For many, the dark days of repression for the LGBTQ community is a thing of the past. But whilst being gay is not technically a crime in any European country, the rise of authoritarian leaders in countries like Poland, Hungary and Russia have stirred up anti-LGBTQ sentiment. This has culminated in aggressive anti-LGBTQ laws and a massive spike in hate crime. So what is causing this rise in hatred and what can be done to stop it?
Homophobia is not a new phenomenon, and the arguments used to discriminate against LGBTQ people feel familiar to the attitudes of the 80s, when people had free reign to abuse others in the streets or fire them simply for being who they were. However, in some European countries, LGBTQ people are being alienated again with discriminatory laws and hate crimes. Andrzej Duda, the recently re-elected leader of Poland attempted to court the far-right vote, saying that the “LGBT ideology is more destructive than communist indoctrination.” Some leaders have even used the pandemic as a cover to roll back rights for the LGBTQ community. For example, Viktor Orban recently gained new powers and used the pandemic to remove the legal recognition for transgender people in Hungary; a disturbing sign that the problem of homophobia is getting worse. Hate crimes against LGBTQ people in countries like Hungary and Poland have soared in recent years; acts encouraged by the Government’s disregard for the lives of people in the LGBTQ community.
Though politicians in places like Poland and Hungary almost certainly do hold homophobic personal beliefs, it is also not the only driving force that is pushing this legislation. LGBTQ people have always been used as a political football by authoritarian regimes, a fact with great historical precedent. The Soviet Union regularly subjected LGBTQ people to physical and psychological torture. It is a traumatic truth that LGBTQ people make for an excellent scapegoat when authoritarian leaders need to deflect from their failings. This is particularly applicable to Putin’s Russia where Anti-LGBTQ laws have been used to detract from Putin’s failures and corruption.
The role of religion in this debate, too, cannot be overlooked. Both the Catholic and Orthodox churches hold much of the blame for making people believe that the LGBTQ community is somehow a perverse threat to their national values, and the laws that are coming into effect are justified through a conservative interpretation of Christian scripture. In Poland, the Catholic church has long been a force of conservatism in the country and inevitably slowed down progress. So whilst the Church is not passing these laws, their conservatism is fuelling the hate that underpins them.
This rise in homophobia calls for international condemnation and effort to influence governments to change laws and promote a more inclusive message. The EU is the most notable institution that is capable of having any meaningful effect, capable of influencing legislation and halting the slide towards authoritarianism that would further endanger minorities. However at the minute, both the EU and the UK have shown an incredibly relaxed attitude to the rise of virulent homophobia. And whilst on an individual level we can donate to LGBTQ charities and sign petitions, it is undeniable that they can only do so much without more international condemnation.
The rise of Anti-LGBTQ authoritarian governments in Europe is a worrying trend that the UK and EU have a moral obligation to address. They cannot call themselves allies to the LGBTQ community in their own country until they express solidarity with LGBTQ people in every country.
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