COVID-19 and Anti-LGBTQI initiatives make queer life harder in Europe

A survey of LGBTQI organisations across Europe and Central Asia finds they face significant challenges in the face of growing anti-LGBTQI forces, and the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. ILGA-Europe conducted a survey with LGBTI organisations across the continent.

As gay travellers, we do take into account the LGBTQI situation at our destinations. Is gay sex (il)legal? What are attitudes towards LGBTQI people in general and homosexual men in particular? How well or badly are same-sex couples welcomed? 

Part of an LGBTQI-inclusive and welcoming environment is the health of rainbow civil society. Not only gay bars, rainbow (family) friendly hotels and other LGBTQI shops and services, but also the situation of organisations working on sexual orientation, gender identity, expression and sex characteristics (SOGIESC).

A report by Europe’s leading LGBTQI organisation, ILGA-Europe indicates that LGBTQI activists are struggling to resource their work amid a number of challenging factors.

The report, entitled, ‘Funding To Meet Changing Realities – LGBTI Organisations on the State of Funding in Europe and Central Asia, Survey 2021‘, based on survey responses from 300 LGBTI organisations across Europe and Central Asia finds that.

  • About one third of LGBTQI organisations operate on yearly budgets under 20,000 Euro, whilst engaging in a wide variety of activities to simultaneously serve their communities and advance laws and policies to protect LGBTI people’s human rights.
  • Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, organisations across the region stepped up to fill the gaps by providing services to LGBTQI people that should have been provided by public authorities.
  • Every second LGBTQI organisation in the region experiences stress and burnout due to not being able to meet the needs of LGBTI people coming in for help

Mental health

Overall, 84.9% of organisations say that they have been faced with burnout issues. The most common cause of stress and burnout across was not being able to meet the needs of LGBTI people coming in for help (49.7%), responding to COVID-19 (46.1%) and having to respond to external threats from right wing, anti-LGBTI or ‘anti-gender’ groups or individuals (43.6%).


The report further assesses challenges that LGBTQI organisations face and maps the diversity of work done and communities served by organisations. 

About three-quarters of LGBTQI organisations identified a lack of funding for the activities that are most important to their organisation as a barrier to implementing projects. They often do the most important work for them without funding, or without dedicated funding.

The report also indicates that the despite mounting workloads, burnout and growing threats and attacks, LGBTQI organisations continue to widen their work, focusing on a variety of highly vulnerable groups within the LGBTI community, such as migrants, young people, and trans and gender and non-conforming people, and are in dire need of additional resources to ensure that they can strengthen these efforts.

Amongst the good news is that LGBTI organisations across the regions have grown the proportion of their own resources to support their work, for instance by getting more donations from companies and private donors.

Launching the report, ILGA-Europe Programmes, Director Björn van Roozendaal said: “Behind the rich data contained in this report there is a powerful story of LGBTQI activists who amidst growing opposition, rising oppression and an unfolding pandemic have continued to stand up for their communities, reached out to those who are most affected and continued to undertake new work and build partnerships to meet today’s challenges. But resources continue to be scarce. The stark findings of this report should be a call to action to anyone who can and wants to support or step-up their commitment to support LGBTQI organisations.”

Viruses everywhere.

Political pressure

Is Poland introducting Anti-LGBTIQ+ Propaganda Bill This Week? That is the question. The legislative initiative in Poland is not standing on its own in Europe. And no, the phenomenon isn’t limited to former Soviet-influenced states in Eastern Europe. 

In a new educational reform in Poland, dubbed as ‘Lex Czarnek‘, Polish Education Minister Przemysław Czarnek (PiS) is orchestrating a power grab of the Polish education system. 


The reform will amongst other things prohibit NGOs from giving LGBTIQ+ inclusive sex education and provide the possibility to dismiss principals not following the policies of the national government. The bill resembles Russia‘s and Hungary‘s anti-LGBTIQ+ Propaganda Law.

This week, the Polish Parliament’s Education Committee has adopted the law. The vote on the Bill is scheduled on January 12th, by the Plenary of the Sejm, the Parliament od Poland. 

