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Survey: Europe's Gays Fear Violence, Discrimination

Participants march and shout slogans during a protest by gay rights activists in St. Petersburg May 1, 2013.
Participants march and shout slogans during a protest by gay rights activists in St. Petersburg May 1, 2013.
Lisa Bryant
The European Union is calling for action following an alarming survey released Friday showing most gays and transgender people in Europe live in fear of discrimination and violence.

The new European Union survey is the most far-reaching to date on discrimination and violence against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people in Europe - and its release coincides with the International Day Against Homophobia.  

Homophobia is hardly unique to Europe. But politicians and activists say the survey's findings are deeply worrying for a region which prides itself on championing human rights.

Two-thirds of the roughly 93,000 LGBT people surveyed online say they hid their sexual orientation at school. More than one-quarter say they have been attacked or feared being attacked over the past five years. Nearly one-fifth said they felt discriminated against in the workplace or when looking for a job. The survey spanned the 27-nation EU and also included incoming member Croatia.

During a Friday conference on the subject in The Hague, EU rights and justice commissioner Viviane Reding called the survey a "wake-up call" for Europe.

"Let's not kid ourselves, let's not pretend this is a freak result which we have heard. These figures, worrying as they are, confirm Eurobarometer (survey) results from last year," Reding said. "According to EU citizens, discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is widespread in all member states."  

Concerns about homophobia come even as a number of EU nations have passed laws legalizing gay marriage and other same-sex unions. That includes France, despite strong opposition against the legislation that included attacks against gays.

Reding said debate and disagreement are normal in health democracies.  

"But what is not normal is the steep rise in reported homophobic incidents and physical violence against LGBT people," Reding said. "Violence against any group is unacceptable in the 21st century."  

Reding says the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, has made strides in promoting the rights of gays and transgenders - in some cases taking action against individual member states. But most activists and politicians at the conference agree that much more needs to be done to ensure the EU's laws and principles are enforced.

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