This interview is part of our #LoveWhereILive campaign and of our series “#ProgressiveLocalStories”, aimed at raising awareness on the many positive initiatives implemented by progressive cities and regions in Europe. Cities and regions have become laboratories for innovative solutions and, with this series, we want to discover how progressive mayors, councillors and presidents of regions put in place policies to promote and protect LGBTIQ rights.
La Rioja region is an example in the promotion and protection of LGBTIQ rights. As a progressive leader, what are your thoughts on LGBTIQ rights in your territory and in Europe today?
In my first speech as President of La Rioja, almost two years ago, I committed myself to a proposal for change, a progressive one, which had equality as one of its objectives: in its broadest concept, equality before the law, at the root of injustice, equality of rights and opportunities.... The principle of equality is inherent to my personal training and my civic education and it is the basis of my ideas.
Spain has come a long way in the recognition of LGTBI rights, but freedom has to be fought for every day. We have to be very careful not to take a single step backwards. I am going to tell you an anecdote that illustrates what I am saying: last year we hung the rainbow flag at the regional government headquarters and not even 24 hours later we received the first threat to go to court for this action. I wish they had done so in order to have had the opportunity to defend before a judge the freedom to have one's own identity and sexual orientation.
I cannot and will not stop fighting intolerance. I am obliged to do so by law and I am also a socialist. Spain is a world leader in LGTBIQ rights and this has brought nothing but good things. For example, we were a pioneer country in recognising same-sex marriage.
What concrete actions did you put in place (or are you currently planning) to make your region a region where the rights of LGBTIQ people are fully respected and promoted?
The Government of La Rioja has a Department of Equality, Participation and Agenda 2030. Equality is one of our priorities. This year the Department has promoted the campaign “Te sacamos los colores” (We bring out your colours) to celebrate the International LGTBI Pride Day.
Although our society has advanced in recent years, the current situation of LGTBIQ people is far from perfect. Hate crimes continue to be committed against LGTBIQ people, older people are in a situation of greater vulnerability due to the repression they suffered in their youth, 85% of trans people are unemployed and in order for lesbian or bisexual women to register the birth of their babies in the Civil Registry they have to get married, unlike families composed of people of different sexes.
In the case of schools, it is the main reason for bullying. In the Government of La Rioja, we have a Diversity, Coexistence and Participation Service in the Department of Education and we are working with schools to promote values such as equality, freedom, coexistence and respect.
As you can see, discrimination is multiple and occurs in all ages and situations, which is why we are committed to the creation of the LGTBIQ Service, with a central physical point of attention in Logroño and a circuit of interventions in towns and cities of La Rioja according to needs and demand.
The European Commission has proposed its first LGBTIQ strategy and the European Parliament has recently declared the EU an LGBTIQ Freedom Zone. How can the European Union further contribute to promoting equality for LGBTIQ people and why is this important for your region?
The current European Commission is working very hard to create a Union of Equality. But almost every day we are seeing in European regions, municipalities and states behaviour against LGTBIQ people that is unacceptable and contrary to the Union of Equality we believe in and stand for.
We must promote equality for all people and not establish differences. That is why banning LGTBIQ rights from being discussed in schools or declaring municipalities as LGTBIQ-free zones is the opposite of what we, as public officials, should be doing. Children should know about different sexual identities and orientations and learn to respect them. The education they receive at school is fundamental and will help them to become responsible adults who respect their own rights and those of others.
Sometimes education alone is not enough; this is why we have the rule of law that protects us all. And on this point, the Treaties of the European Union, the Constitutions of the Member States and our own Statute defend Equality as one of the fundamental rights of individuals. Recourse to the Courts in the face of collective or individual aggression is a fundamental tool. As announced by the President of the European Commission on the 23rd of June, the European Commission is studying this possibility to defend the rights of LGTBIQ people in the face of systematic violations in some Member States and this seems to be the only appropriate way out.