Out in the World: LGBTQ activists on alert as far-right sees gains in EU parliament

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Monday June 17, 2024
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Changes are underway following European Parliament elections across the E.U. Photo: Courtesy Centre for European Reform
Changes are underway following European Parliament elections across the E.U. Photo: Courtesy Centre for European Reform

Far-right candidates gained more seats in the world's second-largest electorate than ever before following voting for the European Union Parliament. Conservatives gained nearly a quarter of the 720 seats in the elections.

Millions of Europeans went to the polls June 6-9. The election saw a historical turnout with 51.08% of voters casting ballots, surpassing 2019's 50.66%, according to the E.U. However, it did not exceed 1994's election, which saw turnout by 56% of voters, according to Statista.

Exit polls showed the E.U. leaning slightly right with 17 of 27 countries' ballots counted as of June 14, according to the European Parliament. It wasn't the conservative tide many LGBTQ activists were expecting, but it provided a glimpse of the potential future in Europe and possibly the United States.

Members of the European Parliament represent 450 million people who live in the E.U.

Kim van Sparrentak, co-chair of the LGBTI Intergroup at the European Parliament, who is from the Netherlands, called the right-wing gains "sobering."

"I have very big worries because we've had a lot of allies so far within the European People's Party," van Sparrentak, told The Frontline June 14.

The Frontline is the podcast of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association — Europe.

"I'm quite worried that they are now discussing whether they should get [Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's] [European parliament members] on board. That would really change the way that EPP approaches LGBTQI rights," she said, referring to the European People's Party.

Italy's LGBTQ community has been on the receiving end of Meloni and her Brothers of Italy Party's ultra-conservative government attacks, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported.

Van Sparrentak noted that the landmark LGBTQ strategy that has been in process since 2020, as the B.A.R. previously reported, and other important work must continue.

Marc Angel, co-chair of the LGBTI Intergroup at the E.P., who is from Luxembourg, told The Frontline that the anti-LGBTQ "rhetoric seemed to work in some countries, and it is quite worrisome," stating that the LGBTI Intergroup will have to be "very strict" about how members of parliament use language when making their arguments and statements.

Added van Sparrentak, "I think there's a lot of reason to be very vigilant right now. Making sure that we still can continue moving forward and not go backward."

Angel and van Sparrentak were joined by Roberto Muzzetta, a lawyer and member of Arcigay, Italy's leading LGBTQ organization, and Luca Dudits, an executive board member and communications officer at Hatter Society, one of Hungary's leading LGBTQ organizations.

Katrin Hugendubel, ILGA-Europe's advocacy director, hosted the podcast.

Election results

Center-right European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, whose EPP managed to hold onto its power for the next five years, gained 14 seats for a total of 190 members as of June 14. As of Friday, the party was followed by the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, currently at 136 seats, after losing three seats. Renew Europe currently has 80 seats, after losing 22 seats. The Greens currently have 52 seats, losing 19 seats.

The loss of seats by the Renew Europe and Green parties weakened the E.U.'s political center, analysts noted.

European conservatives and reformist-led conservative political parties, aside from the EPP, ended the week up, gaining seven seats, with 76 seats total. The Identity and Democracy group held its gain of nine seats throughout the week, ending with a total of 58 seats.

Concerning to LGBTQ activists is the fact that Von der Leyen is up for reelection and the EPP now has narrower margins when voting on laws than before. The European Parliament set July 18 for members of parliament to nominate and elect its next commission president in its secret ballot process, according to Politico Europe.

Von der Leyen isn't wasting time. She needs 361 votes to cinch the nomination for her second term to lead the E.P. She started reaching out to the liberals and socialists, who backed her for her first term, while votes were being counted last week, according to Politico Europe. Between the EPP, S&D, and Renew Europe she has more than enough votes, with up to 407 seats in the E.P.

However, she needs to win over her fellow EPP members who are already speaking with conservatives in Germany, France, and Italy who now hold the most seats — 96, 81, and 76 respectively — in the E.P. following the election.


There were also some signs of hope, but LGBTQ European activists said they are remaining vigilant for the long road ahead to defend rights gained and to work for a more progressive future.

Dudits said her country, Hungary, had "a very eventful election."

Respect and Freedom, a new party led by Péter Magyar, a former insider of anti-LGBTQ Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, grabbed one-third of the European Parliament seats. The party also made a dent in Orban's conservative grip on the country, which the B.A.R. has reported on in the past.

"I think it has been the most exciting electorate campaign, be that E.P. or national, that I remember," she said. "It was very interesting for us."

However, the party's campaign did not focus on LGBTQ issues at all. Dudits noted, "They were suspiciously silent," with one exception. During a social media interview targeting Gen Z voters, "He [Magyar] said that he thinks everyone should be free to live, but he denounced propaganda.

"We have no idea where he stands," she said, adding it is one of her organization's priorities to find out.

Moving forward

European LGBTQ activists said they have a lot of work ahead of them to sway voters' hearts and minds, with more than 50% of Europe holding elections. Austria, France, Germany, and other countries head to the polls later this summer.

Angel and van Sparrentak told The Frontline that for the next five years, LGBTQ movement leaders must work with members of parliament and human rights and minority civil society organizations and activists. Together they will need to retain rights and initiatives, and build a stronger coalition to fend off conservative attacks and for a progressive future.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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