Afterwards, it will go to the Senate. Most probably, the Senate will vote against. In the case of the Sejm voting for the Bill, and the Senate voting against, the final decision lies with ultra conservative President Andrzej Duda. He is expected to be in favour of this law change.

Mid-November 2021 the Polish Council of Ministers adopted the draft of Lex Czarnek. The law change gives a lot more power to the School Superintendent. In Poland, a School Superintendent is a manager in charge of several schools that fall under the supervision of the Polish Ministry of Education. When Lex Czarnek will be adopted, the school superintendent will play a crucial role in selecting a candidate for the post of head of a school.

Besides that, Lex Czarnek will oblige the headteacher – prior to the commencement of classes conducted by associations or organisations – to obtain detailed information on the plan of activities at school and the outline of the classes and materials used during the offered classes, as well as to obtain a positive opinion of the school superintendent for the activities of such an organisation at school or institution. Participation of a pupil in activities conducted by associations or organisations will require a written consent of a parent of a minor pupil or a consent of an adult pupil.

Back To Communism

Rémy Bonny, from Belgium-based European Union LGBTIQ+ advocacy group Forbidden Colours: “The bill is the light version of Russia’s and Hungary’s anti-LGBTIQ+ propaganda law. Earlier this year, Minister Czarnek already showed interest in an anti-propaganda bill, when Hungary introduced it. Today, he’s implementing parts of it. Schools will not be able to help LGBTIQ+ pupils anymore.”

According to the Association of Polish Cities, the education reform constitutes “an attack on free, self-governing, open and modern schools”.

According to Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s biggest independent newspaper: “When students want to organise another ‘Rainbow Friday‘, the headteacher will not agree. They won’t allow an LGBT organisation to come to the school with a lecture on equality. And they won’t send a teacher on an equality education course. Because they won’t want to lose their job.”

During a heated public hearing in the Sejm, organised by the Polish opposition, several civil society organisations called the law “a return for schools to the times of the People’s Republic of Poland“.

It is clear, LGBTIQ+ teenagers will be the victim of this law. Opinion polls suggest that since the governmental attacks on the LGBTIQ+ community, suicidal thoughts amongst LGBTIQ+ people are sky rocketing. Research of 2021 shows that more than half (55%) of the LGBTIQ+ community declare that they happen to have suicidal thoughts (up from 45% in 2017 and 38% in 2012). One can assume that this number will be even higher amongst LGBTIQ+ teenagers.

Forbidden Colours asks policy-makers across the EU to publicly express support for LGBTIQ+ teenagers in Poland and condemn the bill. Everybody wishing to address the topic can take a picture with a sign saying “Wolna Szkoła” (“Free Schools”) and share it on social media, using the following hashtags: #CzarnekOut #WolnaSzkoła #LexCzarnek.

Flag of Poland

East ánd West

In an interview with De Morgen, Bonny is clear Poland, Hungary and Russia are not alone. Bonny sees a wave of conservatism throughout Europe.

“The ultra-conservative anti-LGBTQ+ movement is well organised: we see strong international networks ranging from the ultra-Catholics in Poland presidential candidate Éric Zemmour in France to Geert Wilders (PVV) in the Netherlands. FlandersDries Van Langenhove (Vlaams Belang) also went to Poland in 2013 for a camp organized by the ultra-conservative Catholic organization Tradition, Family, Property, which was also behind the recent Polish abortion ban. Important to know: these networks are fueled by Russia, so the story also has a geopolitical dimension.”

“The consequences are being felt: throughout Europe we see that the pressure is increasing. Italy recently voted down a discriminatory bill by Matteo Salvini (Lega Nord) in Italy, in Spain we also see similar proposals emerging at the local level.”

“In Latvia there was an attempt to abolish same-sex marriage, in Romania conservatives have tried to ban gender studies in higher education. So far, those conservative bills have not made it anywhere, but they are increasingly ending up on the table.”

Flag of Romania.


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