Poland and Hungary reportedly rejected a declaration of support for LGBTQ youth in a European Union policy on creating internet safe spaces for young people.
On Thursday, the two countries were the lone holdouts in a vote on a joint statement on “gender equality, youth, and digitalization” authored by ministers with the EU’s employment and social affairs bureaus. As Politico was first to report, the proposed policy was “intended to promote gender equity in the digital era.”
However, Poland and Hungary rejected references in the document to the LGBTQ community.
The original version of the text referred to “young people of low socioeconomic status, young people from ethnic minorities including Roma, young persons with disabilities, young people in rural areas, young people with a migrant background, and young LGBTQ persons” as vulnerable minorities in the digital age.
In the United States, research from GLSEN has consistently shown that LGBTQ youth are three times as likely as their cisgender and heterosexual peers to be harassed, bullied, or targeted online.
A compromise declaration put forward by the Austrian delegation to the EU, however, replaced mention of this marginalized group with a reference to “sexual orientation.”
The watered-down proposal enumerated characteristics like “age,” “color,” “disability,” “ethnic or social origin,” “genetic features,” “language,” “membership of a national minority,” “political or any other opinion,” “property,” “race,” “religion or belief,” and “sexual orientation” as protected characteristics under the EU’s digital policy.
However, that list of characteristics does not include “gender identity.”
References to LGBTQ individuals were eventually included in the final version of the document, although with a symbolic asterisk placed next to them. Protection on the basis of LGBTQ identity was designated as a “presidential conclusion.”
That status doesn’t “carry the legal weight of formal council conclusions,” according to Politico.
The erasure of queer and transgender people from EU policy was met with widespread condemnation from member states that have long been supportive of LGBTQ equality. Wouter Koolmees, the Dutch minister for social affairs and employment, claimed “inclusion and equality are core values” of the EU.
“We will never compromise our principles,” he said in a statement. “This is not up for discussion and should have never been an issue for any member state.”
Regina Doherty, Ireland’s Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, noted this week’s controversy is a reminder that the EU cannot “be too complacent” when it comes to furthering LGBTQ rights among the 28 nations joined to the interstate partnership.
“[M]ore effort needs to be done to address the marginalisation and wellbeing of LGBTQ persons and to ensure that vulnerable groups are not left behind,” she said in a statement.
In response to the compromise declaration, 19 EU member states put forward their own statement in support of equality. Spearheaded by Malta, the document calls upon the European Commission to draft a comprehensive plan safeguarding the rights of LGBTQ individuals within the next two years.
That entreaty was signed by Belgium, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, and Spain, among others.
Following backlash, Poland and Hungary have maintained the decision to remove queer- and trans-inclusive language was intended to reflect majoritarian values in societies which have yet to fully embrace equality. According to ILGA Europe, the two countries rank 38th and 20th on LGBTQ rights in Europe, respectively.
Two months ago, Poland courted similar controversy after torpedoing Europe’s Fundamental Rights Charter over LGBTQ rights provisions.