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UK earns ranking as most gay-friendly country in Europe

May 18, 2012

ILGA-Europe’s Rainbow Map ranks the legal status of LGBT citizens across Europe (Source: ILGA-Europe)

ILGA-Europe, an organization that tracks the status and promotes the rights of gay, lesbian, and transgender citizens, recently released its annual Rainbow Europe Map and Index, which compares the legal status of LGBT citizens across countries. According to a description of the criteria that went into the ranking, “ILGA-Europe Rainbow Map rates each European country’s laws and administrative practices according to 42 categories and ranks them on a scale between 30 (highest score: respect of human rights and full legal equality of LGBT people) and -12 (lowest score: gross violations of human rights and discrimination of LGBT people).” These 42 categories fall under six more general sets of policies: asylum, equality and non-discrimination, bias motivated speech/crime, family, freedom of association, assembly, and expression, and legal gender recognition.

Earning top honors this year with a score of 21 was the United Kingdom, largely due to its recognition of civil partnerships, strong anti-discrimination laws, and hate crime laws that include transgendered victims among the covered groups. Germany and Spain were close behind at 20 points, while Sweden ranked fourth with a score of 18. The general geographical patterns revealed by the map are perhaps unsurprising: as one moves from west to east, the various shades of green that indicate positive scores are replaced by the white and red colors indicating countries with more dismal track records. Moldova and Russia finished last among the covered countries with scores of -4.5; Armenia, Azerbaijan, Macedonia, and Ukraine were just barely ahead at -4. Among EU member states, Malta finished last with a score of 0, while Latvia and Cyprus were close behind at 1.

Perhaps the most surprising rankings were low scores by two of the EU’s founding members, Italy and France. Italy’s score of 2 ranked down there with the EU’s laggards. As ILGA-Europe’s country profile indicates, Italy does not offer recognition of same-sex partnerships or provide adoption opportunities for same-sex couples. France lags behind the leaders highest scorers because it does not recognize same-sex marriage (although it does allow same-sex couples to enter into registered partnerships) or offer adoption rights to same-sex couples.

As mentioned in the first paragraph, all of the criteria that went into ranking pertained to legislation and administrative practices. Thus, the Rainbow Europe Map does not incorporate such factors as general social attitudes towards homosexuality, violence and intimidation against LGBT people, portrayals of homosexuals in the media, and a whole host of other indicators that are more difficult to quantify. Thus, the ranking should not be seen as a definitive statement about the best places for gays and lesbians to live or travel. The fact that France and Serbia are tied with scores of 6 does not mean that both places are equally hospitable, given that the ranking does not incorporate the anti-gay violence that has broken out in Serbia during past gay pride parades.

The variation in scores among EU member states indicates that many, if not most, policies towards LGBT citizens are still decided at the national level. The European Commission put forward an anti-discrimination directive in 2008, but the bill has never really moved past the discussion stage. Germany, among other states, has been reluctant to endorse the directive out of fears of implementation costs. Even if the directive were to become law, it would not cover issues such as same-sex marriage or adoption rights, leaving those issues to be decided at the national level. Nevertheless, ILGA-Europe has endorsed the directive, arguing that it would prohibit discrimination “in the areas of social protection, social advantages, education, and access to supply of goods.”

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