A week ahead of the anticipated general elections on the 23rd of July, Spain’s image as a stronghold of LGBTQ+ rights is faltering. In 2005, the Iberian peninsula became the third European state to legalize same-sex marriage and the second to introduce adoption rights for gay couples. This year, the government led by socialist Pedro Sánchez stood out for the introduction of a “transgender law,” one of the first gender self-determination bills in Europe and one of the most progressive in the world.
The outcome of the upcoming vote could bring about a government of a different political majority. The right-wing Popular Party led by Alberto Núñez Feijóo is ahead in the polls, even if it is far from having the number of seats required to control the Spanish parliament alone. Most likely, in order to govern, the center-right leader will have to rely on the support of the far-right party Vox.
The firewall that kept the far-right away from power has already blown up. Following the regional and local elections on the 28th of May, Feijóo’s party has recently formed a series of alliances with Vox at the local level, marking a significant defeat for the current left-wing government.
In recent weeks, Vox and the Popular Party have already given an indication of what they can do together. In many municipalities and regions where they have come to power, the new alliance has banned the display of the rainbow flag on town councils and regional parliaments. This is in stark contrast to many Spanish public buildings that proudly display the rainbow flag during the month of June, known as Pride Month.
There is no doubt that Vox is a party that fuels homophobia. During the local elections, they sparked controversy by posting an electoral poster in the center of Madrid showing a hand throwing the rainbow flag and the feminist flag into the trash bin. The party led by Santiago Abascal opposes same-sex marriage, which has been legal in Spain since 2005, and seeks to repeal it in favor of “civil unions.” According to Vox’s leader, these unions should not necessarily be formed by individuals in a romantic relationship, but also by friends, siblings, cousins, or any other imaginable combination. Clearly, in this way, the nationalist right-wing party aims to revoke the rights of gay couples (and single parents) to adopt children. Vox also campaigns to eliminate the “transgender law,” remove gender reassignment procedures from public healthcare services, and, above all, vehemently opposes affective education in schools, which Abascal equates to child grooming and pedophilia.
The leader of the Popular Party, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, tries instead to portray himself as a “moderate” and has repeatedly stated that he will not allow Vox to dictate the agenda if it becomes his junior partner.
In 2005, the Popular Party voted against marriage equality and fought against it in court for the following seven years until the constitutional court upheld the law passed by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in 2012.
On one hand, the Popular Party has been forced to soften its conservative positions over the past decade, aligning itself with the center of Spanish society, which has shown great openness towards the LGBTQ+ community. This explains the party’s decision to illuminate its headquarters with the colors of the rainbow flag during Pride Month, as well as its support for local and regional laws in favor of the LGBTQ+ community.
On the other hand, the Popular Party aspires to remain the big tent of the Spanish right. Therefore, even if Feijóo claims to be a moderate, he must still satisfy a diverse electorate in an attempt to draw votes away from Vox.
Feijóo caused a stir with his statement that, if he succeeds in forming a government, he will abolish the Ministry of Equality. “It is not our objective,” Feijóo said, referring to the goals pursued by this department and claiming that, during José María Aznar’s time, it would have been just “a sub-directorate general.”
Even worse is his promise to repeal the “transgender law,” a very progressive new legislation that caused a rift even within Sánchez’s ranks, with former Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo denouncing the initiative as an affront to the feminist movement. In the end, Sánchez managed to pass the law last February. This allows anyone aged sixteen or above to change their name and legal gender on all official documents without undergoing hormone therapy or obtaining approval from a court or doctor.
Like Vox, Feijóo has promised to repeal this law. For the leader of the Popular Party,
the ‘transgender law’ undermines the rights of the majority, threatens minors, parental rights, and common sense. It goes against feminist groups, doctors, and the most basic common sense because it is now much easier to legally change one’s gender than to pass a university entrance exam or obtain a driver’s license.
This is a more nuanced form of political homophobia compared to Abascal’s. However, it operates in a more insidious manner, as it avoids direct attacks on the most established rights, such as marriage equality, for fear of losing votes. Nevertheless, it shows no hesitation in discarding new and lesser-known rights to gain political power.