Sudden progress on two LGBTI taboo issues in Europe and in the Catholic Church in Germany

With networks for gay and lesbian employees having become a standard practice, the absence of LGBTI integration in many aspects of work life is often overlooked: transgender persons, gay employees in organisations belonging to the Catholic church, gays or lesbians in top management, homosexual images in advertisement. In two areas, we have seen surprisingly strong progress within a space of a few days: The Council of Europe adopted a comprehensive report on the discrimination of transgender people and a resolution based on this report passed its Parliamentary Assembly. Five days later, the German Bishops’ Conference adopted an amendment to its ecclesial labour law, which is likely to result in a huge improvement for LGBTI employees.

The latest ‘diversity’ report of the Council of Europe finds that discrimination against transgender people is still widespread in Europe, including in finding employment, housing and access to health services. They are often victims of hate crimes and affected by bullying as well as physical and psychological violence. Furthermore, the report highlights that awareness for the challenges that transgender people face in everyday life is still insufficient among the European public. However, some progress was made in the political and legal arenas over recent years.

A survey by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living Conditions, 2014, found that in the EU, transgender people experience more discrimination when looking for a job than at work (during the past 12 months). With few exceptions, the same is true for the past 5 years in the vast majority of member states. For the 47 member states of the Council of Europe, the resolution proposes to provide effective protection against discrimination on grounds of gender identity in access to employment in the public as well as in the private sector. This can be seen as a call for more concrete actions given earlier recommendations (2010, 2011) and recent debates (2015).

Much older requests for change were suddenly followed by the Catholic Church in Germany.
The Association of German Dioceses, which is the legal entity of the [Catholic] German Bishops’ Conference, adopted an amendment to its ecclesial labour law for its estimated 650,000 (!) employees. In the past, entering into a registered same-sex partnership usually meant the immediate termination of employment. The same applied for employees remarrying after a civil divorce. This was considered legal only because the Church continues to be excluded from the area of application of employment and other laws. That status is partly rooted in the religious mandate the church has and partly in the long tradition of being a separate body. Since the church today runs kindergartens, hospitals or retirement homes, and employs hundreds of thousands of people, the basic idea of a secluded legal areas is today considered outdated or at least fragile.

According to the latest amendment, a same-sex partnership or remarrying can only be a reason for termination ‘under exceptional circumstances’, which by definition must be a relative small number. The press release of the German Bishops’ Conference describes the reasons by the potential to ‘lead to a disturbance within the community of employees or in the larger professional environment and to a weakening of the credibility of the Church.’ While some people regard this development as a silent revolution, others criticise the change to be insufficient and still allowing for arbitrary decisions. However, the decision definitely marks a new direction in the Catholic Church’s labour policy.

In the wider LGBTI context, many more facets of discrimination – and quite some fundamental ones – are still prevalent. Therefore, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council (PACE) calls for the abolition of the legal requirement of sterilisation and other compulsory medical treatment in laws regulating the procedure for changing a name and registered gender. Consideration should be given to the possibility of ‘including a third gender option in identity documents for those who seek it’.

The resolution stresses that national and international classifications of diseases should be amended to ensure that transgender people, including children, ‘are not labelled as mentally ill’, and steps should be taken to ensure ‘stigma-free access to necessary medical treatment’.

The text concludes that discrimination based on gender identity should be explicitly prohibited in national anti-discrimination legislation and that the human rights situation of transgender people should be included in the mandate of national human rights institutions ‘with an explicit reference to gender identity’.

Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity still is an issue in society and hence in companies and public organisations. Studies, however, have shown that tackling discrimination and creating an inclusive workspace truly pays off for employers. LGBT jobseekers for example prefer to work for diverse and inclusive firms and hence employers can only fully tap into the labour market when complying with these criteria. By the way: Not only gays and lesbians prefer to work for firms with D&I programmes; graduate surveys also show that the vast majority of the Generation Y values this and even considers D&I as a criterion when selecting potential employers. To learn more about the Business Case for Diversity, including LGBTI, check out the International Business Case Report (IBCR 3.0).


References for this article: