The Worst Place In Europe To Be Gay

One activist was told "we'll cut off your head."

IGLA-Europe has released its annual “rainbow report,” rating 49 European countries based on their treatment of LGBT citizens.

Malta shot to the top of the list thanks to the passage of a civil-unions law and what is considered the most comprehensive gender identity protections in the world. Malta met 88% of IGLA’s requirements for full equality, closely followed by Belgium (82%) and Great Britain (81%).

On the other end of the spectrum is Azerbaijan, ranked the worst place in Europe for LGBT people. Situated at the crossroads of Asia and Europe, the mostly Muslim nation only meets 5% of the criteria.

IGLA Europe
IGLA Europe

It’s joined by other former Soviet nations Russia and Armenia, which both met 7% of IGLA’s requirements.

Homosexuality has been legal in Azerbaijan since 2001, but there have been numerous hate crimes perpetrated against gay and trans people. What community does exist, in big cities like Baku, is completely underground.

View on the Flame Towers and TV tower from the Caspian seacoast promenade at night in the city of Baku capital of Azerbaijan.

In 2014, when word of activist Javid Nabiyev’s engagement to his boyfriend got out, the couple became the target of a nationwide hate campaign. He was accused of being a spy for the West and was routinely harassed and beaten by police. Even his neighbors made threatening remarks.

“Some people said ‘You should die, I’ll kick you in the street, I’ll kill you’,” he revealed, adding that “of all the social groups that are victims of violence and hatred, we are the ones that struggle most.”

Nabiyev finally fled his homeland and is now a refugee in Germany.

Isa Shakhmarli rainbow flag

Also in 2014, a leading gay-rights activist in Azerbaijan committed suicide by hanging himself with a rainbow flag. Twenty-year-old Isa Shakhmarli also faced harassment and rejection, both at home and in society.

“I tried to explain that love is love as much as I could but my family and friends never understood,” he wrote in his suicide note.

Just a few months later, an 18-year-old was reportedly set on fire by his parents after they found out he was gay.

“We’ve seen a lot of backlash in the region,” says IGLA director Bjorn van Roozendaal. “One common denominator is that Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia all want to distance themselves from the West and the LGBTI struggle has been at the centre of that.”

“LGBTI rights are seen as a modern value that the West is trying to impose,” he adds. “And this mindset really comes at the cost of the LGBTI community.”

In September, the EU passed a resolution condemning Azerbaijan’s treatment of LGBT people, but van Roozendaal doesn’t have much hope it will be effective.

“I don’t think that a country like Azerbaijan really cares what the EU think. I don’t think they want to be seen to be promoting LGBTI rights.”

Change, he says, must come from the bottom up, “from activists on the ground.”

May 17 is International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.