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Finland to allow transgender people to change gender without sterilization

Country’s MPs approved series of amendments on Wednesday

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(Photo by feofan4ik via Bigstock)

Lawmakers in Finland on Wednesday voted to allow transgender people to legally change their gender without proof they had been sterilized or were unable to have children.

The Associated Press reported the amendments that Finnish MPs approved by a 113-69 vote margin will also allow trans people who are at least 18 to legally change their name without medical intervention. Prime Minister Sanna Marin said the amendments’ passage was a priority for her government ahead of the country’s general election that will take place in April.

Seta, a Finnish LGBTQ and intersex rights group, described the vote as a “victory for human rights.”

Translaki strengthens human rights in Finland,” tweeted Seta. “The rights of children and young people must be secured next!”

ILGA-Europe also praised the vote.

“We are thrilled to hear that the Finnish Parliament just adopted Translaki — a new law making legal gender recognition based on self-determination for adults,” said ILGA-Europe. “While there is more work to do, this is a significant step! Congratulations to all who have worked for so long on this!”

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European Union

Gay US ambassador to Hungary marches in Budapest Pride parade

David Pressman has criticized government’s anti-LGBTQ crackdown

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U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman marches in the Budapest Pride parade on June 22, 2024. (Photo courtesy of Pressman's X account)

U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman on Saturday marched in the annual Budapest Pride parade.

Pressman, who is gay, posted to his X account pictures of him holding an American flag while standing behind a banner that read “United States embassy.” Pressman on Sunday spoke at Budapest Pride’s Family Pride Event that took place at his official residence.

“We’ve gathered for a celebration of families, of freedom, and of love — all things that are increasingly under attack for LGBT people in Hungary,” he said.

Pressman in his speech referenced a joint statement from 35 countries that expressed “serious concern about the targeting of LGBTQI+ people in Hungary, and called for the government to eliminate its discriminatory laws, policies, and practices.”

The U.S., Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, North Macedonia, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the U.K. and Ukraine signed the statement alongside the U.S. and the General Delegation of Flanders, the Austrian Cultural Forum Budapest, the British Council, the Czech Centre, FinnAgora, Institut Français, Goethe-Institut, Instituto Camões and Instituto Cervantes.

“On the occasion of the 29th Budapest Pride Festival, we the undersigned embassies and cultural institutes express our full support for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community in Hungary and their rights to equality and nondiscrimination, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and freedom from violence, among others,” reads the statement. “Respect for the rule of law and universal human rights are the foundations upon which democratic states are build. International human rights law is grounded on the broad premise that all individuals have the same rights and freedoms without discrimination.”

Pressman in his speech said the Family Pride Event took place “at a time when democracy itself — in this country and around the world — is confronting unprecedented and serious threats.”   

“I’d like to talk with you this afternoon about freedom and democracy; and about those who instrumentalize love to undermine both,” said Pressman.  

“The fact that LGBT people and democracy are both under increasing attack is no coincidence,” he added. “Those who seek to undermine democracy, traffic in fear; and, tragically, few currencies of fear continue to hold more value than the love in this community.”  

Pressman further noted “posters all over Budapest during this political season fixated on you,” referring to LGBTQ Hungarians.  

“It’s why your parliament adopted laws aimed at you, and your government is now implementing those laws to target you,” he said. 

(Video courtesy of the u.s. embassy in hungary’s youtube page)
The Hungarian Parliament in Budapest, Hungary, on April 4, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Pressman has been a vocal critic of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and of his government’s crackdown against LGBTQ rights that has grown worse over the last decade.

The U.S. ambassador in 2023 reiterated these criticisms during a Budapest Pride reception.

Budapest Pride spokesperson Johanna Majercsik earlier this month told the Washington Blade that Pride “is a particularly important event in Hungary.” (The Blade in April traveled to Budapest, and interviewed Majercsik and other Hungarian activists.)

“Despite being a full member of the European Union since 2004, the Hungarian government has systematically reduced the rights of the LGBTQ+ community,” said Majercsik. “The government apparently doesn’t want to stop there, inciting people against our community, and making references about passing new anti-LGBTQ laws in the future (calling them child protection laws).”   

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The 2024 European elections: A turning point for LGBTQ rights in the EU?

Right-wing parties made electoral gains

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European Union President von der Leyen addresses the European Parliament in October 2023. (Screenshot courtesy of the European Council Press Office)

As the dust settles after the 2024 European Parliament elections, right-wing parties are gaining substantial ground and concerns about the potential impact on LGBTQ rights are growing. The projected surge in support for far-right parties, however, was not as pronounced as some had expected.

Monday morning’s estimates indicate the far-right’s presence has, however, undeniably increased. 

