Gay and lesbian united in the fight

Image: Gay and lesbian united in the fight

Ulrike Lunacek is a member of European Parliament of The Greens- The Green Alternative. Austrian-born, openly lesbian, from many years she deals with the rights of LGBT people; she has kindly released us an interview on the subject of homosexuality in occasion of the Euro Pride 2011 started last June 1 and that will end tomorrow, Saturday June 11, in Rome with the final parade at Circo Massimo.

For the most part, gay men and lesbians get along. But, there are some that refuse to mingle. What’s the deal?

Yes, sometimes there are difficulties that come from the gender gap in our societies – and the fact that sometimes gay men do not understand feminist ideas which for many lesbians are important since they experience double discrimination: as women and as lesbians.
But in the community and in the movement there is a broad majority which cooperates well on lots of issues together with trans and bisexual people since in many aspects our struggle is the same: for respect and recognition of diversity, and for a society with equal rights for everybody! But furthermore, every ally is important: we are proud to have many straight persons as allies in and outside the European Parliament who also speak up for LGBT rights.

Do you think lesbian relationships are more widely accepted than gay ones in our societies, or not at all?

This is a very general assumption, but it depends on every society. Very often, emotional connections between women or even physical signs of friendship as holding hands or embracing or even sharing a flat are not interpreted immediately as signs of lesbianism – if gay men, in Central and Northern Europe, however, hold hands or embrace or even share a flat this is widely seen as “suspicious” – in Southern Europe and many other cultures, however, physical signs of friendship as holding hands or embracing are part of male culture without usually being considered as signs of male homosexuality. Thus, the fact that signs of “female bonding” are often not considered to be signs of lesbianism is rather a form invisibility or invisibilizing lesbian relationships than acceptance.
On the other hand, one can argue that gay men for many heterosexual males challenge the alleged superiority of men in a (still) patriarchal world and therefore are often considered to be dangerous to male superiority. From this perspective gay relationships are considered more dangerous than lesbian ones to societal status quo – also because women (lesbian or straight ones) still do not play an equal role in power and decision making spheres.

What is the main obstacle for a Europe free of sexual discriminations? Is the political oppression/reject worst than societal pressure/attitude?

More rights have an effect on societal attitude, because if “the authority”, “the state” accepts (equal) rights for LGBT people then citizens tend to go along with that and change their attitude. However, without daring LGBT people and our supporters in the hetero-world, lawmakers won’t change laws. So it needs courage and determination on both sides in order to change attitudes and do away with prejudices which usually (except in the really ideologized part of the population) have their origin in ignorance (and not necessarily in hatred).
Under the EU flag all citizens are protected against discriminations. That is what me and my colleague Michael Cashman as Co-Presidents of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT Rights told participants at the Baltic Pride last year in Vilnius when we held up the European flag.

What can be done to tackle homophobia?

Homophobia (and transphobia alike) are widespread phenomena and have to be tackled at several levels (society, personal relationships, politics, media…). As a politician, I am pushing forward changes in legislation and implementation of laws, but I am also fighting for more visibility of LGBT persons in all spheres of life, private or public: With more visibility fewer people will be able to say they don’t know us, and they will not be afraid of us anymore. The images of LGBT people in individuals’ hearts and minds will change – towards more acceptance, I am convinced.
Participating at different pride marches in Europe (in particular the more “difficult” ones) is a way of showing visibility and solidarity – and it strengthens LGBT people. The more we are visible, the more we reclaim our place in the mainstream of society, the more discrimination and social exclusion on account of sexual orientation or gender identity will be overcome. My motto always has been: “It’s normal to be different”. And I strongly agree with EP-President Buzek, who said this year on the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO): “We have a duty to protect human rights, wherever they are, and whatever form they take”. On IDAHO, the heads of the different EU institutions issued statements to support this day. (See http://www.lgbt-ep.eu/press-releases/eu-leaders-on-idaho-2011/ and http://www.ilga-europe.org/home/guide/eu/lgbt_rights/european_parliament).

Ulrike Lunacek