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Today we have come together here in Bucharest to celebrate the greatest achievements of the civilised world: freedom, equality and human dignity.
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is perhaps one of the most important and powerful phrases that has ever been written. This phrase leaves no doubt: human rights belong to everyone, without exception – regardless of ethnic or religious background, gender or sexual identity.
Let me be clear. When we talk about LGBTI rights, we aren’t thinking about exclusive rights or privileges for minorities. Quite the opposite, in fact – what we are fighting for is an open, tolerant and liberal society, in which everybody is treated as an equal citizen. Love is love – and it doesn’t matter at all if men love men, if women love women or if men love women.
When LGBTI people continue to suffer from discrimination and exclusion, human rights are obviously being trampled on. In a number of countries worldwide we can see a worrying backlash against the basic principle of sexual rights. We have to raise our voices against these violations – be it in Cameroon, in Algiers, in Russia, in Istanbul, in Berlin or here in Bucharest.
And that is why we are here today. We won’t stay silent! We are here to celebrate a festival of tolerance and diversity – loud and colourful, peaceful and full of hope!
On days like this we are grateful to the courageous mothers and fathers of the LGBTI movement who fought hard for their right to go on the streets at a time when this was much more dangerous than today.
But in these hours our thoughts are also with the victims of the cruel attack in Orlando two weeks ago and with their families and friends. It was a sad day, and not only for the LGBTI community. It was an attack against us all, against our way of life, against our values of freedom and tolerance. We will keep fighting for the right of all people to live freely, openly and without fear. Hate has no place in our societies – be it in the USA, in Germany or in Romania.
Our thoughts are also with the LGBTI community just a few hundred kilometres from here, in Istanbul, where the Pride Parade, which was planned for tomorrow, has been banned. Even in 2016, even in a country that wants to become a member state of the European Union, it is not self-evident that LGBTI people can demonstrate peacefully for their rights.
We should never forget that the European Union is much more than a single market. It is first and foremost a union of values – values that should be respected by all member states and lived out by all of us. Democracy and the rule of law, including human rights and the protection of minorities, are not negotiable for an EU member state.
I know that the acceptance of LGBTI rights is more of a challenge in some countries in the EU than it is in others. We have countries such as Germany where public acceptance is high and politics lags behind. And then there are other countries like Slovenia or Malta where politics is moving ahead but the public still needs to catch up. In both cases we have to close the gap that exists between political will and public acceptance.
Romania as one of the youngest member states is an inspiring example of the progress that has been made in the field of LGBTI rights. The country was cited by Human Rights Watch as one of five countries with “exemplary progress in combating rights abuses based on sexual orientation or gender identity”. But despite all the progress you have made during the last few years, your country still has a significant stretch of the road ahead of it.
Respect and solidarity towards minorities is not only something we can expect from others, it is also an obligation we have ourselves. If we want our rights to be respected by others, the LGBTI community has to be the closest ally of other minorities. Who, if not us, should stand side by side with other minorities, such as Jewish or Roma people, who face similar problems of discrimination and exclusion? It is question of solidarity that we stand together.
Human rights are part of our everyday lives, and each one of us is responsible for their protection and promotion. Each of you who has come today to take part in this Pride March is giving so much strength and hope to our friends in other parts of the world where LGBTI rights are under much more pressure than in the heart of Europe. Today we are sending a signal of hope to the world. Our message is “love wins!”