for decades? So to my fellow MPs across the EU, I say: ask them and involve them in your consultations, bring their input to your colleague MPs, take the courage to propose equality legislation that is far reaching and ensure it is enforced. Only then can we truly move towards making this resolution come true.”
Belgium mourns David’s death. It was a shock, if not a surprise, to many. LGBTQI or not.
The three teenage boys turned themselves in. Being minors, their fate depends of the youth magistrates. But, they can decide they should be trialed as adults. Which is likely because of the severity of their acts and their age.
We have seen outpours of support. Rainbow flags hang from balconies and official buildings, wakes are being organised. Many people added a rainbow to their social media profile pictures.
LGBTQI advocacy organisations çavaria and Wel Jong Niet Hetero had a meeting with Flemish Minister for Home Affairs, Administrative Affairs, Integration and Equal Opportunities Bart Somers (Open Vld).
- Reporting points (meldpunten) for homophobic and transphobic violence should be more open, welcoming and accessible.
- The creation of safe spaces for victims of homophobic and transphobic violence.
- The creation of a feedback group with LGBTQI organisations.
- More dialogue with LGBTQI youth group Wel Jong Niet Hetero.
WJNH has been very active this week. Although Polfliet was 42, the suspects are youth.
Çavaria will be a civil party in the trial proceedings, so it can follows what is happening.
Will it prevent future homophobic and transphobic violence? Probably not. Yes, it sends a “a signal”. But changing hearts and minds of homophobic and transphobic people doesn’t happen overnight.
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