Making a difference for LGBTI+ communities across Europe

On 12 October two young members of the LGBTI+ community, university student and bartender Matus Horvath and visual merchandiser Juras Vankulic – were shot dead outside ‘Teplaren’, one of Bratislava’s two LGBTI+ bars. The killer, the son of a local far-right politician, who later shot himself, had before the shootings published online a white suprematist manifesto, expressing his wish to carry out further attacks on different groups.

The killings took place in Slovakia, a country which for months had witnessed increasing lies and insults from Slovakian politicians and the Catholic Church aimed at the LGBTI+ community, whipping up the atmosphere of hatred against them – an atmosphere that had been nurtured for years by politicians in power and in Parliament. Slovakia is one of the few countries in the Europe that still does not give any legal recognition to same-sex relationships.

Last Friday evening, during the ALDE Council meeting in Bratislava, delegates from liberal and democrat parties from across Europe gathered outside Teplaren bar to remember the terrible events of that night – we laid white roses, lit candles and filed past in silence – this was not the time for big speeches, rather quiet reflection. The photos of the two young victims stared out from the darkened windows of the bar, which to them like many other young people had come to be seen as a refuge – a home and a haven – in a country which systematically rages against them.

The next day the ALDE Council unanimously passed a motion, which had been drafted and submitted by the LibDem delegation, calling for all our sister parties across Europe to recognise LGBT+ hate crime as a specific crime and enact legislation in their own counties to combat it. At the ALDE Congress in Dublin in June, 37 of our sister parties, including the UK LibDems, signed the Dublin Declaration pledging our support for LGBTI+ rights. In August, Candy Piercy and I traveled to Krakow in Poland to help train officers from many of our sister parties on how to recruit and support LGBTI+ members and candidates – to make that support for LGBT+ rights a reality.

One of the politicians we trained on that Rainbow Platform programme in Krakow was Lucia Plavakova – a lesbian politician from our sister party in Slovakia, Progressive Slovakia PS, and the country’s only out politician. I caught up with Lucia last weekend in Bratislava, who told me that the day after after the murders she was too afraid to leave the house even to take her daughter to school. Whilst there was still much work to be done, the killings had made many people aware of just where hate speech and lies can lead – to the murder of two young people in cold blood, minutes from the centre of their capital city – and that they had to take a stance to stop this from happening again. Lucia has recently been elected to the City and Regional Councils of Bratislava and intends to campaign for a proper LGBTI+ community centre.

Lucia asked me to pass on her thanks to the LibDems for the training and support we have given her and her party, which have helped them get through these difficult times. I was obviously saddened by the murders in Bratislava but also heartened to hear from Lucia how things might be changing for the better in her small country, to see the number of Rainbow Flags hanging from windows in the city centre, and the way our sister parties rallied their support for the Slovakian LGBTI+ community recognising that LGBTI+ hate crime affect all our societies, that we need laws to protect us against the hate speech which can lead to the murder of two innocent young men out for a drink on a Thursday night. It can happen anywhere – last year in Sligo in Ireland, two young men were murdered just for being gay and gay men are often beaten up coming out of the LGBTI+ bars in Dublin. Ireland, with our sister party Fianna Fáil in power, does not yet recognise LGBTI+ hate crime.

We can make a difference – it’s why I got involved in politics to bring about change – and last weekend working alongside our sister parties in Bratislava, we did good.

* David Chalmers is Chair of Federal International Relations Committee.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.
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