< Viewpoints < 2006


“Gay Pride marches should be allowed – and protected”


[24/07/06] This week a major international conference and sports event is being organised in Montreal for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights. It has the fullest support of the Canadian federal and provincial authorities and is therefore under no threat.

Unfortunately, the picture doesn’t look this rosy in many Council of Europe states. Citing security concerns, the authorities in Riga refused a request from sexual minority NGOs to hold a Gay Pride Day parade this past weekend. When a group of activists gathered in a church to support gay rights, they were covered in eggs and rubbish by anti-gay protesters.

In Moscow, a similar demonstration was denied permission by the authorities in May. When some activists nevertheless went ahead with the peaceful march, they were brutally attacked by homophobic extremists, with little protection being provided by the police.

This is not acceptable. Peaceful demonstrations for sexual minority rights must be allowed. The fact that some people harbour homophobic prejudices is no reason to limit the freedom of expression and freedom of assembly of others.

The police have a duty to protect such manifestations and – while in extreme situations it might be necessary to recommend alternative demonstration venues – banning them is certainly unacceptable as it undermines core human rights principles.

In fact, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 1988 that governments not only need to refrain from interfering, but may on occasion have to take positive measures to ensure an effective freedom of peaceful assembly.

The lesbian and gay movements are getting more and more organised and they urge their members to “come out”. This is a logical response to centuries of systematic discrimination in country after country.

The real problem is not their sexual orientation, but the reaction of others. Whatever the psychological roots, many people still react with aggression against homosexuals. Sadly, some priests have also given direct or indirect support to homophobia, which has delayed the necessary attitude change in a number of countries.

Hate speech and violent acts against sexual minorities are still frequent – often with total impunity. The time has come to change that.

European and international norms are clear, and the non-discrimination provisions in international human rights law cover this group as well. Their right to freedom of expression and assembly cannot be restricted.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled against the criminalisation of homosexuality. It has also taken a clear position against unequal ages of sexual consent, exclusion from the military, deprivation of child custody as well as social benefits for same-sex partners.

However, it is necessary to ensure that national laws conform with the jurisprudence of the Court – and that they are implemented in reality. This will require judges and prosecutors to be well informed, and for the police to receive the necessary training and instruction.

Another group of professionals who are particularly central in efforts to combat prejudice is teachers. Rooting out homophobia should be a central goal of human rights education.

Politicians themselves are also key in this awareness campaign. Former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin set a good example when welcoming the conference in Montreal:

“Today’s Canada is proud to espouse and promote the inherent values of tolerance and inclusion. I am certain you also share my hope that the discussions at this important event will help change attitudes in our society. You can take pride in your participation in this gathering, which demonstrates your solidarity and commitment to eliminating all forms of discrimination related to sexual orientation.”

Thomas Hammarberg

This Viewpoint can be re-published in newspapers or on the internet without our prior consent, provided that the text is not modified and the original source is indicated in the following way: "Also available at the Commissioner's website at www.commissioner.coe.int".