Pride and Populism: Rising Populist Governments in Europe Clamp Down on LGBTQ+ Rights

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On October 27th, the Italian Senate scrapped DDL Zan, a bill that would have amended a section of the Italian penal code to include bans on discrimination, violence, and hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity.[1]

The need for the amendment has been stressed by politicians and advocacy groups across Italy. Arcigay, Italy’s first and largest LGBTQ+ rights organization, has been recording over one hundred hate crimes each year.[2] However, the bill, which was championed and named after Alessandro Zan of the center-left Democratic Party (PD), triggered opposition from right-wing groups and the Catholic church. Opposing arguments mainly included claims that the bill would infringe on free speech and when it solely addressed punishment for hate crimes.[3]

Video footage of members of the Senate exulting when the bill was struck down has been shared across the world, becoming a testament to Italy’s failure to promote tolerance and guarantee the protection of LGBTQ+ rights.[4] Italy is not alone in its failure to protect the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. There is a general trend across Europe of striking down bills that delineate and protect the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.

In November of last year, the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and international partnerships commissioner Jutta Urpilainen presented the Gender Action Plan III, a gender equality plan for EU foreign policy, which intended to bolster women’s and LGBTQ+ rights. The plan was met with great resistance from Poland and Hungary which contested the use of the term “gender equality” in the plan.[5] Both Poland and Hungary have bad track records when it comes to supporting the LGBTQ+ community. Polish President Andrzej Duda made anti-gay rhetoric a key part of his election campaign last summer, while a spokesperson for Hungary stressed that defining “gender” should fall under the discretion of EU member states.[6] In addition, the Hungarian far-right majority party, Fidesz, led by Viktor Orbán, has intensified its campaign against LGBTQ+ persons in Hungary. In June, the party proposed legislation against LGBTQ+ content in schools and children’s television based on the claim that it promotes homosexuality in minors.[7]

These affronts against the LGBTQ+ community in Europe has become a trend that could be explained by the rise of far-right populist parties both in Italy and Eastern Europe. The Lega Nord party led by Matteo Salvini in Italy, Fidesz and Jobbik in Hungary and PiS in Poland are all conservative, right-wing, populist parties whose following and support in their respective countries has been strengthening in the past decade. 

According to the Brookings Institution, populism draws strength from public opposition to “cultural liberalization, and the perceived surrender of national sovereignty to distant and unresponsive international bodies.”[8] These factors seem to be at the foundation of many European countries’ governments efforts to clamp down on LGBTQ+ rights. The LGBTQ+ community primarily draws  support from younger generations and liberals across Europe. Such shifts represent the epitome of cultural liberalization in many historically conservative and catholic European countries, and EU laws attempting to address the issues plaguing LGBTQ+ persons are perceived threats to countries like Hungary and Poland, whose governments strive to protect their sovereignty. The fundamental rights of LGBTQ+ persons are under threat as a wave of populism stokes homophobia and transphobia in Europe. However,  there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel with increased protest and public outcry in many of the countries whose governments are cracking down on the people’s right to love, and express their gender identity freely.. 


[1] “After DDL Zan: Gloomy Prospects for Civil Rights,” Italics Magazine, November 11, 2021,

[2] Angelo Amante, “Italian Upper House Senate Brings down LGBT+ Protection Bill,” Reuters (Reuters, October 27, 2021),

[3]  “After DDL Zan: Gloomy Prospects for Civil Rights,” Italics Magazine, November 11, 2021,

[4] Ibid.

[5]  Hans. “EU’s Foreign Policy Gender Plan Faces Resistance from Poland and Hungary.” POLITICO. POLITICO, November 25, 2020.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Rankin, Jennifer. “Hungary Passes Law Banning LGBT Content in Schools or Kids’ TV.” The Guardian. The Guardian, June 15, 2021.

[8] Galston, William A. “The Rise of European Populism and the Collapse of the Center-Left.” Brookings. Brookings, March 8, 2018.