ILGA-Europe published its ‘LGBTI Enlargement Review‘ for 2023, looking at the state of affairs regarding the protection of LGBTQIA+ people and their equality of human rights compared to their straight friends, family and neighbours in ten countries who want to join the European Union. These countries are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine.
Off the beaten path
These are also countries which are cited as “up and coming”, “promising”, “off the beaten track” travel destinations. Well, Ukraine not at the moment. But as I’m writing this, two friends are in Georgia. The country, not the US state. On social media, I have seen gay friends and acquaintances post travel photos from Georgia, Albania and North Macedonia. Danny and I have been to Serbia and Montenegro. I have been to Bosnia and to Turkey as well, but that’s a long time ago.
I am interested in going to Georgia, Albania and Azerbaijan (which has nut been surveyed here). But I can’t really convince friends to come along. They cite rampant homophobia as a reason not to go. Even if my circle of friends and myself are very passable. Passable is a term used to describe someone being able to pass as straight and / or cisgender.
So, ILGA-Europe’s report and blogpost on the subject offers some insight.
“2022 was an historic year for the enlargement process, as the EU expanded its promise of a perspective for EU accession to include Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, following the beginning of Russia’s war in Ukraine on 24 February 2022″, ILGA-Europe writes in a blog post.
“All three countries are now included in the EU’s annual enlargement reporting process. As ILGA-Europe has member organisations in all of the newly added countries, this year’s LGBTI Enlargement Review covers the perspectives of LGBTI civil society from all ten countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine.”
The annual enlargement report process is a key moment to remind governments of the criteria that need to be met and point out where advancement on rule of law and the protection of fundamental rights.
“It is especially important in this context that the EU insist that the protection of LGBTI people’s human rights are a core part of those requirements, as they are often falling behind the requirements. The recommendations regarding the human rights of LGBTI people are key tools supporting LGBTI organisations in the enlargement countries to engage with their governments and hold them accountable to the commitments made.
ILGA-Europe formulates recommendations for each of the ten reviewed countries. They all have their challenges.
“The Ukrainian government has over the last months shown clear commitment towards EU integration and taken concrete measures to strengthen its
democratic safeguards, for example in combatting corruption. What is needed now is that the fundamental rights of vulnerable groups, including LGBTI people, become an integral part of Ukraine’s efforts to improve its democratic and human rights standards, as well as respect for and protection of the rule of law.”
“Relevant legislative drafts on registered partnership and criminalisation of hate crimes on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity are on the table and the European Commission needs to push for this legislation to be adopted soon.”
LGBTI civil society in Ukraine is working tirelessly to continue providing services to the LGBTI community during times of war, as well as to improve the rights of LGBTI people in Ukraine and contribute to a pluralistic and democratic society.
Georgia and Moldova
“Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova have been offered the path to European integration, and have chosen this path in the face of Russia’s imperialist ambitions and anti-democratic interference.”
“In the beginning of 2023 the reality of this has become extremely clear, with pro-Russian forces attempting to destabilise Moldova’s government, and in Georgia, a Russia-style foreign agent law was adopted and then repealed after massive pro-EU protests. This law would have restricted and undermined civil society, leading the country away from EU values of democracy and a thriving civil society, as well as being incompatible with the EU’s legal practices.”
Even though the draft law has been withdrawn for now, the threat is not off the table, especially for restrictions regarding LGBTI organisations, and the European Commission needs to include clear recommendations against any attempt to further restrict civil society space or target LGBTI organisations.
“In a time when, across Europe, anti-LGBTI sentiment is spurred by pro-Russian forces and anti-democratic actors, often as the main wedge issue to divide and distract populations from the failings of governments, it is essential that the strengthening of the fundamental rights of LGBTI people are included in the new perspectives of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia to join the EU. Fundamental rights are a core part of the EU acquis, and all countries wanting to join the EU must adhere to clear commitments on strengthening and promoting fundamental rights of all people, with an emphasis on vulnerable populations, including LGBTI people.”
“The strength of disinformation and anti-LGBTI sentiment being spread across the Western Balkans region, particularly in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and North Macedonia, has intensified even more since Russia’s war in Ukraine, with LGBTI people and civil society as targets of smear campaigns, hatred and hostility, often originating from the government level, pro-Russia forces and religious leaders”, ILGA-Europe says.
The anti-rights movement, which is well funded and coordinated, has taken root strongly in the Western Balkans region in the last two years. At the same time, LGBTI organisations in the Western Balkans are experiencing a significant reduction in funding for LGBTI projects and civil society in the region.
“This has resulted in a number of LGBTI organisations having to close, and many
at brink of closing. Many organisations no longer have the sufficient funds to continue their work, whilst they are facing organised attacks against their physical spaces, as well as against the legal framework which protects and guarantees their equal rights. LGBTI organisations in this region form part of the civil society framework which is fighting to maintain democracy in an increasingly anti-democratic environment, and should be supported in a sustainable way.”
