Why are the LGBT+ Community Protesting in Spain?
TW: This article contains information about discrimination and hate crimes which some readers may find distressing.
Recent events in Spain have seen an increase in LGBT+ marches and protests across the country, primarily in Madrid. Although Spain has legalised same-sex marriage and provides legal protections for people in the LGBT+ community, many individuals are still subject to discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
What legal rights do LGBT+ people have in Spain?
According to Stonewall UK’s Global Workplace Equality Index, Spain is classified as a Zone 1 country, meaning that LGBT+ people have progressive rights and are protected under the law. They have the freedom to express themselves, enter into consensual same-sex relationships, identify their gender openly without discrimination, and are deemed equal under the law.
What led to the protests in Spain?
Despite Spain’s LGBT+ friendly legislation, homophobia is still very present and has resulted in several recent hate crimes that have negatively impacted the LGBT+ community. Based on surveys, many Spaniards are becoming more hesitant to express themselves in public for fear of discrimination and abuse, due to the increasing public discrimination.
In July 2021, an openly gay man named Samuel Luiz was beaten to death by a group of teenagers in the city of A Coruña. During the encounter, the teens yelled homophobic slurs at Luiz, which led police to suspect the attack was a hate crime based on the victim’s sexual orientation.
Luiz’s murder sparked outcries from LGBT+ activists, politicians, and members in the community. The investigation into his murder is still ongoing, with suspects of the crime continually being arrested. The perpetrators that have been arrested are currently awaiting trial.
Then, in September 2021, approximately two months after Luiz’s murder, another gay man reported being attacked in the Malasaña neighbourhood of Madrid. The victim claims that the perpetrators beat him repeatedly and used a knife to carve a homophobic slur onto his body. However, these claims would later be retracted by the victim.
How did the protests unfold?
In the wake of Luiz’s murder, a wave of LGBT+ protests spread across Spain, with activists demanding justice for his killing and further protection for LGBT+ rights. Many protesters were met with force and brutality from local police at the initial protests.
Then, after news of a second attack made national headlines, many protesters gathered again in the streets of Madrid to advocate for LGBT+ rights, claiming that the increase in homophobic attacks can no longer be ignored.
Once police began investigating the second attack further, the victim eventually retracted his statement and clarified that the interaction was completely consensual.
Activists warned that, regardless of the individual’s false claims, many more homophobic attacks occur regularly and aren’t reported to the police or gain far less public attention. They argued that participating in the protests was still essential in bringing attention to the prejudices and discrimination the LGBT+ community frequently faces.
What are the main reasons for the protests?
Many activists are scared and concerned with the rising number of attacks occurring in Spain, and they’re frustrated that more isn’t being done to combat them. While activists are protesting to raise awareness of the attacks and the victims, they’re also using the demonstrations to voice their anger at public LGBT+ discrimination, highlight the fear that LGBT+ people endure for expressing themselves, and demand more from the government to buckle down on the attacks.
The Spanish Interior Ministry’s official data estimates that 278 hate crimes regarding sexual orientation and gender identity were reported in recent years, showing an increase of over 8% from the previous years.
Other recent examples of attacks on LGBT+ people include a gay man getting his jaw smashed in with a hammer and another gay man being brutally beaten for making a joke about his body. Both of these incidents occurred around the same as the attack on Luiz, and protesters argue that attacks like these on one LGBT+ individual is an attack on the entire community.
Ministers argue that the uptick in the recent hate crimes is coming from radical, far-right groups that are eager to target minorities, including people in the LGBT+ community. These groups, such as Vox – Spain’s far-right political party – have been gaining momentum and “fueling homophobia in the country,” according to the president of the Triángulo Foundation’s branch in Extremadura.
What has the public reaction been?
Since the protests began, members of the LGBT+ communities in Spain and worldwide have expressed their anger, frustration, and concerns over the attacks and are calling for more protection, awareness, and equality for LGBT+ people.
For example, the hashtag #JusticiaParaSamuel, meaning ‘Justice for Samuel,’ began trending on Twitter and was retweeted by high-profile celebrities, including Beyonce. Other stars, such as Sam Smith, showed support by issuing statements that denounced LGBT+ discrimination and demanded justice for Luiz’s murder. Smith also detailed the discrimination and harassment they encountered because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, and encouraged others to be more accepting.
Human rights organisations, such as Amnesty International and Stonewall UK condemned the violence and discrimination and responded to the reports that protesters were being treated with violence and brutality and backed their right to gather peacefully.
How have Spanish politicians responded to the protests?
Many liberal Spanish politicians have responded to the recent events, including calling on the police to find Samuel Luiz’s killers, demanding inquiries into the police brutality and force used against protesters, and asking local governments to act accordingly to combat LGBT+ discrimination.
Podemos, a liberal party that works in coalition with the existing Spanish government, tweeted its support for LGBT+ rights and rejected hatred and discrimination. Similarly, political officials of Más Madrid, a green party, and Más País, a regional left-wing party, also denounced the violence occurring during the protests and called for more LGBT+ protections.
After the attacks and protesters’ calls on politicians to act quickly, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez requested an emergency meeting with his government’s hate crimes committee to discuss the recent events. He also condemned the attacks and vowed to take steps in eliminating hate and prejudices in Spanish society.
How can Spain better protect LGBT+ rights?
In the weeks leading up to the attacks, the Spanish government had approved a draft of a new law that would increase fines for people caught using homophobic slurs against others. The new law would also ban conversion therapy and extend rights for Trans people. Although the law hasn’t been formally passed yet, it does provide some hope for the LGBT+ communities across the country. And with the attacks and subsequent protests, activists want these to serve as a reminder to keep the bill a priority and get it passed.
Activists also believe the government must tackle hate speech and discrimination within acting political parties. Far-right parties, such as the Popular Party and Vox, continue to downplay homophobia within Spanish society. They also deny that their conservative views have an influence on the growing LGBT+ attacks, hate speech, or public discrimination.
Furthermore, activists believe equal rights for the LGBT+ community can be achieved by spreading more awareness in schools and the community. Even though far-right groups are actively working to make it more challenging to discuss LGBT+ rights in school settings, others believe incorporating LGBT+ education early on is key to diminishing hated and intolerance.
Edited by Christophe Locatelli.