Surge in anti-LGBTQ disinformation targets Pride in Europe

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As Pride events got underway in Europe in June, disinformation and hate speech targeting the LGBTQ community has spread across social media. This has in turn triggered extreme online responses, including incitements to violence.

Advocacy groups across Europe said the deluge of toxic content online is part of an overall trend of rising anti-LGBTQ sentiment worldwide. But, they noted that the community is coming under particular pressure during public events. Namely, Pride events taking place around the world. 

Rise in violence

The surge in online disinformation and vitriol is all the more worrying after a spate of violence during Pride events last summer in Europe.

One social media post in Polish falsely stating that the army would create “LGBT units” was shared across Telegram, Twitter, and Facebook in Serbia. Some social media users commented that the new soldiers should be “burned at the stake”, while others praised Hitler’s persecution of gay men.

Another false claim, that the Arc de Triomphe in Paris had been turned into a rainbow art installation, went viral in multiple European languages. Facebook users responded with slurs. One person even called for LGBTQ people to be burned and executed.

In Hungary government and pro-government media personalities often use anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. Such figures referred to Pride celebrations online with derogatory homophobic slurs.


Posts in Finnish and Croatian either missed or deliberately ignored the satirical nature of a book for adults by Canadian comedian, Brad Gosse. They falsely claimed it was “promoting sex to children” as part of a trans-rights campaign. Gosse quipped on Twitter.

Read on...

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Campaigners say that the wave of false claims and hate speech is part of an increasingly violent public discourse against LGBTQ people.

Some European countries – such as Spain, Slovenia, and Moldova – have adopted new legislation protecting LGBTQ rights. But a recent report by the Brussels-based ILGA-Europe (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) found that: 

the public discourse is becoming more polarised and violent, particularly against trans people.

A May 2023 European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO) report said anti-LGBTQ misinformation and disinformation was particularly prolific and. The report said that it:

often incites hate against minorities, laws and institutions.

‘The same tune’

While some anti-LGBTQ false claims shared on social media in Europe in June first appeared in the United States, others originated in Russia.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) fact-checkers found that the video claiming to show Polish public television reporting that the country’s army would open “LGBT units” was first shared on Russian propaganda channels in January. Jakob Svensson, a professor of media and communication science at Malmo University, told (AFP):

Russia and the US far-right are playing the same tune.

Svensson’s research highlights that global actors are framing the passing of progressive laws as an attack on “traditional values”. The same actors see the simple visibility of the LGBTQ community as part of the same ‘attack’. Such disinformation campaigns feed into European narratives. False social media claims about trans athletes filtered from the US to Europe in 2023. A European far-right politician spread them even further.

Researchers and campaigners say a lack of sufficient moderation on social media platforms exacerbates the problem. Aleksandra Gavrilovic is the programme coordinator for the Serbian NGO for lesbian human rights, Labris. Gavrilovic told AFP that she feared young people are particularly exposed to “content that is neither verified nor accurate”.

Svensson added that the lack of consequences for those spreading false claims and hate speech:

can also embolden anti-LGBTQ activists and bashers who feel impunity to attack

‘Hate campaigners and troll farms’

The spike in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric around Pride events in Europe is part of a global trend.

Some US Pride celebrations have been scaled back this year, organisers told AFP. This is especially the case in states where politicians want to curtail rights for queer people. 

The surge in disinformation and hate speech around Pride comes as campaigners highlight how physical attacks against LGBTQ people are rising generally in Europe.

ILGA-Europe said Europe and Central Asia had seen the “deadliest rise” in attacks in a decade in 2022 when it announced its annual review, a compilation of incident reports from 54 countries.

Oslo cancelled its yearly Pride parade last year following a fatal shooting at LGBTQ venues. A far-right attacker killed two people in Bratislava in front of an LGBTQ bar last year. Milos Kovacevic – legal empowerment coordinator for Serbia-based NGO Da Se Zna! – told AFP how physical attacks had surged alongside anti-LGBTQ claims online around EuroPride in Belgrade last September. He said:

Half of the incidents we registered in 2022 happened in August and September.

The leap from online slurs to real-life danger is at the forefront of campaigners’ minds. Remy Bonny is the executive director of EU-wide LGBTQ advocacy group Forbidden Colours. He told AFP how he was targeted online by “hate campaigners and troll farms” earlier this year for trying to convince EU members to join a lawsuit against anti-LGBTQ laws in Hungary.

The director of Hungary’s government-backed Center for Fundamental Rights tweeted that Bonny would not be allowed “near Hungarian children”. AFP found dozens of tweets in English from Twitter accounts with Hungarian usernames calling Bonny and LGBTQ people sexual predators. Bonny told AFP:

Everybody knows how dangerous it can be to publicly call someone a ‘groomer’ or ‘paedophile’ without any evidence. This jeopardises my personal security.

Pride began with a riot against bigotry

With hate-speech and disinformation against LGBTQ people on the rise, its all the more important to support grassroots pride events in our communities. Corporate sponsors, keen to monetise the event, are increasingly robbing mainstream Pride events of their radical edge. Added to this, opportunistic pinkwashing from politicians and police forces denigrate the event. Instead, our communities must remember how Pride started, with a riot against bigotry and injustice. Let’s keep that radicalism in mind this year, as we should every year.

Via Agence-France Presse, additional reporting by Tom Anderson

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  • Show Comments
    1. I have nothing against any group and I have always said that violence is not the answer,
      if you stand up in the middle of a rifle range…expect to be shot.
      We do not need these parades or celebrations.
      Just go about your own business and stop standing up in the rifle rangs.

      1. Ah. Well, that surely applies to other parades such as last week’s Armed Forces Day, then? Using your reasoning:

        – “violence is not the answer”, so you would stand with the Peace Pledge Union and campaign for a drastic reduction in the size, cost and use of the British military which exists solely to use violence as a supposed solution to political problems;

        – “We do not need these parades” by the military and their well-funded promoters.

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