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.
Vienna 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?
Vienna is a city for everybody, regardless of where they come from, their gender or who they love. So being fully committed to the rights of the LGBTIQ community is something I take for granted. Everyone has the right to self-determination, visibility and protection against discrimination. That is what our city is about. There is a reason why Vienna has in recent years become a Rainbow Capital: with the Rainbow Cities Network, Que[e]rbau Wien, the Rainbow Family Centre, the monument to homosexual victims of Nazism, but also with EuroPride 2019 and many other civil society and political focus areas, Vienna has become a pioneer in promoting equality for the LGBTIQ community. And it goes far beyond city and provincial boundaries. The broad acceptance of these measures by the people of Vienna shows that active, courageous gender equality policies are important not just for the community itself, but for society as such.
What specific measures have you taken (or are you planning to take) to make your city one in which the rights of LGBTIQ people are fully respected and furthered?
In recent years, Vienna has made a name for itself as a Rainbow Capital well beyond city and provincial boundaries – as a city in which openness, acceptance and solidarity are lived and actively shaped by the city authority and the administration. The right to self-determination, the visibility of the LGBTIQ community and protection against discrimination will continue to be expanded in the future.
And so Vienna regularly stands up for LGBTIQ rights, for example by introducing rainbow crossings, rainbow benches, the flagging of public buildings, pedestrian crossing symbols and much more. Vienna was and remains at the forefront of LGBTIQ anti-discrimination, setting a milestone already back in 2004 with its anti-discrimination act. And Vienna's rainbow parade stands, like no other event, for the diversity and openness you get in the city.
We have also already implemented a large number of exemplary projects, including the Rainbow Family Centre (https://www.rbfz-wien.at) and Queerbau for individually planned apartments for a diverse population (https://queerbaudotat.wordpress.com) and the "Queer Small Project Pot", which provides up to EUR 5 000 to projects that support homosexual or transgender and intersex people who are discriminated against (https://www.wien.gv.at/amtshelfer/gesellschaft-soziales/antidiskriminierung/foerderungen/kleinprojektetopf.html). The monument to the victims of persecution of homosexuals in the Nazi era is being currently installed in Ressel Park, meaning Vienna acquires a central and vibrant place of remembrance. An LGBTIQ youth centre and a Queer Museum are currently being planned. The latter is intended as a research and community centre documenting, archiving and publicising the city's LGBTIQ history. In addition, the planned introduction of an LGBTIQ voucher will bring particularly innovative services and projects forward.
Other input on the topic:
The City of Vienna is committed to ensuring that all people in Vienna can live and love as they intend in social acceptance and free from discrimination. To this end, it launched in 1998 the Viennese Antidiscrimination Unit for Lesbian, Gay and Transgender Issues (WASt).
The Rainbow Cities Network (RCN), now an organisation of thirty cities, was founded in 2013 on the occasion of the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) in The Hague and held its first working meeting in 2014 at the invitation of the Viennese Antidiscrimination Unit for Lesbian, Gay and Transgender Issues (WASt) in Vienna town hall.
The RCN seeks to discuss local approaches to gender equality and anti-discrimination work for LGBTIQ people, learn from one another and develop common strategies to eradicate discrimination against LGBTIQ people in a sustainable manner and to promote equal participation of LGBTIQ people in all areas of society.
QueerBau is a project co-sponsored by the City of Vienna that provides queer accommodation for LGBTIQ people in Vienna. It was set up during the construction of Seestadt and enjoys great popularity.
The idea came on a field trip to Berlin: Vienna also needed a rainbow family centre. The City of Vienna began implementing this project, in close collaboration with the Margareten district and the FAmOS association, in 2015 and in 2017 the Vienna Rainbow Family Centre started operating as the second of its kind in Europe and launched its services for rainbow families and those that want to become such a family.
2010 saw the launch of the Queer Small Project Pot, a project of WASt – the Viennese Antidiscrimination Unit for Lesbian, Gay and Transgender Issues. Funding from the Queer Small Project Pot responds to the strong need for project-based support in the area of sexual orientation and gender identity. Individual projects can receive up to EUR 5 000. Support is intended to focus on innovative, high-quality and new projects that meet or surpass international standards. The eligibility of the submitted projects is decided by an expert advisory board chaired by WASt. A total of 43 projects were supported between 2015 and 2020.
