Is Spain really a tolerant country when it comes to LGBTQ+ people?

Is Spain really a tolerant country when it comes to LGBTQ+ people?
People take part in a Pride march in Madrid on July 3, 2021. (Photos by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)
The homophobic murder of a young man over Gay Pride weekend has shocked a country regarded internationally as one of the most tolerant when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights. But is this lack of prejudice in Spanish society real or just visible on paper?

The murder of twenty-four-year-old Samuel Luiz (pictured below) on Saturday outside a nightclub has been described by Spanish police as “a mob kicking a young person for more than 150 metres down a street.”

According to witnesses, a group of six to ten people shouted homophobic slurs at Samuel before beating him to death. 

Two men and a woman aged 20 to 25 were arrested on Wednesday by Spanish police in the Galician city of A Coruña, where the murder took place, with interrogations expected to shed light on the details of a murder which allegedly started over a mobile phone.

The brutal murder of the young gay man prompted a wave of protests across the country on Monday, just as low-key Pride celebrations had wrapped up across a number of Spanish cities.

It was perhaps the timing of this heinous crime that has brought to light a worrying trend which according to Spanish Interior Ministry stats has been on the up recently: hate crimes against the LBGTQ+ community.

More hate crimes but plenty more unreported

In the last five years, hate crimes due to sexual orientation or gender identity have risen in Spain.

The rate was higher between 2016 and 2019 (going from 169 to 278) and since then, partly due to the pandemic and limited social interactions, homophobic attacks have decreased. 

However in regions like Catalonia, hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people have increased significantly in 2021, with 80 attacks in the first five months of the year. 

In the Valencia region, the number of hate crimes against gay people has risen by 25 percent in 2021 according to the Valencian Observatory against LGBTIphobia.

Two weeks ago in Galicia, the region where Samuel Luiz was murdered, a gay couple was beaten with a baton by an assailant who repeteadly called them “fags”, and another young gay man at a beach was first asked if he was homosexual and then beaten up by a group of four youths.

At a park in the Basque city of Basauri, a 23-year-old gay man who was recently hanging out with his partner and friends was told to leave and when he refused was beaten by a group of thirteen youths, landing him in hospital. 

There are dozens of similar stories from all across Spain and although social media helps to bring attention to these homophobic crimes, many remain unreported. 

In Barcelona 71 percent of victims didn’t file a complaint with the police whereas in Madrid it was 30 percent, according to the LGBTIphobia Observatories in each city. 

So is Spain not as tolerant as believed?

Spain has undoubtedly come a long way from the days of Franco’s dictatorship when homosexuality was classified as “a danger”, gay men were sent to ‘gallery of inverts’ prisons and most notably gay poet Federico García Lorca was shot dead by nationalist forces.

Same-sex sexual intercourse was legalised in 1979 and gay marriage and adoption was legalised in 2005, the third country in the world to do so.

In an 2017 interview in El País, Podemos founder Luis Alegre said Spain was “the most tolerant country when it comes to homosexuality”.

In the same year the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported a large increase in the number of asylum applications for Spain from LGBTI people escaping persecution, a legal option made available to refugees by the Spanish government in 2009.

According to a 2019 study into the global acceptance of homosexuality by the US’s Pew Research Centre, Spain is the third most gay-friendly country in the world after Sweden and the Netherlands. Two years earlier, it was top of the ranking. 

From a legal standpoint, we could continue to name progressive bills that further cements Spain’s image as a tolerant country when it comes to  LGBTQ+ people, but politically speaking there is one big change according to the experts.

“In Spain, people with a favourable opinion of the Vox party, which recently has begun to oppose some gay rights, are much less likely to say that homosexuality is acceptable than those who do not support the party,” the PEW Research Centre’s report highlighted.

According to Barcelona City Councilor for Citizen Rights Marc Serra there’s a “certain normalisation of the intolerance rhetoric towards the LGBTQ+ collective in the media and institutions due to the appearance of the far right”, something that is happening throughout Europe”. 

LGBTIphobia observatories have found that most of the attackers are males aged under 30. 

Even though the Spanish government continues to take steps towards more equality for different LGBTQ+ collectives – most recently with its ‘Trans Law’ – these increasingly common hate crimes are tarnishing Spain’s image as a tolerant country.

However, Spanish society remains firmly against LGBTIphobia, with 89 percent accepting homosexuality according to the Pew Research Centre and Spain being crowned world leader for transgender rights in a 2018 Ipsos study.


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