How Brexit could make life worse for Europe's LGBTQ community

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The entire world is going to be affected by the U.K.'s decision to leave the European Union. But it is possible that the LGBTQ community in Europe will be impacted in a particularly sharp way.

Nia Griffith, a member of Parliament who is the Labour Party's Shadow Minister for Wales, came out publicly for the first time earlier this year, disclosing her sexuality at an event for LGBTQ MPs, according to Pink News.


She told me by email that she fears what Brexit will mean for LGBTQ rights in two ways: first, that it will weaken the influence that the more LGBTQ-friendly UK has on more socially conservative countries in Eastern Europe, and second, that it will harm LGBTQ Europeans living in Britain.

Currently, only 12 of 28 EU members allow same-sex marriages, and seven countries even ban same-sex marriage in their constitutions. Six don't even recognize civil partnerships, and gay adoption is legal in only 13 EU states.


The European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association annually scores European countries on LGBT freedoms. Here is their current ranking:

Griffith brought up a hypothetical situation. Say there is a gay couple living in the UK. One half of the couple is British, and another is Polish. Poland has an 18% score in the above index. If the Polish half of the couple suddenly had to go back home for a long time—say, to take care of a family member—it is now possible they would run into visa difficulties once they sought to return, since the freedom of movement the EU provides to all of its citizens would stop at the UK border. The Pole would suddenly face the prospect of being stuck in a more intolerant country.

Griffith added that having Brexit happen now "is particularly worrying at a time when we are seeing a rise in homophobic rhetoric from political leaders in Eastern Europe, and the UK will no longer be in the EU to help put pressure on them to promote greater respect for their LGBT communities."


Phillip Ayoub, an assistant professor of politics at Drexel University and the author of “When States Come Out: Europe’s Sexual Minorities and the Politics of Visibility,” told me by phone that with Thursday's vote, the entire European project has now been thrown into question, making the world more dangerous for the LGBTQ community.

"If Britain cares about LGBT people, it should be involved in the EU process, which has clearly had an effect in terms of the diffusion of the types of laws that protect LGBTs…and in soft-law mechanisms of spreading values," he said.


He pointed to Ireland, whose passage of gay marriage led to polls that showed strong support for the law in Italy and Germany (and also led to the direct passage of gay marriage in E.U. territory Greenland).

He also rejected the argument that the influx of migrants from the Middle East into Europe could actually end up hurting the region's LGBTQ community.


"I think that’s racist," he said. "There's little evidence refugees pose a threat to LGBTs. That's really been one of the most damaging aspects of Brexit, this idea of trying to recruit LGBTs as part of more xenophobic project to limit rights of the weakest and most marginalized peoples."

Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.