Several major European powers, including the UK, are "falling behind" on some of their core commitments to LGBT equality and rights, according to advocacy group ILGA-Europe.
For the fifth successive year, Malta has topped the group’s Rainbow Europe index, which monitors various factors contributing to the status of the LGBT community within different societies.
This includes examining laws and policies enforced in 49 countries using 69 different measures across six categories: equality and non-discrimination; family; hate crime and hate speech; legal gender recognition and bodily integrity; civil society space; and asylum.
The index is designed to help nations assess their respective shortcomings when it comes to supporting their LGBT communities; assist members of the LGBT community make decisions on travel and working overseas; and put pressure on authorities to pursue reform.
Executive director Evelyne Paradis said with political attention across Europe "immersed in the economic fallout of Covid-19", ILGA-Europe feared LGBT rights may suffer.
“This is a critical time for LGBT equality in Europe," said Paradis. "With each year passing, more and more countries, including champions of LGBT equality, continue to fall behind in their commitments to equality for LGBT people, while more governments take active measures to target LGBT communities.
"History shows those who are vulnerable before a crisis only become more vulnerable after a crisis, so we have every reason to worry that political complacency, increased repression, and socio-economic hardship, will create a perfect storm for many LGBT people in Europe in the next few years.”
ILGA-Europe’s key findings in 2020 include "no positive change" in half of the 49 countries assessed; evidence of legislative "stalling" and increased hostility from those who oppose LGBT rights; and failures by authorities to afford trans people official name or gender marker changes, including in the UK.
Malta achieved 89% in ILGA-Europe’s ranking, which gauges respect for human rights and equality in society, followed by Belgium (73%); Luxembourg (73%); Denmark (68%; and Norway (also 68%). Spain scored 67%, followed by Portugal, Finland and the UK with 66%, and Ireland with 52%.
The bottom five, meanwhile, included one of the UK’s most popular tourist destinations, Turkey, with a score of just 4%.
Montenegro, North Macedoni, and the Netherlands recorded the biggest jump in scores: Montenegro announced a four-year action plan prohibiting discrimination based on sex characteristics; North Macedonia amended its equality and criminal codes, adding sexual orientation and gender identity as protected grounds; and in the Netherlands, the country’s equal treatment act was amended to include gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics grounds.
Elsewhere, equality action plans have expired in Belgium, Finland and France, while ILGA-Europe said Croatia, Ireland and Kosovo had shortcomings and implementation problems with their action plans.
Malta’s recent civil liberty policy developments include the introduction of civil unions, equal marriage and adoption for same sex couples, as well as its gender identity laws. It legalised same sex marriage in 2017, and introduced gender neutral passports in 2018.
The country’s tourist board said it was "proud" the country’s efforts to position itself as a "vibrant and welcoming" destination for all had been recognised.
Tolene Van Der Merwe, Malta Tourism Authority director UK and Ireland, said: “We are so proud that Malta has, once again, been heralded as the number one destination for LGBT travellers in Europe.
"The Maltese have a reputation for compassion and excellent hospitality, and this is absolutely reflected in how all travellers are welcomed to the islands, and one of the reasons why we have managed to retain our place at the top of the Rainbow Index.
"Malta combines a bounty of traditional and historical culture with a contemporary and welcoming mindset towards all travellers and our people continue to set an inspiring example for other European countries to follow.”