As delivered by Bjørn Berge, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland,
Chair of the Board of Samtokin 78,
It is a great pleasure to be here, among such a diverse range of experts and practitioners.
You, the activists, policymakers and civil society organisations, are no less than essential for the Council of Europe’s work.
You are our eyes and ears.
Without you, we would not have the full picture of what it means to be LGBTI in our 46 member states today.
We would not have the same awareness of the trends, developments and challenges that your communities face every day.
We would not have the insights we need to help us ensure that the standards, monitoring and
co-operation activities that we put in place are relevant and helpful –
With the firm and clear intention that LGBTI people will have their place at the table –
With equal rights –
And on equal terms –
With all other members of society.
Of course, we all know that this mission will not be completed from one day to another.
Because even when equality is won, it must always be guarded against those who would take it away again.
Right now, the political climate in Europe is highly polarised.
And this means a mixed and complex picture for LGBTI people on our continent.
So, I am very pleased that Iceland has decided to include this year’s IDAHOT Forum in the programme of its presidency of our Committee of Ministers.
It sends a clear message, and it is a demonstration of both the urgency of this moment and the importance to keep on fighting for equality, inclusion and diversity in today’s Europe.
But also of the need to take stock of where we are and where we want to get to.
It is equally important to try to see the whole picture.
And part of that picture is very positive.
There are countries where huge steps have been taken in a relatively short period –
And where there has never been a better time to be an LGBTI person.
Anti-discrimination laws have been put in place.
Same-sex couples and their families have gained legal recognition –
With Slovenia, Switzerland and Andorra recently raising the number of European countries recognising same-sex unions to 30.
And gender recognition rules have been reformed, and are increasingly based on self-determination, with the Spanish Parliament voting for such a law just this year.
The rights of intersex people have also been better recognised, with five countries now banning
so-called “sex normalising” medical interventions on intersex babies –
Greece being the most recent to take this step,last year.
Of course, change is not just about laws.
It is about visibility and acceptance by society –
And for many LGBTI Europeans, they now experience this freedom in a way previously unknown.
But there certainly remain many issues to resolve.
Very significant issues.
Over recent years we have seen the rise of populism, extreme nationalism and anti-rights movements.
Sometimes stoked by political leaders –
Targeting LGBTI people and others –
And spreading myths and misinformation, trying to poison the atmosphere.
In some places, this has stalled progress.
In others still, it has even sent rights into reverse –
Including the rollback of progressive laws and introduction of restrictive ones.
There has been legislation to limit visibility and discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation –
To take away existing rights on gender recognition –
And to define “the family” and introduce adoption laws that make life harder for LGBTI people and their children.
There have also been examples of bans, limitations and the failure to protect prides and other events –
Something that really matters when violence has been on the rise with recent, sometimes fatal, attacks on the LGBTI community in countries as diverse as Georgia, Germany, Norway and the Slovak Republic.
Indeed, for many, stigmatisation, hate speech and hate crimes remain a daily risk or reality.
This must change.
So, this year’s IDAHOT theme –
Chosen by you –
Is particularly important.
“Together always – united in diversity” is a rallying cry, but it also focuses our attention and makes clear our endpoint.
But the question remains, what more should be done to get there?
I hope, we as an organisation, can help on this.
Drawing on the knowledge, input and ideas of many people in this room -
As we are now conducting annual thematic reviews which look at how member states are implementing our recommendation on LGBTI equality –
With this year’s report on combating hate crimes due to be published in the coming months.
We are also doing a full review of how that recommendation works to ensure that it is fit for purpose, given the pressing challenges we face –
And we are preparing a new recommendation on the equality of rights of intersex people.
This involves expert input and began with a high-level conference in January in Strasbourg.
Its purpose is to help intersex people gain the rights and recognition they need to live with the dignity that every individual deserves.
But this event today is an opportunity for you to share your concerns and your insights about what more might be done.
So that, together, we can work towards a future in which LGBTI people can advance through every stage of life in safety and security –
Not just free from harassment, violence and discrimination –
Essential though this is –
But also, to be included – in every aspect of life – to the great benefit of our societies as a whole.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Thank you for your attention.