European and UK gay rights organisations have welcomed the first EU summit on equality, which began in Brussels today.

450 delegates from across Europe launched the 2007 European Year of Equal Opportunities for All at the summit, which is a joint initiative by the European Commission and the German Presidency of the EU.

Representatives from the European branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) are attending.

The association works for equality and human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Europe.

Last week the Commission released recent Eurobarometer data on discrimination in Europe.

It revealed that 50% of EU citizens consider discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation to be widespread.

Patricia Prendiville, Executive Director of ILGA-Europe, said:

“We believe the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All is a great opportunity to address prejudice and discrimination.”

ILGA have set three targets for 2007:

1. To extend protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation to social protection (including social security and healthcare), social advantages, education, access to goods and services, including housing.

2. To achieve full recognition of same-sex unions registered in one EU member states by all other members states.

3. To give visibility to LGBT people and challenge their invisibility and exclusion in society by involving them in actions and decision-making at national and European level.

The Eurobarometer data for the UK found that 48% of respondents felt that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is widespread in this country.

43% of UK citizens said they were aware of their legal rights if they were subject to any form of discrimination.

Stonewall, the UK’s leading gay rights organisation, welcomed the equality summit.

Alan Wardle, director of parliamentary and public affairs for Stonewall, told PinkNews.co.uk:

“While gay rights are improving in Britain, we know that, particularly in eastern Europe, there is a long way to go before full equality is achieved.”

Commenting on the finding that almost 50% of UK citizens in the survey thought homopohobia is a problem in this country, he said:

“It is important to remember that securing legal protection is one thing but actually changing hearts and minds takes longer, in Britain as well as Europe.”

The full report on Eurobarometer survey of discrimination in Europe can be found here:

http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_263_sum_en.pdf