The conference, the first to be organised by the Council on LGBTI rights, was opened by the Italian Ambassador to the EU Stefanno Sannino and the FRA director Morten Kjaerum. The event came as a follow-up to a corresponding survey and report that the FRA presented during CESI’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) commission meeting in October 2013. The report and the conference not only addressed the problem of daily discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, with a focus on the workplace the work place, but also looked at the impact of this discrimination on LGBTI children and adolescents who are being (cyber-)bullied at school. This leads to a disproportionately high average of suicides due to these experiences.
The outgoing EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, Martine Reicherts, speaking for the last time during her mandate, stressed that the fight against LGBTI discrimination has always been close to her heart and suggested that future legislation in this field could operate on the basis of enhanced cooperation between Member States as opposed to unanimity to help advance policies.
Participants in the panel and in the audience agreed that this kind of discrimination has to be tackled. Instruments, such as an EU action plan as well as the reviving the proposal of an anti-discrimination directive were strongly favored. This directive would extend EU anti-discriminaton legislation from the employment and occupation area to all EU competences, thus extending protection from discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age, or sexual orientation to social protection, social advantages, and access to goods and services.
Discrimination at the work place and harassment from colleagues is also seen as an issue for trade unions and social partners who must lead in changing attitudes in the workplace. Representatives from the private sector underlined the importance of equality for business. LGBTI persons not only constitute a big part of the private sector workforce, but also of service and goods users. The EU economy cannot afford to lose this pool of talent and consumers.
Participants also stated that legal recognition and rights for LGBTI people vary considerably between EU member states, thus jeopardising legal security. This is the case for example for married same sex couples and their children when moving from one member state to another.
In CESI’s 2013 FEMM commission, president Kirsten Lühmann (dbb) welcomed the study and mentioned the best practice of anonymous applications, in order to avoid unconsciously excluding people. In addition, she explained that it was no longer mandatory in Germany for the gender of the child to be specified at birth. Quoting concrete examples on homosexuality in the police and in high-ranking management positions, Ms Lühmann insisted that these problems could only be resolved on a top-down basis. As a trade union for many civil servants in Europe, CESI and its member organisations can lead by example.
The conference was closed by the Italian Undersecretary of State Ivan Scalfarotto who called upon all EU citizens: “The rights of our fellow citizens are our rights. Violation of their rights is violation of our rights!”