In Switzerland, young lesbians, gays and bisexuals are the victims of many instances of aggression and homophobic verbal abuse.
Unlike their neighbours Austria, France and many other european countries, Switzerland has no legislation affording protection to the LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender) community.
On the 9 of February Zurich vote with other Swiss citizens to make a change and to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Some background to the vote on LGBT rights
The issue of legal rights and the conflict with free speech is at the heart of the debate on the February 2020 vote.
Past events and pressure from certain political or religious groups also explain why there will be rainbow flags visible from apartment windows or balconies in Zurich in the run up to the election.
It was only in 2016 that “conversion therapy” became effectively illegal in Switzerland following an initiative by Conservative Democrat MP Rosmarie Quadranti.
In August 2017, in response to a motion proposed by the BDP (Conservative Democratic Party), the Swiss Government announced that it would not count and register hate crimes committed against members of the LGBT community. The Government claimed it was too difficult to define or track these crimes. It was not always clear if the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity was the causal factor.
Yet a year later in 2018 a survey of 1,700 Neuchâtel school children (14–15 years old) found that 10% of girls and 5% of boys identified themselves as LGBT.
- 38% reported receiving abuse by being slapped, kicked or punched.
- 25% reported frequent harassment
- 16% reported being victim of physical violence
- 7% reported being discriminated against by a teacher.
The survey was one of a number which revealed a problem large enough to warrant further action and debate.
The Zurich vote should be for tolerance and to back the LGBT community, yet with all votes in Switzerland, there can be surprises.
Federal parliament and the legal debate
The Swiss Constitution (Art. 8) guarantees equal treatment before the law, specifying “way of life” as one of the many stated criteria protected against unfair discrimination.
Swiss law recognises the Law for Equal Treatment of Men and Women (German: Bundesgesetz über die Gleichstellung von Frau und Mann) and Article 261b of the Penal Code outlawing discrimination based on “race, ethnicity or religion.”
Like many other countries Switzerland has seen an increase in recent years of private lawsuits citing alleged discrimination and the use of “personal injury” (Art. 28a of the Civil Code).
In most cases they related to employment or other loosely defined claim areas but few alleged discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It does not mean the cases do not exist, simply the grounds upon which to bring a case are not supportive.
In 2013, Mathias Reynard ( Social Democratic Party) introduced a bill to outlaw all “discrimination and incitement of hatred.” It included “race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.”
It made its passage through the National Council and the legislative process. Yet in February 2017, the Committee of Legal Affairs of the National Council approved, in a 15–9 vote, an amendment to the bill adding “gender identity” as a prohibited ground of discrimination.
The Swiss People’s Party (SVP/UDC) objected and in August 2018, the Federal Council announced its support for the proposal, but recommended that the term gender identity be removed due to its alleged “vagueness.”
The bill then went to committee and legal review, effectively stuck in the legislation sausage machine of process as arguments of inclusion or exclusion of gender identity, transgender and intersex protections were debated.
The final outcome split the LGBT community as the Transgender Network Switzerland believed the legislation “excludes and further marginalises intersex and transgender people. The law will only be complete when it condemns discrimination based on gender identity.”
On 3 December, despite demands from the Social Democrats and the Greens, in a 107-77 vote, the final vote excluded gender identity from the bill.
The referendum free speech or homophobia – time to decide
The vote propelled the FDU (Federal Democratic Union), a small ultra-conservative Christian party into launching their position as an attack upon the freedom of expression and speech.
It also energised the LGBTIQ community who want the same rights as everybody else but do not want specific protection under law.
The battle lines related to article 261a in the Criminal Code quickly revealed the case for and against the changes.
Campaigners for the FDU and SVP give examples of doctors, teachers and others being “gagged.” They highlighted potential issues for people in Switzerland which if we are honest have been found in the USA such as:
- The hotelier being fined for refusing a gay couple a room
- A shop owner being taken to court because they refused to sell goods because of a conflict of faith.
It is why large sections of the population align to the LGBTIQ community. They understand the issues and their long-standing fight for their basic rights and the past issues they have had to cope with despite the Federal authorities not collecting much data to validate any legal changes.
Yet in truth, the people of Switzerland only know the answer.
The 9th Feb 2020 is not far away and many resident foreigners in the LGBTIQ community will be very interested to know the local Zurich vote and national result differences.
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