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EU launches LGBT protection strategy as homophobia rises in east

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union’s executive Commission launched its first strategy to protect the rights of LGBT people on Thursday, a challenge to right-wing governments in Poland and Hungary that have become increasingly homophobic in the past year.

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The Commission said LGBT people were facing growing discrimination in Europe, even as most people in the bloc were becoming more accepting of gay rights.

“We will defend the rights of LGBT people against those who now have more and more appetite to attack them from this ideological point of view,” EU Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova told a news conference. “This belongs to the authoritarian playbook and it does not have a place in the EU.”

The Commission launched its LGBTIQ Equality Strategy, defining the term as “lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, non-binary, intersex and queer”.

According to survey figures cited by the commission, 43% of LGBT people last year said they felt discriminated against, up from 37% in 2012. That increase came even though 76% of EU citizens said lesbians, gays, and bisexuals should have equal rights to heterosexuals, up from 71% in 2015.

“It’s 2020, and hate and discrimination of people from sexual minorities really does not belong to Europe,” Jourova said.

The new strategy comes as right-wing governments in some former Communist eastern EU member states have made campaigning against gay rights a central part of their ruling ideology.

Ahead of his re-election earlier this year, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda campaigned against an “LGBT ideology” he branded more destructive than communism. He has pledged to ban teaching of gay rights in schools.

This week, Hungary’s right-wing government proposed a constitutional amendment to require children to be brought up with a “Christian” interpretation of gender roles, and a law that would effectively ban adoptions by same-sex couples.

“Family law is member states’ competence, we fully respect it,” Jourova said. “However, when applying national law, member states must respect their international human rights obligations and applicable EU law. Member States should also respect the fundamental values on which the Union is based, including equality and human rights.”

Earlier this year, the Commission cut EU funding to some Polish towns that declared themselves “LGBT-free zones”. The Polish government compensated the towns.

“We can never accept LGBT-free zones because they are, actually, humanity free zones,” EU Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli told the news conference.

Jurova and Dalli made clear the EU would not fund any projects that did not respect LGBT rights.

The Commission has proposed including homophobic hate crimes in a list of so-called “Eurocrimes”, major offences such as terrorism and human trafficking, for which the EU can set minimum rules. That would require unanimity among EU members.

The EU strategy would also seek to ensure that the legal status of relationships in families that include LGBT people cannot be revoked when they cross borders.

Reporting by Jan Strupczewski, additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Marine Strauss and Peter Graff

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