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.
Your city of Ludwigshafen is a good model for the promotion and protection of LGBTIQ rights. As a progressive local politician, what do you think about the protection of LGBTIQ rights in your city and in Europe?
Ludwigshafen am Rhein is a colourful city where everyone has the same opportunities and possibilities. Everybody is welcome here, no matter where they come from, their skin colour, religion or sexual identity. Discrimination has no place.
However, I am aware that it is not easy for LGBTIQ people everywhere in Europe and that in some countries they are still forced to lead discreet “hidden” lives, that they face violent attacks, and that they are not treated equally, say when it comes to work, renting or moving within the European Union.
It is therefore particularly important for me to seek regular dialogue and exchange views with the LGBTIQ community in Ludwigshafen, and to raise awareness of the issue generally in the city. I have seen a positive change in Ludwigshafen since taking office in January 2018. This means that not only is the city administration committed to the issue, but also all those with responsibility in society: businesses, global players, interest groups, churches. Movement and progress towards raising public awareness and increasing acceptance can be seen everywhere.
What specific measures have you taken to make your city one in which the rights of LGBTIQ people are fully respected and furthered?
Two years ago, we introduced a LGBTIQ contact point in the city administration. This is seen as an interface between society and the administration (people seeking help are directed to the right contact persons to receive comprehensive advice, for example on transgender issues). Staff can find important information and contacts particularly on the city's intranet; to the outside world, we provide information and contacts on our homepage. The contact point is also connected with the LGBTIQ associations and initiatives. In this context, a round table was launched that takes place several times a year. As part of the table and as lord mayor of the city, I exchange with LGBTIQ community organisations together with the administration officials responsible for this issue.
In addition, as head of the city, I was able to launch the idea that, as a city (administration and municipal subsidiaries), we participate in the annual Christopher Street Day Rhein-Neckar with our own group. It is a matter close to my heart that, as the head of the city and head of administration, I set an example together with the city board, to be visible in the first row and to convey our message during the event.
A further initiative to increase visibility is the establishment of a commemoration day in the city's events calendar: on 27 January each year, on the day of commemoration of the victims of Nazism, people persecuted for their sexual identity are explicitly commemorated; and we have been marking the Transgender Day of Remembrance on 20 November each year for the past two years, with the participation of schools in Ludwigshafen.
School classes work on the programme of the day of remembrance during lessons and explore the topic in depth.
Finally, the hoisting of the rainbow flag is an integral part of our urban flags calendar: IDAHOBIT on 17 May, in the Pride month of June and every year during the CSD weekend in August.
The European Commission proposed its first LGBTIQ strategy last year and the European Parliament recently declared the EU an LGBTIQ freedom zone. How can the European Union further contribute to promoting LGBTIQ equality and why is this important for your city?
Developments in recent years show a growing awareness of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the European Union. But the concept of equality has yet to take root in all hearts and minds – this should be an important goal for all of us. The EU should step up and decisively pursue measures to combat discrimination against sexual minorities in Europe. Hate speech and violent crime against sexual minorities and their repression must continue to be tackled across Europe. Further action is needed against dubious practices such as psychotherapy and mutilation aimed at “reversing” LGBTIQ people.
I am particularly concerned about the issue of “rainbow families” and that these families are treated as equivalent to traditional families; this also applies to adoption. In general, family relationships and same-sex partnerships must have equal status and social recognition across Europe. Mutual respect, tolerance and rewarding cooperation without prejudice are so important for a free and peaceful society. Promoting this is a task and opportunity for us as a city.
Sexual orientation is not a question of ideology, but of identity. We must make every effort to protect this and to stand up for the community.
Photo credits: City of Ludwigshafen