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6 in 10 European LGBT+ people are too frightened to hold a partner’s hand in public

6 in 10 European LGBT+ people are too frightened to hold a partner’s hand in public

  • Biggest ever EU survey shows LGBT+ youths, trans and intersex people are most at risk of discrimination.
LGBT+ people in Vienna.

61% of LGBT+ EU citizens always or often avoid holding a same-sex partner’s hand in public for fear of attack or harassment.

And one in 10 have suffered a physical or sexual attack in the last five years because they are LGBT+.

Moreover, harassment and discrimination is higher now than it was in 2012.

That’s according to the biggest ever survey of LGBT+ people in European Union countries, including the UK.

The survey also found that young LGBT+ people are more likely to suffer discrimination and even physical or sexual attack. And it shows that trans and intersex people suffer higher levels of discrimination than other LGBT+ citizens.

The EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) conducted the survey of 140,000 people in 2019. That’s higher than the 93,000 who took part in 2012.

More harassment and discrimination than 2012

Moreover, the survey dispels the myth that LGBT+ Europeans have made huge progress in recent years.

There were some positives. For example, the number of LGBT+ people who are ‘often or always’ open about their identity went up from 36% in 2012 to more than half – 52% – in 2019.

However, in 2019, 58% of LGBT+ people said they’d been harassed with offensive or threatening situations over the last five years. This may have been at work, on the street, on public transport, in a shop, on the internet or elsewhere. That’s up from 45% since 2012.

Overall in 2019, 43% LGBT+ people reported they had suffered discrimination in the last 12 months. That compares to just 37% in 2012.

On the one hand, the number of LGBT+ people experiencing discrimination when looking for work fell slightly from 13% in 2012 to 11% last year. However, the number who suffered discrimination when at work went up from 19% seven years ago to 21% today.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most said they don’t think the government of their country ‘responds adequately to the safety needs of LGBTI people’. Just 4% thought the response was ‘definitely adequate’ with 72% saying it was ‘probably or definitely not adequate’.

Nor is it surprising that the FRA has chosen to title the report ‘A long way to go for LGBTI equality’.

‘LGBTI youth do not feel safe’

One clear pattern from the extensive survey is that young people face particularly high discrimination.

The researchers received 18,681 responses from 15 to 17-year-olds, and 49,761 from 18 to 24-year-olds.

They found that just over half (53%) of the 15 to 17 age group suffered discrimination in some area of life. This is even higher for trans (69 %) and intersex (65 %) respondents of the same age.

Moreover, young people were more likely to hide or disguise their LGBT+ identity due to fear of violence. And they are more likely to experience harassment.

Among adolescents, 51% of this harassment involved someone from school, college or university.

Meanwhile schools are still failing to ‘address LGBTI issues’. 47% of the youngest age group – most likely to still be at school – said their school failed to address these issues ‘at any point’. And 10% said they did talk about LGBT+ subjects but in a negative way.

Petra Tomašić is co-chair of The International LGBTQI Youth and Student Organisation (IGLYO).

Tomašić said: ‘The survey shows that discrimination and harassment is a reality for far too many LGBTI young people. As a result, we often have to hide who we are or avoid certain places. The message is clear: LGBTI youth do not feel safe.’

Steep rise in trans discrimination

Trans rights have particularly come under attack in the last few years in Europe. A separate study released yesterday – the annual Rainbow Map of Europe – showed trans people on the frontline of the battle for LGBT+ equality.

Now this survey confirms that discrimination has risen even more sharply for trans people across the EU in the past seven years. In 2012 43% of trans people reported discrimination in the last 12 months. That figure is 60% today.

As a result almost a third of trans people avoid expressing their gender physically because they fear being assaulted, threatened or harassed.

While one in 10 LGBT+ people overall have suffered a physically or sexually attack in the last five years, that figure is twice as high – one in five – for trans and intersex people.

Among all LGBT+ people 11% said they always ‘avoid certain places or locations for fear of being assaulted, threatened or harassed’ and 22% said they often did.

However, that figure is far higher for trans women – 17% always avoid locations and 31% often do. Meanwhile it is also higher among trans men, with 12% always avoiding locations and 25% often doing so.

Intersex people undergoing medical treatment without consent

The survey was also a groundbreaking study of intersex people in Europe. It’s sample of 1,500 intersex participants was the biggest to date.

Shockingly, it proved that intersex people are still enduring medical interventions to define their sex characteristics without consent.

It found that 62% of intersex people have undergone surgery to change their sex characteristics even though neither they nor their parents properly consented to it.

And around half the intersex people said they had hormonal or other medical treatment without fully informed consent.

More than one in three intersex people (34%) say discrimination because of their sex characteristics is a major and regular every-day life experience. 

Kitty Anderson is the co-chair of the Organisation Intersex International Europe.

Anderson said: ‘Even though we already knew, based on our community knowledge, how grim the living situation for intersex people is throughout Europe, now we have statistical proof to back up what before was defamed as anecdotal evidence.’