The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) gained four seats, bringing their total to 73. The Identity and Democracy group saw a significant rise, gaining nine seats to reach 58. Together, these nationalist, anti-immigrant parties now hold around 130 seats, reflecting their growing influence. Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France, which clinched over 32 percent of the vote, and the Alternative for Germany securing approximately 16 percent of the vote and becoming the country’s second-largest party, ahead of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats, in particular could affect the broader political dynamics in Europe.

Despite the gains for the far-right, the mainstream conservative European People’s Party (EPP) emerged as the largest group, securing 189 seats, an increase of 13 seats. The two other centrist parties, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats and Renew Europe, however, experienced losses that eroded the political center. S&D finished with 135 seats, losing four, while Renew Europe saw a significant reduction, finishing with 83 seats.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen celebrated her party’s victory and called for cooperation among centrists to ensure a “strong and effective Europe.” She emphasized the responsibility that comes with the election results, noting the need for stability amid growing support for extremist parties.

The election’s biggest losers were the Greens, who saw their support decrease by 25 percent, ending with 53 seats. The Greens, despite this setback, could still play a crucial role in supporting centrist majorities as an alternative to further-right parties.

All eyes are now on the election winners, the EPP. 

Von der Leyen has indicated her readiness to work with certain parties sitting with the hard-right ECR. Initial signals from the EPP camp, however, suggest it will stay true to its traditional allies at the center. Von der Leyen has offered to work with socialists and liberals to build a “majority in the center for a strong Europe,” underscoring the importance of maintaining a united front against extremism.

The narrow margins in the new parliament could lead to issue-by-issue coalitions, especially for sensitive issues such as those related to the European Green Deal. This limited room for maneuver could see the EPP relying on partners to its right on an ad hoc basis, including for critical decisions that include ushering in a new commission president. Von der Leyen’s future hangs in the balance as she seeks re-election. National delegations within her EPP grouping and support from lawmakers of Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, which clinched 24 seats, will play a crucial role in her bid to secure an absolute majority of 361 MEPs.

The implications for LGBTQ rights in Europe are significant. 

Far-right parties, known for their conservative social values, might push for policies that restrict LGBTQ rights, opposing marriage and adoption by same-sex couples, and challenging the legal recognition of gender identity and access to healthcare for transgender people. Such potential policy reversals represent a significant setback for the LGBTQ community.

The rising popularity of far-right ideologies also poses a risk of heightened discrimination and hate speech against LGBTQ people. 

Hate-motivated violence and exclusion are likely to become more prevalent, along with more frequent and aggressive hate speech targeting the LGBTQ community. Additionally, far-right parties often promote traditional gender roles and family structures, potentially undermining the visibility and acceptance of LGBTQ identities. Nonbinary, transgender, and intersex people could face increased stigmatization.

The 16th annual Rainbow Map that ILGA-Europe publishes underscores the importance of legal protections for LGBTQ people. 

Authoritarian leaders across Europe continue to use the scapegoating of LGBTQ people to divide and mobilize their electorates. Several countries, however, have demonstrated robust political will to advance and protect LGBTQ rights. Some countries — Germany, Iceland, Estonia, and Greece — have made significant strides in protecting LGBTQ rights through improvements in legislation and anti-discrimination measures. Belgium, Cyprus, Norway, and Portugal have introduced bans on conversion therapy practices.

Countries such as Italy, on the other hand, show the consequences of stalling legislative protection for LGBTQ people. Moreover, EU accession countries, including Turkey and Georgia, are actively eroding human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Rainbow Map illustrates the stark differences in how European countries handle LGBTQ rights. 

While some nations are making significant progress, others are regressing, influenced by the far-right’s growing power. Germany, Iceland, Estonia, and Greece, for example, have made noteworthy improvements in their legal frameworks to protect LGBTQ people. Germany prohibited hate crimes based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics, while Estonia and Greece amended their laws to allow same-sex couples to marry and adopt children.

In contrast, Italy, which has dropped in the rankings due to stalling legislative protections, exemplifies the risk of complacency that many activists in Europe fear. The far-right’s influence can quickly lead to the erosion of rights if proactive measures are not taken. The situation is even more dire in EU accession countries such as Turkey and Georgia, where LGBTQ rights are actively being rolled back.

The stakes are high as Europe moves forward from these elections. 

The EU must address the rise in political hate speech and new tools of oppression that include Russia’s criminalization of the LGBTQ movement. Without strong laws and policies to protect LGBTQ people, the foundation of safety, rule of law, and democracy in Europe is at risk.

The balance of power remains delicate as the European Parliament prepares for its new term.

The first major test will be the approval of the new European Commission president, which is set for July. Von der Leyen, who narrowly won her position five years ago, will need to secure broad support among centrists while navigating the complex dynamics of the new parliament. The secret ballot process adds an additional layer of uncertainty, making her re-election far from guaranteed.

The 2024 European elections have set the stage for potentially significant changes in the legislative and social landscape of the EU. As right-wing parties gain power, the fight for LGBTQ rights becomes more crucial than ever. The next few years will be pivotal in determining whether Europe can uphold its commitment to human rights and equality or if it will see a regression influenced by nationalist, conservative ideologies.