For the second time since 2001, and for the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, Vienna won the right to host EuroPride, the European rainbow parade. HOSI Wien founded the company Stonewall for the purpose. Working in close coordination and with the City of Vienna, which promoted the event, it joined the Vienna LGBTIQ community in launching Vienna Pride, which began with the Mariahilfer Street festival "Andersrum ist nicht verkehrt in Mariahilf" ("The other way round is not wrong in Mariahilf"), a two-day EuroPride Conference staged jointly with WASt that included a four-day Pride Village on the town hall square and culminated in the rainbow parade on Vienna's Ringstrasse. There was also a raft of fringe events in the city, for instance at the Danube Canal, Schlosspark Schönbrunn and the town hall and its square. The EuroPride closing event alone brought together half a million people, and estimated total attendance was up to a million visitors.
Age is as much a taboo in the gay, lesbian and transgender community as sexual orientation and gender identity is in talking about age in our society. This prompted WASt in 2009 to explore the topic of LGBTIQ people and age in depth for the first time as part of its series of "Queer Urban Discussions". Since then, the issue has repeatedly been placed centre stage, be it in a round table with age experts and representatives of the lesbian, gay and transgender community, its presentation on the WASt float at the Vienna rainbow parade, the main presentation on "Biography work without taboos – Coming-out in old age?" at the expert conference "Lifeworlds. I'm staying home" of the umbrella organisation of Vienna's social care institutions in 2014, an evening of talks on "biography oriented care and support for old lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people" at Vienna's town hall, or an in-service workshop for personnel in care homes on "sexual orientation and trans identities" in 2014.
2019 saw the celebration of the first rainbow meeting for senior citizens. The board of trustees of Vienna retirement homes organised monthly meetings for LGBTIQs over sixty with the support of the city and its sixth district. This is because it can become more difficult with age to network and communicate and rainbow seniors also experience the need for protected spaces.
MONUMENT FOR HOMOSEXUAL VICTIMS OF NATIONAL SOCIALISM
After the competition announced in 2006 for the design of a monument to men and women who were victims of the persecution of homosexuals by the national socialist regime ended in a technically unworkable project, four temporary memorials were created by the company KÖR Wien. In 2014, WASt, in cooperation with KÖR and QWIEN, Vienna's centre for queer culture and history, launched a two-day international conference of experts, the findings of which were summarised in a book entitled "Too late?!". In 2017, WASt invited representatives of LGBTIQ and art and commemoration communities to two Open Spaces in Vienna City Hall and developed with them the criteria for launching a new competition, which it did with KÖR in 2020. The total budget available for the competition and realisation is EUR 300 000. The project is supported by the City of Vienna and the National Fund of the Republic of Austria. The competition ended in 2020 and was won by British artist Marc Quinn. We are now starting with the actual realisation.
A comprehensive diversity seminar will be made available to future staff members as part of the their training. It includes WASt staff informing them about the aspects of anti-discrimination in the world of work and about LGBTIQ people, thereby seeking to prevent discrimination.
ROLE OF THE CITY AS A PIONEER AT FEDERAL LEVEL
Vienna has always been seen as a pioneer in LGBTIQ matters, including at federal level. I has achieved this with the Vienna Anti-Discrimination Act, for instance, which – unlike federal law – protects all minorities in the same way; with the immediate opening of all registry offices and wedding halls to the concluding of civil partnerships; with the recommendations for handling changes to the civil status of trans people, where Vienna's good example was in the end followed at federal level; with the idea of flagging official buildings and with the implementation of diversity aspects in administration. The Vienna Anti-Discrimination Agency for same-sex and trans lifestyles, established in 1998, is constantly present as an expert body in numerous working groups. This is because, even today, in WASt the City of Vienna still today has the only such institution in a local authority in Austria.
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?
This LGBTIQ strategy is an important step. It ensures, inter alia, that LGBTIQ rights are properly taken into account in EU policy-making so that LGBTIQ people are safe in all their diversity and have equal opportunities for prosperity, development and full participation in society. It is now important to ensure that this strategy really is implemented. We need Europe-wide legislation in future to protect LGBTIQ rights – based on an anti-discrimination law. This must include sanctions for countries that actively violate LGBTIQ rights. This is a major concern for Vienna because we have been a pioneer on this for years. But, more generally, it is important to advance fundamental values and rights such as equality and non-discrimination across Europe. After all, our society benefits in the end.
Photo credits: City of Vienna