In many regards, Vienna has become a center for LGBTI life in Europe. It has hosted the famous Life Ball since 1993, a European charity event that garners support for the fight against HIV/AIDS. In 2015 it held the Eurovision Song Contest, a show that has seen winners like Conchita Wurst, a bearded drag queen. Many pedestrian crossing lights (traditionally depicting men) have been changed to same-sex or heterosexual couples – not without political contestation. Moreover, a recent survey shows that people are quite concerned about discrimination and homophobia.
Considering these recent developments, as well as the legal framework that allows for civil union and adoption rights (though very restrictive and limited), Vienna appears to be one of the most tolerant cities in the world, warmly welcoming LGBTI people. However, very little is known about voter preferences and political attitudes of the local LGBTI community. One main obstacle is that in Austria (as well as almost every other country in the world), exit polls or other surveys do not ask for sexual orientation.
In 2015, a group of researchers from the University of Vienna Austria and the University of Gießen in Germany addressed this gap in knowledge by setting up an online survey right before the local elections in Vienna. The survey was online from 27th of July until 7th of September 2015, with 427 recorded participants. The project was promoted via social media, LGBTI community organizations, flyers in LGBTI bars and clubs as well as through dating websites. The data has not been weighted to reflect the demographic composition of Vienna or Austria as we do not know the representative composition of the target population, the LGBTI community. All conclusions are drawn with regard to the participants of the study, not the LGBTI community at large. These findings reveal how important it is for the LGBTI community to be accepted into mainstream politics. They also show the diversity of viewpoints among LGBTI voters, with attitudes ranging from predominantly post-materialist to nationalist and racist.
The survey demonstrates that even in presumably open-minded countries, discrimination and homophobia are the main concerns of the LGBTI community, in addition to problems they share with mainstream society. For example, 86 percent of respondents agreed that candidates should show solidarity with the LGBTI community while half stressed the importance of candidates belonging publicly to the community. The most salient topics were unemployment (95.5 %), discrimination (93.4 %), migration, asylum and refugee policies (90.6 %) as well as homophobia (89.9 %). This trend was also found in the open question section on the forthcoming elections in Vienna. Most concerns were related to general societal challenges and less about LGBTI specific topics. Instead, respondents embedded queer topics in a larger discourse on equality and antidiscrimination while specific LGBTI rights such as same-sex marriage were mentioned less often.
The survey also highlighted that a greater sensitivity to sexual identities and orientations is needed. The old binary logic of male-female and the new binary logic of hetero and homosexuals lead to the exclusion of others. The Viennese survey also supports findings from US surveys that show respondents being more interested and actively involved in politics and other civic activities.
When it comes to political preferences and party politics the findings were very interesting and surprising to a certain extent. The Viennese Landtag is a multiparty body elected via a proportional representative system. Five parties passed the 5 percent threshold. The strongest party is the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ), second is the right wing populist Freedom Party (FPÖ), followed by the Conservative People’s Party (ÖVP), the Green Party and NEOS, a liberal newcomer.
LGBTI people that participated in our survey tended to vote for parties with a left or progressive political agenda. As we know, voters’ choices for political parties are influenced by multiple factors. Still, parties with a clear commitment to the LGBTI community gained a majority of the votes. But most puzzling are the findings that concern the right-wing FPÖ. The party also has a considerable amount of followers among our respondents, despite the party’s clear (and verbally aggressive) position against same sex marriage, adoption rights for LGBTI people and gender equality in general. The potential FPÖ voters argued that the ex-Yugoslav and Muslim migrant communities are responsible for discrimination and homophobia.
The good news is that many respondents are actively engaged in civil society organizations, parties and trade unions. However, not all political parties in Austria have realized that the LGBTI community can make a difference in times of disenchantment with politics and voter apathy.
As for LGBTI rights, same sex couples living in a civil union, have the right to adopt children since January 1st 2016. However, Austria still has to await a parliamentary majority in order to go ahead with the establishment of same sex marriage, though opinion polls show that the majority of citizens are in favor of it. While institutional equality has been more and more achieved, now it is time to focus on acceptance and not settle for tolerance.