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Professionally speaking: challenges to achieving equality for LGBT people

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people commonly face obstacles in their daily lives: at the doctor’s, at school or simply walking hand-in-hand on the streets. They are often bullied in classrooms or publicly attacked for simply being gay, lesbian, trans or bisexual. Frequently they do not report incidents of hate crime or discrimination, partly out of lack of trust for the respective authorities.

These findings highlight the need to look closer at the role public officials, and other professionals in education, healthcare and law enforcement, play in ensuring that everyone’s fundamental rights are protected and promoted. These are the ‘frontline officers’ that are in daily contact with people, including LGBT persons.

This research focused on the drivers and barriers such frontline officers face when doing their job. It was the first time ever that public officials, teachers, doctors, nurses and law enforcement officers in 19 EU Member States were interviewed about their experiences and views on efforts to protect and promote the rights of LGBT people. It sheds a light on what works and what does not, on the drivers and barriers to implementing policies and measures that promote diversity, and fighting discrimination and intolerance on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The findings underline the commitment many professionals show in improving the situation for LGBT people. Training and promising practices in a number of Member States reveal positive changes towards the full respect, protection and promotion of equality and non-discrimination for LGBT people. Respondents in all Member States stressed that EU legislation and policies on fundamental rights are the main driving force for further improvement and change in their countries. They considered EU actions as supporting them in performing their duties better and in having a meaningful positive impact on the lives of LGBT communities.

The findings also point to problems. For example, some law enforcement officials do not recognise, or underestimate, the scale and nature of homophobic and transphobic hate crime incidents. In most EU Member States, respondents argued that objective information about sexual orientation and gender identity is not part of school curricula or that training for medical professionals is lacking. The research also shows that there are still quite a number of healthcare professionals in several EU Member States who believe LGBT people suffer from pathological diseases.

Such findings have a negative impact. They prevent professionals from performing their tasks appropriately. As a result, LGBT people are still unable to enjoy their rights and freedoms under EU law on an equal footing with others.

While the List of Actions to advance LGBTI equality – presented by the European Commission in December 2015 – can help resolve some of the issues raised in this report, efforts by Member States’ authorities and associations of police, education and healthcare professionals are particularly crucial. Support from regional and local authorities, as well as cooperation with civil society and national human rights bodies, are also vital to keep pushing towards making discrimination against LGBTI people a thing of the past. I hope this report encourages all actors to contribute to that process.