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Queer Stagiaires: LGBTQ equality and solidarity in the EU institutions

By Alejandro Hernández Pulido, Queer Stagiaires Coordinator

The Queer Stagiaires, a trainee-led group in the EU institutions, successfully organised themselves around the LGBTQ issue. How can their experience help organise a similar network on ethnicity related issues within the EU institutions and how to strengthen solidarity between discriminated groups?

On 20 May 2017 some 300 trainees and staff of the European Union (EU) participated together for the first time in the annual Pride march in Brussels. Queer Stagiaires (QS) and Égalité joined forces with Stand Up for Europe to march as Europe – United in Diversity representing the EU in their private capacity. The bottom-up initiative was a clear expression of the willingness of EU staff and allies to give visibility and show their commitment to LGBTI [1] equality. Moreover, the event was in itself an example of solidarity among organisations sharing the values the EU is founded upon in the fight for LGBTI equality.

The 2017 Pride march in Brussels ended up marking a tipping point in the success and sustainable establishment of the trainee-led organisation QS. In fact, the visibility gained at the event became a key element allowing QS to continue raising awareness on LGBTQ [2] issues and also empowering their members to become activists in this regard.

The question therefore arises of whether it would be possible to organise a similar network on ethnicity related issues within the EU institutions?

Power and privilege: an invisible system of obstacles for the unprivileged

The EU staff is diverse in terms of nationalities, languages, gender and sexuality. Nonetheless, a brief look at the EU workforce makes it easy to realise that it is lacking ethnic diversity (even though the lack of concrete data makes it impossible to perform a statistically significant analysis about it). Generally, a systematic lack or minimal presence of certain groups of individuals in a given status or position (as all too often happens with people with disabilities, trans people or people of colour among others) is interpreted as the consequence of the system of privilege and discrimination our society is based on. Indeed, an overreliance on meritocracy combined with blindness to the unfairness of the system will undoubtedly continue to cause a striking absence of those individuals in spaces of prestige like the EU institutions.

We can only expect to achieve inclusive and sustainable change which leaves nobody behind if we focus on changing the system, show solidarity and support all those who are not privileged by it

In order to redress this trend it is important that those holding the privilege of being in such spaces acknowledge it and work on creating the conditions to allow a more diverse and inclusive environment. Although providing equal opportunities could be considered a good first step, such an approach will end up reproducing the same inequalities given the unequal point of departure, thus preventing diversity and inclusion becoming a reality. The European Commission (EC) communication “A better workplace for all: from equal opportunities towards diversity and inclusion” therefore follows a better approach. Nonetheless, whereas it proposes specific actions on the inclusion of women, staff with disabilities, LGBTI staff and older staff the lack of concrete measures to include ethnic minorities makes the document fall short. Here, it is important to highlight that the system causing discrimination of the above categories of individuals is the same system which prevents people of colour from joining the EU institutions in higher numbers. In this respect, we need to insist on the fact that we can only expect to achieve inclusive and sustainable change which leaves nobody behind if we focus on changing the system, show solidarity and support all those who are not privileged by it.

Queer Stagiaires: a success story

QS is an inclusive organisation revamped in 2017 with the aim of giving visibility and creating a safe space for LGBTQ trainees and allies in the EU institutions. The group gained significant visibility during the March 2017 EU traineeship session thanks to the organisation of activities and events on LGBTQ issues. It is important to note that although QS became widely known in 2017, the original group was created already in 2001. Nonetheless, the organisation faced several difficulties preventing it from further developing mid-term strategies - initially, as a result of a less favourable context concerning attitudes towards such an organisation during the early years of its creation, and also because of its unstable nature as trainees come and go every six months.

There are several factors explaining the successful development of QS in the first half of 2017. Firstly, it would not have been possible without the solidarity of more privileged organisations and groups which shared their space and gave their support. Secondly, there has been an increasingly favourable context towards LGBTI equality in the EU institutions as demonstrated by the different actions that took place this year. [3] Finally, the group has also benefited from having an inclusive and cooperative leadership in which QS members were empowered by organising to their own activities and events.

Currently, a QS Alumni group has been created so those former trainees willing to continue being active on advancing and raising awareness on LGBTQ equality can do so. Such a structure creates a link between generations of trainees allowing for the implementation of mid-term projects and cooperation with other organisations. This will enable the sustainable development of the organisation but also the use of their position to show solidarity with other groups.

Queer solidarity and an ethnicity-related network in the EU institutions

Queer identity comes from marginalisation, from being outside the norm, discriminated and left behind. Being part of a minority means having to overcome structural obstacles that hinder access to certain spaces. Even though there are different levels of bias and discrimination, it is important to stress once again that the system discriminating against LGBTQ people is the same that discriminates against people of colour. We must also not forget intersectionality, as certain individuals can suffer from multiple discrimination. Only by creating alliances and understanding the shared roots of marginalisation can sustainable change be achieved.

The time to raise awareness and get organised around race and ethnicity is now

If the European Commission’s oblivion of ethnic minorities in its communication comes from a lack of awareness then this should be raised. If the lack of ethnic diversity in the institutions it is not seen as problematic then the struggles faced by people of colour in the EU workforce must be rendered visible. I believe wholeheartedly that the creation of an internal network where self-identified members of ethnic minorities and allies in the EU institutions could find a safe space and an awareness-raising platform about ethnicity related issues would be extremely useful in order to begin achieving change in this regard. The time to raise awareness and get organized around race and ethnicity is now and at QS we are willing to share our space for this purpose.

[1] Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex

[2] Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer

[3] Notably, the activities surrounding the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) as for the first time ever the three main EU institutions (European Commission, European Parliament and EU Council) held an event to mark the day.

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