On 20 August 2020, Freemuse organised a presentation and panel discussion as a part of Copenhagen Pride, entitled “LGBTI art, expression and human rights”. The event was an introduction to the new Freemuse report “The Risk of Visibility: LGBTI Artists and Art” which will be published in the coming weeks. The report documents and analyses the way that artists are expressing support for LGBTI rights or portraying LGBTI themes in their artwork are experiencing violations to their right to freedom of artistic expression. This is a global trend which has been documented by Freemuse for several years and was highlighted as one of five specific challenges in Europe in a Freemuse report published earlier this year, the State of Artistic Freedom in Europe.
The Freemuse event included a panel discussion tackling the human rights violations that LGBTI artists are faced with. It provided the opportunity to connect the following panellists: Danish Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Karen Melchior; Polish author and LGBTI activist, Monika Tichy; Polish musician Kajetan Dionizy Łukomski; and Legal Advisor to the United Nations (UN) Special Representative on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Sofia Jaramillo Otoya.
After an introduction by Freemuse Communications Manager, Emily D’Alterio, presenting Freemuse’s main findings on the challenges to LGBTI artistic expression, moderated by Paige Collings, Freemuse Advocacy and Campaigns Officer, panellists discussed the challenges to LGBTI expression from their different perspectives.
Sofia Jaramillo Otoya shared the legal perspective of human rights violations and highlighted how governments narrow the boundaries of artistic expression with restrictive regulations and policies, which often create a climate of fear and contribute to self-censorship. In particular, artists are deprived of their freedom of expression when portraying religious themes. The UN Special Rapporteur’s for Freedom of Religion and for Opinion and Expression have both emphasised that freedom of religion is often misinterpreted and misused by states when the art is considered to hurt or insult religious feelings. In a number of states LGBTI themes frequently prohibited or the subject of discrimination on the basis of religious precepts.
Both panellists from Poland, Kajetan Dionizy Łukomski and Monika Tichy, discussed and gave examples of the harassment and detention of artists who portray religion or religious symbols in Poland and how artworks are censored. Artists and activists are forced to work in an environment that is lacking financial support and characterised by constant smear campaigns. Despite the Government’s effort to silence LGBTI groups on the ground of religion and morality, grassroot movements are growing and strengthening.
Karen Melchior (MEP) asserted that “we have a war to fight” referring to the growing populism and the disrespect of fundamental human rights in Poland. She affirmed that the European Parliament is by the individuals´ side, fighting for their rights and not only in countries that have restrictions on queer content but also in countries like Denmark where populist parties protested against featuring the rainbow flag on the Danish Parliament. Every person has the right to be and express their true selves. The European Parliament has the responsibility to protect these fundamental human rights and principles as does the European Commission, which recently took the decision to deny access to funding for six Polish cities that declared themselves to be “LGBTI-free zones”. Karen Melchior cited that the European Parliament’s LGBTI intergroup closely monitors violations in the European Union and supports LGBTI individuals, artists, and activists.
The event was organised with the support of the Swedish Postcode Foundation.