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Friends, it seems to me so fitting that we mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia like this:
Together, with wonderful music, in a spirit of celebration.
I’ll give you two reasons why.
First, because we have a lot to celebrate.
Thanks to the combined efforts of campaigners across Europe, over recent decades huge strides have been taken to safeguard the human rights of LGBTi people.
Same-sex relationships have been decriminalised throughout the continent.
In a number of member states, anti-LGBTi hate crime and hate speech have been outlawed.
Legal recognition for same sex couples is now a reality in 27 member states – over half, and counting.
And, in the last few years, some of our member states have passed some particularly important and progressive laws.
This includes Malta, which has banned so called “conversion therapy”, which aims to “cure” lesbians, gays and bisexuals of their sexuality, as well as Ireland and Denmark, which have introduced a legal right for transgender persons to change their birth certificates to match their real gender.
Such developments make me proud to be European.
The second reason that it’s good that we meet like this is, I’m afraid, less positive, but equally important.
For all the progress that has been made, we still have a road left to travel.
Not everyone shares our views.
Each day we hear of homophobic and transphobic incidents against LGBTi people.
Physical and emotional violence;
So-called “corrective rapes”;
Family and community rejection;
Bullying and discrimination.
Hateful rhetoric from politicians who should know better.
You will have all heard the worrying allegations of serious human rights violations against LGBTi persons in the Chechen Republic. I have expressed my deep concern over these reports, calling for a full investigation by the authorities.
And, more broadly, I am concerned that today, across numerous member states, rising populism is creating a climate in which LGBTi people feel less safe. Less accepted. Less free.
So what do we do in the face of such troubling developments?
We stand stronger in our pursuit of full rights for LGBTi people.
We come together like this, showing that we do not meet this hate with anger, but with solidarity.
Showing that at the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, we will not have our ambitions tempered.
Where there is violence and prejudice, we will continue to bring hope.
Here in Strasbourg we strive every day to help our member States develop laws, practices and culture to enable the full realisation of LGBTi rights.
Not special rights or special treatment – simply the same rights as everyone else.
We also practice what we preach:
Within the Council of Europe’s Secretariat, respect for diversity is a core value.
It is a mandatory part of training for managers, evaluated in every staff member’s appraisal, and our Equal Opportunities Board has set LGBTi staff rights as a priority.
It is a matter of personal priority to me that every LGBTi colleague feels respected and valued here, in the House of Human Rights.
Today I want to thank all of you, from both of our Organisations, for your commitment and your tremendous efforts.
I also want to urge you to stay positive and determined in the work you do.
The path to equality is never easy.
But we have made huge progress.
We will continue driving forward.
With that, thank you very much.