Stop discrimination against homosexual men and women

Despite the clear commitment to non-discrimination based on sexual orientation made by most Member States in the WHO European Region, many problems remain in protecting and promoting the rights of homosexuals. Sex between men is still a crime in some parts of the Region. 17 May is the International Day Against Homophobia.

In April 2011, Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, said that WHO had removed homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases on 17 May 1990: “This was an important step forward. Yet over two decades later, stigma and discrimination against homosexuals still exist, and can result in restricted access to health services and missed targets for health programmes.”

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation may increase vulnerability to depression, anxiety and substance abuse in adolescents and adults; exacerbates violence; hampers access to health services due to stigma; and increases the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

Putting the principle into practice

The principle of non-discrimination is strongly rooted in Europe at both the regional and national levels. Many Member States in the Region have strong constitutional protection for the principle of equality, and detailed non-discrimination laws that specifically prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Both the Council of Europe and the European Union (EU) have strongly condemned the penalization of consensual same-sex behaviour, and almost all countries in the Region have abolished criminal law provisions penalizing such conduct. The newly independent states of the former USSR (NIS) were among the last countries in the Region to do this, with a couple of notable exceptions, where male homosexual sex remains a criminal offense.

The case-law of the European Court of Human Rights clearly demonstrates that total bans on consensual same-sex activities in private violate the right to private life (article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights).

Despite Member States’ clear commitment to non-discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the standards set by important European human rights institutions, many problems remain in protecting and promoting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Human rights advocates and institutions at both the regional and national levels (including the Council of Europe and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights) continue to monitor and report offences (hate speech, hate crimes, other types of verbal and physical assault, and discriminatory practices by both individuals and public entities), which show continuing and widespread homophobia in Europe.