LGBT+ Intergroup as an Antidote to National Homophobia and Transphobia
Within the “Building Bridges in LGBT+ Politics” project supported by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, Budapest Pride aimed to explore international LGBT+ advocacy practices in politics. We wanted to explore how elected representatives can represent LGBT+ interests more effectively and make LGBT+ issues more visible in everyday politics. We wanted to see how politicians can cooperate in order to create an equal legal system where all LGBT+ people should be able to live freely, start a family, and make choices about their own lives and bodies.
We have interviewed members of four LGBT+ intergroups: Miguel Chambel, Coordinator of the European Parliament's LGBTI Intergroup, Krzysztof Śmiszek, chair of the LGBT+ Group in the Polish Parliament, Harry Prance, Coordinator of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT+ Rights in the UK Parliament, and Shawn Gaylord, Coordinator of the U.S. Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus. We also talked to Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius, Member of the Lithuanian Parliament for the Freedom Party (Laisvės partija) about the situation in Lithuania.
During our conversation with Miguel Chambel, coordinator of the European Parliament's LGBTI Intergroup, we gained a lot of important information about the group's workflow, its duties and about the coordinator’s role.
The European Parliament’s LGBTI Intergroup has a history of 25 years and currently has 156 members out of the 705 seats in the European Parliament. The intergroup is chaired by Terry Reintke (Greens) and Marc Angel (S&D) and has a vice president from six political groups. The salary of the coordinator is financed by the six vice chairs and the two co-chairs. The coordinator’s responsibilities include monitoring reports issued by the European Commission and those that are being prepared in commissions, upcoming resolutions and statements to examine their inclusiveness and through the intergroup potentially propose amendments. The coordinator is in close contact with CSOs and other organizations at European level and is also responsible for recruiting new members. Members are constantly being briefed about matters concerning the intergroup. In cases of an LGBTI rights violation, the intergroup, while conferring with all stakeholders, examines a possible course of action for advocacy and awareness raising. The bureau holds meetings every 3-4 months, where they discuss recent reports and regulations and decide how to respond if they do.
We talked to Krzysztof Smiszek (Szejm, Social Democrats), Chairman of the Parliamentary Intergroup on Equal Rights of the LGBT+ Community about the situation in Poland. He is one of the three openly gay Polish MPs, having worked as an LGBT+ civic activist and a human rights lawyer before his political career. His intergroup has three vice-presidents and currently has twenty-two members out of the 460 members of the lower house and one senator out of the 100 seats in the senate. Most members of the group are centre-left politicians or members of the social-liberal Civic Coalition, but there are also members from the centre-right parties and from the right-wing Confederation party.
One of their long-term goals is to involve as many parties as possible in the dialogue on LGBT+ issues, increase visibility of the LGBT+ community and work on laws that ensure LGBT+ equality. LGBT+ CSOs are regularly invited to intergroup meetings to the Polish Parliament, and even the anti-LGBT+ governing party, PiS, is required to delegate a representative to these meetings.
They are also often cooperating with other parliamentary intergroups. As the intergroups in Poland work within a legal framework, the parliament delegates a paid staff member to each group for administrative and coordination tasks.
We had our next meeting with one of the openly gay politicians in the Lithuanian Parliament, Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius (Laisvės Partija, Liberals), who reported similar situation as Krzysztof Śmiszek from Poland. The Lithuanian Parliament also has a legal framework on the establishment and operation of intergroups - in Lithuania they are not called intergroups, but temporary groups, however, there is currently no LGBTQ intergroup. Tomas is the chairman of the Human Rights Committee and member of several transitional groups in the parliament, such as the working groups for families and women's rights.
In Lithuania the temporary groups also have coordinators employed by parliament, but they do not have separate rules of operation and members do not have to make any written pledge to join. They work closely with CSOs who provide information and suggestions to the groups. The group has no joint powers, members can act as individual representatives in the interests of the group and in the matters it represents.