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European Union

Gay Ukrainian man struggles to rebuild life in Berlin

Dmytro Shapoval arrived in Germany in March 2022

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Dmytro Shapoval in Berlin on April 15, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Editor’s note: International News Editor Michael K. Lavers was on assignment in Berlin from April 12-15.

BERLIN — A gay Ukrainian man with HIV who fled his war-torn country more than two years ago remains in Berlin.

Dmytro Shapoval first spoke with the Washington Blade in July 2022.

He was working at an IT company’s call center and studying web and UX design in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, when Russia launched its war against his country on Feb. 24, 2022. Shapoval less than a month later swam across a river with his cat Peach and entered Poland.

He arrived in the German capital on March 19, 2022.

“I feel very secure here,” said Shapoval when he first spoke with the Blade on July 22, 2022, during a reception that took place at the end of a two-day meeting with European activists the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration organized.

Shapoval again spoke with the Blade on April 15 while he was at ORAM’s offices near Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz.

He said he was sleeping on a mattress on the kitchen floor of a Ukrainian friend’s apartment in Berlin’s Wedding neighborhood, while looking for a more permanent place to live. 

Shapoval had just finished an IT course at a private university, but told the Blade he “was not in that headspace to study” because of the depression from which he said he suffers. Shapoval also told the Blade the German government has postponed his residency permit for a year.

“It’s challenging,” he said.

Germany has granted temporary protection to nearly 1 million Ukrainians

The German government has granted temporary protection to more than 900,000 Ukrainians since the war began. (The U.N. Refugee Agency says there are 2.2 million refugees in Germany.)

Ukrainians are able to enter Germany without a visa.

The German government offers those who have registered for residency a “basic income” that helps them pay for housing, food and other basic needs. Ukrainian refugees can also access health care, language classes, job training programs and childcare. 

Shapoval and other single Ukrainian refugees receive €563 ($609.30) a month through the program.

Shapoval told the Blade it is difficult for him to find a job because his legal status remains uncertain. He also complained about German bureaucracy, which he described as “such a hell here.”

A memorial to Ukrainians who have died during Russia’s war against their country in Berlin on April 13, 2024. The memorial was across the street from the Russian Embassy. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Shapoval’s mother remains in Dnipro, a city on the Dnipro River that is roughly 300 miles southeast of Kyiv.

He said the first year of the war was “pretty quiet” in Dnipro because it is not as big as Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa and other Ukrainian cities. Shapoval said the situation in Dnipro changed last fall.

Shapoval told the Blade a Russian missile hit a nine-story civilian building in the city.

“I had the worst day of my life because I knew that my mom was going to Dnipro,” he said.

Shapoval said the building the missile hit struck was close to his grandmother’s home.

“I was so horrified,” he told the Blade. “I was trying to call her to get in touch. She was not answering at all.”

Shapoval said his grandmother called him several hours after the attack. She told him the missile strike damaged the city’s communications infrastructure.

“It’s pretty horrible,” said Shapoval.

Shapoval spoke with the Blade hours before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a controversial conscription law that seeks to replenish the country’s military. Zelensky last month also enacted a statute that lowers the minimum draft age from 27 to 25.

Shapoval said he does not want to go into the military, and has thoughts that he would die in the war. Shapoval also told the Blade he does not watch news reports about Ukraine because they exacerbate his depression.

“Just seeing these buildings destroyed and sometimes (at night when) people are sleeping there, or also (seeing) news about kids being stolen into Russia and then brainwashed there in these camps … is really bad,” he said.

Dmytro Shapoval in Berlin on July 22, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

‘You’re a white refugee, so everything’s fine’

Shapoval noted support for Ukrainian refugees in Germany has begun to wane.

He recalled a conversation he had at a queer bookstore in Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood during which someone who he described as German asked him what its like to be a refugee.

“Without even letting me answer without any space, he’s like, ‘Oh, but you’re a white refugee, so everything’s fine,'” recalled Shapoval.

Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023, launched a surprise attack against Israel. 

Shapoval said the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip has pushed the conflict between Ukraine and Russia and the plight of Ukrainian refugees out of the headlines. He also recalled an exchange he had with a Syrian woman with whom he had become friends in Berlin after Oct. 7.

Shapoval said she wrote in an Instagram post that “one or two years of war in Ukraine, this amount of kids died and two months of war in Palestine, this amount of kids died.”

“I’m like, what the fuck is that?” he recalled. “It’s not a competition of dead babies.”

“The fact you put two in comparison already makes one side less valuable and one side more valuable, but it’s also different pain,” added Shapoval. “I know that it is also horrible there … it seems like people are not understanding that.”

Shapoval said he reached out to her and tried to explain his perspective.

“It’s a bit hard right now,” he told the Blade.  

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