Surge in transphobic speech among politicians sparks concern ahead of EU elections, new report warns

Demonstrators take part in a march to mark International Transgender Day of Visibility in Lisbon, Thursday, March 31, 2022.
Demonstrators take part in a march to mark International Transgender Day of Visibility in Lisbon, Thursday, March 31, 2022. Copyright Armando Franca/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Armando Franca/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved
By Mared Gwyn Jones
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button
Copy/paste the article video embed link below:Copy to clipboardCopied

Transphobic and anti-LGBTI rhetoric is on the rise among politicians in Europe, according to a new report, prompting alarm ahead of the EU elections in June.


Advocacy group ILGA-Europe found a "clear accumulation of hate speech" against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) community by politicians in 32 European countries – including 19 EU member states – over the past year.

Croatia, Ireland, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden are named among the member states where transphobic rhetoric is on the rise, while transphobia was also detected in parliamentary discussions in Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, and Portugal.

The findings spark fears that politicians are instrumentalising anti-trans and anti-LGBTI narratives to sow hate, division and misinformation ahead of key votes, especially the crunch EU elections in June, where the far right is projected to make gains.

European Parliament Vice President Marc Angel, who co-chairs its 161-member LGBTI intergroup, told Euronews he is often "shocked" by the hateful language used by politicians, including in the parliament's plenary.

"I hear shocking statements when I chair the plenary. If politicians use this kind of language, it's clear people will use it too," he explained, adding that the far-right and religious extremists are spreading misinformation.

"We need to be aware that there is an anti-gender movement, financed by the Kremlin and other actors, and that we have to counter their narrative," he added.

Katrin Hugendubel, Advocacy Director for ILGA-Europe, warns that the European elections will take place in a climate that is "more polarised and violent."

"The very core values and standards upon which the EU was founded – respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law – are being called into question," she explained in an interview.

"Human rights, and in particular the human rights of LGBTI people, are facing a strong challenge from far-right forces. LGBTI people’s rights and humanity are increasingly being exploited to divide societies, undermine democracy, the rule of law and human rights."

Last May, Slovakia's former prime minister and then finance minister Igor Matovič sparked outrage for comments about a peaceful protest by LBGTI activists. "Nowhere have I met so many primitive, arrogant, vulgar and bad people together as among these transgender activists," he said, adding that "we must protect our children from these 'people'."

In July, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán accused the EU of abandoning Christian heritage in favour of the "hedonistic paganism of LGBTQ+ gender campaigns," which he claims are being waged against Hungary.

Such discourse contributes to a further rise in physical attacks, ILGA says, with only one EU country reporting no hate crime against the queer community in the past year.

Pride demonstrations have also been the targets of recent hostility and attacks, with Austrian police foiling a planned terrorist bomb attack on Vienna’s pride parade last June. 

Politicians 'weaponising' children

The report also finds that trans people, and children in particular, are being demonised by politicians as they increasingly use "scare tactics" to build opposition to trans minors' access to healthcare and scepticism towards sex education.

"Politicians are demonising the LGBTI community and using children as an argument that they need to be protected from harm," Hugendubel said.

"The demonising, the fearmongering, is actually negatively impacting not only LGBTI youth - where we see a rise in mental health problems and suicide rates - but actually all children in our society. And that is really, really worry."

In 2021, Hungary introduced legislation restricting LGBTI content in schools, which critics say hindered the understanding of human and reproductive rights. The move triggered an intense backlash and condemnation from Brussels, which continues to withhold a small amount of EU funds from Hungary over the measures.

Hugendubel says Orbán's government is using the issue to start a culture war.


"The (Hungarian) government is using LGBTI rights to distract from other problems, to pull that into the middle of the debate, to rally up their own voters, to divide societies," she explains. "Actually, to make sure that nobody's talking about the real issues."

But the trend is pervasive across the EU, with anti-LGBTI rhetoric spiking ahead of key votes or legal reforms, such as the ongoing gender recognition reform in Germany.

Eyes on EU election

Hugendubel commends member states for speaking out against LGBTI violations and supporting infringement procedures against Hungary but says more work needs to be done to defend fundamental rights and safeguard democratic processes.

"We're really calling on on everyone, and especially politicians, to take their responsibility, and to talk about human rights, to speak out clearly against misinformation," she explained.

"We've seen that in Spain, where we had a huge wave of anti-trans attacks when the government was reforming legal gender recognition, the government saw the reform through. And that's kind of persistence we need to see."


The findings come as Europe gears up for elections to the European Parliament, set to take place in early June. About 350 million eligible voters will be called to cast their ballots.

The parliament's left-wing, liberal and centre-right groups have already signed a Declaration on Advancing LGBTIQ rights ahead of the ballot.

But Hugendubel says candidates and parties must do more to speak out against the worrying patterns of divisive rhetoric.

"In the campaign specifically, we need everyone to work against polarisation and against the fact that the debate is getting more and more violent," she said. "So we're asking for for reason. We are asking for calm. We're asking for understanding."

A recent report by the European External Action Service (EEAS) found that disinformation using "identity-based stereotypes" is an increasing threat to democracy, and could be used as part of foreign-backed campaigns to interfere in June's vote.

Share this articleComments

You might also like

Online harassment, danger and poverty: How the digital divide affects the LGBTI community

Spain's new 'transgender' law breaks new ground on LGBTIQ+ rights

LGBTI asylum seekers facing 'double discrimination' across Europe, warns report