The UK was represented by Harry Prance, who is the coordinator of the APPG on Global LGBT+ Rights (The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT+ Rights). He leads the APPG’s secretariat and mediates between MPs, activists, and CSOs to make LGBT+ rights political advocacy in the UK as effective as possible.
As the name APPG suggests, all parliamentary parties are represented in the group, which has been a major goal from the beginning. The LGBT+ APPG has 63 members from the House of Commons out of 650; and 34 members from the House of Lords out of the 785. All APPGs have a centralized structure and members can join through a formal registration process.
The presidency of the APPG is traditionally held by the current governing party and the vice presidents are made up of members of each party. Currently the APPG is chaired by Crispin Blunt (Conservatives), and has four deputy chairs, one from the Conservatives, the Labour, the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrat Party respectively. The APPG also has a Treasuer and 14 vice chairs.
The UK’s LGBT+ APPG was launched in 2015 without any financial support. This period was preceded by the organization of informal groups. The initial goal was to be able to employ a full-time employee to help with the management of the APPG. The salary of the staff was initially covered by CSOs, which led to a number of problems and political tensions. These problems were resolved when the organization’s funding was taken over by a trust fund.
The APPGs, compared to other countries’ intergroups, take up a lot of responsibility in education, information dissemination and directly conferring with voters. It is mainly the coordinator’s job to organize these public events. The coordinator’s responsibilities also include domestic lobbying activities, working with CSOs and participating in international relations affairs. The coordinator also needs to work with other APPGs, as there are many in the UK parliamentary system: such as the HIV/AIDS Group or the Reproductive Rights Group, with whom the LGBT+ APPG coordinated regularly.
In terms of goals, the APPG works to ensure that LGBT+ rights are protected and respected in the UK and accross the world. To this end, they regularly delegate members of parliament around the world.
The U.S. Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus is staffed by Ben Hong Starr and Shawn Gaylord. The Caucus is co-chaired by the 9 openly LGBTQ+ members of the Congress. When an openly LGBTQ+ politician is elected to be a member of congress, they are automatically offered a co-chairship in the LGBTQ+ Caucus.
Staff members works as liaison between civilians and elected representatives. The LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus was formalized in the 2010s in the footsteps of historic and highly respected Caucuses, like the Black and the Hispanic Caucus. They have 173 members out of the 435 congress seats. With the exception of one Republican congressperson, all members are Democrats. The caucus is funded by its own members, who finance the costs of the administrative staff.
The main purpose of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus is to share information effectively, including following bills passed through the Congress. The caucus monitors bills, sends the newsletters, confers with advocacy groups and keeps members informed of issues affecting LGBTQ+ people so congresspersons can act effectively in their interests.
What we found during our research interviews is that European LGBT+ Intergroups traditionally value bipartisanship and are actively aiming to broaden the political diversity of their members. While disagreeing on many topics and often becoming each other’s opponents, LGBT+ Intergroup members tend to find opportunities for cooperation and progress in working for LGBT+ rights.
The importance of having paid staff members on board was highlighted in almost every meeting we had. The lack of proper funding for a coordinator turned out to be a burning issue in the case of the UK’s LGBT+ APPG. It was also brought to our attention that besides party-diversity it is advantageous to have some geographical diversity within an intergroup, so representatives from different countries/states/region can be involved in the intergroup’s work.
The final piece of advice we received pointed out the importance of a dedicated and ready-to-act intergroup leadership who are embedded in the LGBT+ community, committed to their work and consider their work in their intergroup a top priority. A driven leadership can take an intergroup a long way.
About the author:
Máté Hegedűs is one of the spokespersons for Budapest Pride and works in its Public Relations group where he coordinates two projects: one working with registered groups, ambassadors and rural participants at the Budapest Pride March and the other, focusing on supporting LGBT+ individuals and civil society members in rural areas of Hungary.