Sexual Minorities and Social Democracy in Europe

Wed 2 Feb 2005

Sexual Minorities and Social Democracy in Europe



R E P O R T

Date: 3-5 December, 2004

Location: Bulgaria

Organiser: European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity

With the co-operation of: Bulgarian Socialist Youth

Fondation Jean-Jaurès (FJJ)

Alfred Mozer Stichting (AMS)

Guest speakers: Michael Cashman (Labour MEP), Axel Queval (French Socialist Party, FJJ), Rowdy Boeyink (ECOSY network, AMS)

Political Context



The European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity is the network organisation of political foundations and parties, member of the Party of European Socialists, for cooperation with like-minded parties outside the PES and the European Union.

The European Forum has a successful record of encouraging political parties and movements in their efforts to deal with issues of discrimination, segregation, oppression of human rights, with special emphasis on minorities. It was, however, for the first time, that a specific seminar on Gay and Lesbian (GL) rights took place. It was prompted by the reality that GL movements, specifically in post-communist societies, are still not seriously accepted in society and their representatives fear discrimination at work, abuse from media or even family and friend circles, segregation and rejection.

Report

Just as all human rights issues, GL rights are not limited to one specific region. Accordingly, the target group of the seminar was representatives from countries from all over Europe and in different stages of their democratic development. Participants from transition countries (Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Serbia and Montenegro, Macedonia), new EU member states and acceding countries (Poland, Bulgaria and Romania), and EU countries (France, the UK, Sweden and the Netherlands) were present. Most of the participants were members of social democratic parties. There were also active members of GL organisations, who were trying to establish links with political parties, or in the past have had contacts with social democratic Parties and were looking to renew them.



The seminar was very open and informal. Among other things, it sought to clarify what the situation in the different parts of Europe is, and what are social democratic parties doing to improve it. Summary of the findings per country follows:

- In the old EU countries , the fight for GL rights has begun earlier and has achieved more results. Discrimination on basis of sexual orientation is forbidden. social democratic parties are actively involved in spreading tolerance and acceptance of gays and lesbians. Still, marriages and adoption of children is only possible in a limited number of countries. Crime incidents based on homophobia occur. Prejudice remains. In a famous case, the European Parliament recently succeeded in ousting a proposed member of the European Commission , Rocco Buttiglione. In his hearing at the Parliament he has said that according to him, homosexuality is a sin and that if policy proposals were against his moral principles, he would oppose them.

- In Poland the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) co-operates with the Gay and Lesbian movement. However, in Polish society catholic religion is being used to demonise homosexuals as sinners or sick people. The EU directive on prohibition of discrimination is enforced. A law, proposed by SLD, allowing same sex couples to register as partners has been adopted in the Upper Chamber in December 2004.

- Romania and Bulgaria both have adopted the anti-discrimination EU directive in employment. However, law enforcement remains under question. For example, serving in the army (conscript-based) is forbidden for gay men in Bulgaria. In Romania, homosexuality was only decriminalised in 2002. Representatives of both countries indicate the most serious problem to be attitudes in society. General prejudice towards homosexuals are that they are lazy, looking for trouble or trying to make themselves interesting; worse, that they are criminals, for example paedophiles, or that they cause AIDS. Noteworthy, one of the big discussion issues during the presidential elections campaign was GL rights, with social democratic PM and presidential candidate Nastase saying there were more important things to do in the country. Its seems like the presidential elections in Bulgaria would also not miss this topic either. The host of the conference was Bulgarian Socialist Youth (BSM) and representatives of this organisation were available. Also at the concluding session of the seminar, the BSM leader came and addressed the participants and presented a very progressive declaration on behalf of his organisation. The participants recommended to adopt the declaration officially and to make it a visible document for the public. The European Forum will follow developments to this end.

- Several days after the seminar, a MP from the BSP, said on prime time national radio programme in Bulgaria that the BSP should defend homosexual rights and freedoms and that this was a perfectly normal thing to do for a left-wing party who is member of SI and associate member of the PES. Noteworthy, it was the same MP who was supposed to come to the seminar but in the last moment could not make it. The two Bulgarian NGO’s present complained of lack of willingness to co-operate from all political parties in Bulgaria. A recent opinion poll was shown, in which 50% of the respondents say they would not vote for a party, which has homosexuals on its list. Elections are expected in June 2005. In both Romania and Bulgaria, the prospective of EU membership plays an important role in advancement of human rights, GL rights including.

- Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro and FYR Macedonia seem to have a poorer human rights record than Bulgaria and Romania. The Croatian would-be participant, a prominent gay activist, could not come to the conference. A few weeks before the seminar he found neonazi-style graffiti on the building of his apartment, wishing him death. Skinheads burgled his apartment and stoned his window. At the same time, the two Serbian participants, gay activists and linked to the social democratic Union, had problems when they took the bus to Sofia. They encountered an aggressive band of football hooligans in, who recognised one of them to be gay from a TV program. Faced with this situation, they had returned home and only arrived on the second day of the conference. A documentary on the Gay parade in Belgrade in 2001 was projected during the seminar, and confronted in a very direct manner all participants with homophobia. Despite ending violently, this gay parade has succeeded in bringing the topic into mainstream public debate. There are numerous gay organisations in Serbia now, but poorly organised; contacts with the political parties are not developed. The two Serbian participants, members of the NGO Gayten and of the social democratic Union, also urge for pressure on Serbian politics. Their Western-minded president Boris Tadic, elected from the Democratic Party, regards promoting homosexual rights as anti-life politics. Macedonia seems to still live under the legacy of late president Trajkovski, a convinced Methodist protestant, who was against a USAID-sponsored campaign for tolerance towards homosexuals because “there are more important things to do with American tax-payers money”. The two participants from the youth organisation of the Social Democratic Union admitted the very topic is a taboo in society and politics. The youth organisation has tried and failed to organise a seminar on the topic last year.

- It could be said that Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine share similar political difficulties, even though the scope of authoritarian rule differs significantly. Belarus is a dictatorial state. There, it is not even possible to register a LGBT (Lesbi, Gay, Bi-sexual, Trans-sexual) organisation as such, even though the Swedish participant said there was some co-operation with Belarussian activists. Earlier, there were some contacts between grass-root organisations and centre-left political parties in the country, but they gradually disappeared after president Lukashenka came to power. In Moldova, research shows that 86% of the population doesn’t agree to have homosexual neighbours. A newspaper, close to the Democratic Party (DPM), writes on LG issues. It seems that DPM is the most friendly to GL issues, and cooperates with one organisation, called Gender Doc. From Ukraine, an activist from the NGO “Nash Mir” was present. His organisation is looking for contacts with political parties, and to a certain level has established them with the former opposition parties who supported the election of President Yushchenko. He hopes that with the new president, democratic reforms will take place, which will make it possible to prosecute acts of crime against gay men and lesbians. Struggles for more rights there have been courageous: hardships to register the organisation (first denied on moral basis); harassment during a parade in Dnipropetrovsk. In Ukraine, only 15% approves the existence of same sex couples and some groups would claim “AIDS is fair for gays”.

The discussions on the LGBT situation in all represented countries was followed by a training on how and why to lobby political parties and how to do successful networking. The two trainers were Michael Cashman (Labour Party MEP) and Rowdy Boeyink (ECOSY). After an introduction on the necessity of continuous lobbying and networking, the participants were divided in four groups, which had to answer specific questions on lobbying and networking and then present the results to the rest of the seminar. The participants were glad that they could think together on techniques of lobby and networking (how, who, what for, etc), especially because ideas and practices from different countries and backgrounds proved to be mutually useful.

During the seminar, Axel Queval from the French Socialist Party gave a presentation on the phenomenon homophobia, giving many examples from the GL movement in France. He, just as the other participants from Western European countries – The Netherlands, the UK and Sweden, emphasised on the importance of continuous efforts for tolerance, respect of human rights and civil liberties.

Conclusions



One of the conclusions of the seminar is that while the role of the EU in bringing more tolerance for sexual minorities across the continent must not be over-estimated, such a role clearly exists and positively influences legislation, policy-making and even society attitudes. Not only through adopting the anti-discrimination directive become homosexual rights better protected, but through looking at positive examples in other European countries, ordinary people come to think more and more of gay and lesbian rights as a must.

Gay and lesbian movements look for cooperation with political parties. They lobby and stand for their rights. From the contributions of the representatives from 12 countries, including from different NGO’s, it became clear that for them the most logical step was to begin their fight by addressing leftist and social democratic parties. Poland, where a social democratic politician has successfully proposed the new law for same sex couples in Parliament, is an excellent example for good co-operation, which other countries could follow. The Netherlands, the UK, France and Sweden have more long-term successful experience in this direction.

The participants felt the need to create an email-based forum to keep discussing important and relevant issues in their countries. This will be established and hopefully will give a better base to evaluate the results of the event. The very fact that this seminar was organised by the Forum, gave to many of the participants a feeling of support and appreciation.

All participants were unanimous that a follow-up seminar should be organised in 2005. They pointed out that not only the discussion over developments in different countries was useful, but also the training on lobbying, the lecture on homophobia and the more informal parts, like watching a movie about children with gay parents in France.

The possibility of a follow-up is to be discussed and concretised, while the Forum remains open to find resource for a second similar event, if needed. Co-operation with the PES, ECOSY, the working group in the European Parliament and other sister organisations remains very important. Even more important is to keep contact with the participants and keep asking them if they have established contacts with their parties/organisations, what solutions they have found, what supports they need from social democratic parties and organisations across Europe.

January 2005

Matilda Nahabedian