It’s 2020, why are LGBT Europeans still afraid to show affection in public?


Holding hands. Gentle pecks on the cheek. Innocent signals of affection between two people in love. Small acts which many couples take for granted, still possess an inherent danger for many. A recent survey performed by the Fundamental Rights Agency sheds light on why.

By Andrew Cook

You’re out shopping for the day, holding your partner’s hand. You walk idly down the supermarket, discussing dinner plans for the evening. They make a joke, you laugh, you share a quick kiss. An everyday story for many heterosexual couples. While for those in same-sex relationships, many public excursions are feared, calculated, and taken with care, as the endings may unfold very differently.

The survey

A findings from a survey in late 2019 were recently released for Pride Month 2020. Yet the results, while not surprising, are still incredibly disappointing. The survey of over 140,000 individuals, with samples taken from EU countries, the UK, North Macedonia, and Serbia, reveal that LGBT discrimination and abuse it still very much an active and malign force.

In this latest survey we see 58% of respondents suffering from various forms of harassment compared to a 2012 survey, where only 45% of respondents experienced suffering. Discrimination in the workplace has also seen a rise. With LGBT people over the age of 18 seeing an increase from 19% to 21%. This is even worse for members of the trans community, with 36% of trans respondents claiming they had been discriminated against in the workplace.

A silver-lining from this survey has shown that, while harassment has increased amongst respondents to the survey, more LGBT adults are ‘out’ than ever before. Admittedly, being ‘out’ and being able to display public signs of affection are two very different things. Knowing that 52% of adults are now openly LGBT, compared to just 36% in 2012, is still a move in the right direction.

Unfortunately it’s impossible to know if the increased harassment is due to an increased homophobic trend, or due to more people unapologetically stepping out of the closet and being proud of who they are in public. However, the homophobia being encountered is still leaving nearly half of our LGBT community in hiding, unable to live unashamedly as heterosexual couples can do on a daily basis.

The younger generation

This survey was a unique collection of information this year, being the first time the Fundamental Rights Agency garnered information from 15-17 year olds. This was of paramount importance to see the effects of LGBT education in schools. To understand if our teachings of tolerance have created a new, more understanding, more empathetic generation.

Sadly, this is not the entirely the case. According to the statistics, LGBT students in school suffer more harassment from their peers than older LGBT members.

However, this study has provided some incredible positives.

Despite harassment levels for LGBT students being much higher in school than in adult life, classmate support is overwhelmingly stronger. 48% of LGBT students between 15-17 have encountered someone supporting, defending, and protecting them. A far stronger statistic than those between 18-24, of whom only 33% have received active support in confrontations, and only 7% of over 40’s have experienced the same aid.

We can only hope our younger generation keep defending and protecting equality as they transition into adult life.

While this survey shows a great silver lining for the younger generation, why are adults in same-sex relationships still living in fear?

Many UK couples have to carefully evaluate public displays of affection. 29-year old Danny Shocklidge has been attacked twice for being gay while growing up in his rural hometown, and he and his boyfriend are forced to judge their surroundings every time they leave the house. ‘We do hold hands, but it is dependent on feeling safe. For instance, we dont hold hands in my hometown’.

It isn’t just rural villages either. In East London, James Besanvalle has had verbal abuse thrown at him and his husband while simply holding hands. “Id be lying if I said that incident didnt run through my mind whenever I reach for my husbands hand. I try so hard to live unapologetically visible as a queer man, but theres no doubt the fear of receiving verbal or physical abuse is constantly there.”

These are the everyday lives of same-sex couples in countless towns, cities, and countries. They are wearying and difficult, and the fears only become compounded when hearing about other, more tragic incidents.

It was only in 2019 that two women were attacked and left covered with blood on a night bus in Camden. Melania Geymonat and her partner Chris were left beaten and bloody after a gang of homophobes physically harassed them in public. We have seen increases in violence against LGBT individuals in Germany and France. Other ‘LGBT-free zones’ being unlawfully enforced in other areas across Europe. These incidents can and do strike fear into those who are in same-sex relationships, forcing them to overthink and assess the surroundings every time they leave the privacy of their own houses.

These completely understandable fears also take their toll on the relationship in question. Where one refuses to take their partners’ offered hand out of fear, this leads to trust issues, and distance between one another.


The survey has provided interesting information on the role of governments in combatting homophobia. Satisfaction in the government’s approach to LGBT discrimination is as high as 83% in Malta, compared to only 4% in Poland.

This evidence supports the fact that homophobia is rife in countries that have yet to legalise same-sex marriage. Countries such as Bulgaria, Lithuania, and Poland have the least tolerance to LGBT people, whereas in countries such as Cyprus, Spain, and the UK have seen an overall increase in tolerance.This has highlighted the effectiveness of governments legalising marriage and promoting equal rights for all citizens.


This survey produced by the FRA has provided invaluable information. It has shown us just how far we still need to fight for our equal rights. But more importantly, has shown that it is not just communities, but governments that need to step up. As leaders of nations, their influence and example can inspire or dissuade.

We can only hope they exercise their powers in pursuit of equal rights for all.


Title Photo – copyright Emmerdale/ ITV