The enlargement process has been key in ensuring progress on fundamental rights in this region over the years, but LGBTI rights remain fragile and investment in civil society and maintaining fundamental rights standards is therefore key to prevent backsliding.”
In Turkey, LGBTI+ people and civil society continue to face harsh repression from government levels and religious leaders. 2022 saw a record number of arrests and repression at prides. In total, 530 people were detained during pride season, over the span of 37 days, many of whom were subject to police violence and were put on trial as a result of their participation in prides.
“The crackdown on freedom of expression continues, with arrests made for simply holding a rainbow flag, and with censorship of LGBTI+ content in books and online and offline media. LGBTI+ civil society organisations continue to face audits under the Law on Preventing Financing of Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction.”
The earthquakes of February 2023 had a huge impact on all of Turkish society, with losses among the LGBTI+ community and civil society. LGBTI+ organisations volunteered with searches and supporting survivors, providing specific services for LGBTI+ people facing discrimination within this context.
“With national elections upcoming on 14 May, we are unable to determine precise LGBTI+ priorities ahead of the election, therefore content of this Review related to Turkey will be updated after the elections. Whatever the outcome, we unfortunately have to be prepared for a further tightening of civil society space, smear campaigns and active persecution of LGBTI+ people if the incumbent wins.”
“In the current context it is important that the European Commission sends a clear message to Turkish authorities on the need to protect freedom of assembly as part of the EU acquis, as well as the protection of the safety of LGBTI+ people against hatred and violence.”
For the casual tourist, this all sounds abstract and theoretical. But the casual tourist should always be aware where he, she or they is travelling.
Existing EU member states are not free from homophobia and transphobia. Being it on the street, at work, at school, going out, online. Political, verbal or physical. State-sponsored or private initiative. Even within the EU, even in Western Europe, queer people and thus queer travellers can experience all forms of LGBTQIA+ phobia.
But going east, odds are increasing. Being openly a homosexual couple can you get in trouble when checkin in at a hotel. Holding hands is often a very bad idea.
But even single gay travellers are at risk. Looking gay can be enough. By the way, eve if you’re heterosexual, you can be perceived to be gay, to bee not manly enough or too manly, as a woman.
I’m aware this rustic and rough side of some communities attract gay travellers. “They’re rough but good-hearted” or “they’re so hospitable and friendly”. They often are, indeed. As long as you conform.
So know where you go. Research.
Queer human rights
- European Union and 15 Member States challenge Hungary’s gay propaganda ban in court.
- SPARTACUS GAY TRAVEL INDEX 2023 | Belgium 17th most gay travel friendly country; Malta on 1, Canada and Switzerland share 2nd.
- 1 in 3 LGBTQIA+ people in Flanders and Brussels experienced physical aggression in the past two years.
- ILGA-EUROPE | 2022 deadliest rise in homophobic and transphobic violence in over a decade.
- EXHIBITION | ‘Homosexuals and Lesbians in Nazi Europe’, Kazerne Dossin, Mechelen.
- Forbidden Colours helped over 500 queer refugees to flee war in Ukraine.
- 71 (68) countries where gay sex is illegal.
- RAINBOW EUROPE MAP AND INDEX 2022 | These are the LGBTQIA-friendly and LGBTQIA-unfriendly countries in Europe.
- RAINBOW EUROPE MAP AND INDEX 2021 | These are the LGBTQI-friendly and LGBTQI-unfriendly countries in Europe.
- RAINBOW EUROPE MAP AND INDEX 2020 | These are the LGBT-friendly and LGBT-unfriendly countries in Europe.
- Political and governmental homophobia and transphobia in Europe not necessarily backed by public opinion.
- COVID-19 and Anti-LGBTQI initiatives make queer life harder in Europe.
- To be or not to be out and proud LGBTQ when travelling?.
- Are you travelling to a hostile destination?.
- ILGA-Europe: COVID-19 affected LGBTI people’s human rights heavily.
- European Union declared ‘LGBTIQ Freedom Zone’ as Belgium mourns murdered gay man.
- Travel guide for people with HIV.
- European Union declared ‘LGBTIQ Freedom Zone’ but reality is quite different.
- A plea for LGBTQ travel in post-communist Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia.
- Queer in a hostile world: more likely to be arrested for looking gay than for actual homosexual acts.
6 Comments Add yours
i have travelled all over Eastern Europe years ago, and I never really felt safe enough to tell people I’m gay (except maybe in big cities to progressive people).
It’s quite sad to see how our rights and freedoms are reversing in the East. It also keeps me from travelling to a continent like Africa.
I’m glad to live in Thailand now, which is increasingly gay-friendly and is even considering same-sex-marriage.
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That’s sad. Thank you for your insight.