Words of welcome by Minister of State for Europe for the prizewinners of the Tolerantia Awards 2016, Belfast

25.10.2016 - Speech

Distinguished prizewinners of Tolerantia Awards 2016,

In 1948, the General Assembly of the newly founded United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose first article awards all people the same dignity and rights by birth. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people are protected under existing international human rights law in the same way as every other individual. Unfortunately, this is still far from being a reality even today. In 2016, seventy-six countries still use criminal law to prohibit homosexual acts, and homosexuality is still a capital offence in seven countries.

At the Federal Foreign Office, we are following these developments around the world very closely and are supporting efforts to promote gender equality through a wide range of projects around the globe, for example in regions such as the Middle East and the Balkan countries.

We are witnessing encouraging developments in several countries, for example in South Eastern Europe. I recently attended gay pride parades in Belgrade and Bucharest – cities where such parades were impossible just a few years ago. In many countries, from Montenegro to Viet Nam, governments now acknowledge LGBTI rights. Most countries in Europe and North and South America have introduced civil partnerships for same-sex couples. And in the summer, the international community established a new mandate in the Human Rights Council in Geneva for a UN expert to investigate violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

However, it is important not to lose sight of one thing, namely that there is still a lot of work to do on the domestic front. Discrimination, ostracism and violence remain a sad reality in Germany too. And legal equality for same sex couples has also not been achieved across the board – despite some polls showing widespread support for it. But I hope that, for the sake of those concerned, we will finally be able to make real progress in this matter.

Distinguished prizewinners,

While it is important to delete discrimination from legal texts, it is even more important to banish it from people’s mindsets.

You are advocating the promotion and protection of LGBTI rights in Poland, France, Ireland, Switzerland and Germany with immense dedication. Thanks to your courageous commitment, you are raising overall awareness for LGBTI rights and contributing to our common fight for an open, tolerant and liberal society in which everyone is treated as an equal citizen. I would especially like to thank the three German Protestant churches that are being awarded today. With your courageous decision to allow same-sex civil partners to enjoy exactly the same ceremony as heterosexual married couples, you are sending a vibrant signal of tolerance and respect for the dignity of all human beings.

Moreover, your decision clearly illustrates the situation in Europe: on the one hand, there are countries such as Germany where public acceptance is high and politicians lag behind. And then there are other countries, including Slovenia and Malta, where the policymakers are moving ahead, but where the public still needs to catch up. In both cases, we have to close the gap between political will and public acceptance.

Distinguished prizewinners, you are playing a key role in taking both our society and our politicians in a positive direction. You will be honoured in Belfast for your dedicated work. Allow me to offer you my most sincere congratulations!

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