Important new report on gay/trans socio-legal status in Europe

by on July 5, 2011  •  In Social science

The Council of Europe has issued an extraordinarily thorough report (available on the web here) on the legal and social status of lgbt people across Europe. This will be a foundational document for anyone interested in trans-national studies of sexuality and gender.

The report has two parts: one on legal status and one on social status. The former is a comprehensive compilation covering employment, family law, violence, change of gender and asylum, among other topics. It will be a great reference, but in the end it is essentially a compilation, although with an excellent set of recommendations that can serve as benchmarks. What I found more interesting and impressive was the way that the second aspect of the report weaves in the results of survey and other sociological research to paint a picture of the experience of sexual and gender minorities.

It is easy for Americans to forget how diverse the social climates are across Europe. Support for same-sex marriage, for example, varies from 82% in the Netherlands to 11% in Romania. In about half of the 27 countries in the Council, support is 40% or more (in 8 countries, it's above 50%). Quickie comparison: here in the U.S., according to 2009 data, support is above 40% in 23 states, including 6 where support is above 50%.

Nor is everything golden even in European countries with the most progressive laws: A Swedish survey found that 50% of lgb respondents were closeted at work; among the general population, 68% of EU citizens think that it is difficult to be openly lgb at work. A Netherlands study found that 40% of respondents objected to seeing two men kiss in public (compared to 13% for different sex couples kissing). [Caveat: I don't know if these surveys were based on representative samples.]

The report also notes the danger of some European politicians trying to use acceptance of gay people as an argument to demonize immigrants from presumably anti-gay cultures, quoting Judith Butler (yes, Judith Butler).

I wonder what a similarly comprehensive report on the United States would find.

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