(Bloomberg) -- Negative speech from European politicians against the LGBTQ community — especially trans people — rose sharply in 2023, a flagship report found, in a warning signal that minority groups may come under further attack this year as more than half the world’s population head to the polls.

A combination of hostile language and attempts to introduce legislation that could reduce the rights of trans groups has led to an increase in suicide rates and mental health problems, particularly for young people, the Brussels-based ILGA-Europe found in its 13th annual review published Thursday.

“Public discourse is becoming more polarized and violent, particularly against trans people, and the LGBTI community has experienced the highest and most severe violence across Europe in decades,” ILGA-Europe’s Advocacy Director Katrin Hugendubel wrote in the report.

Read More: How to Understand the Debate Over Transgender Rights

Trans groups have come under particular scrutiny by lawmakers and it’s expected that the group will face further probing in a year when elections will take place around the world. LGBTQ advocacy groups have argued that right-wing politicians have inflamed tensions and introduced legislation against the minority to appeal to their voters.

Trans people faced negative rhetoric in at least nine EU member states, the group said. In some countries, politicians have challenged the idea that young people should have the right to publicly question their gender identity without parental consent.

Sport has increasingly become a polarized area, with groups under pressure to ensure trans people only participate with those who match their gender at birth.

In Spain for example, the basketball federation barred a trans player from taking part in its second league just months after a new law banned discrimination against LGBTQ people in sports. In a UK survey, 63% of trans young people reported worsened mental health due to exclusion from sport, the report found from ILGA.

Russian-style laws are being copied by other countries seeking to put controls on civil society:

  • Bosnia and Herzegovina adopted a law that designates LGBTQ organizations as foreign agents.
  • Moldova adopted a so-called ‘LGBT propaganda’ law that aims to ban the spread of information on LGBTQ issues or same-sex relationships.
  • In Hungary, bookstores that stocked LGBTQ titles were fined under propaganda law.
  • Turkey introduced measures to curb media content to “protect culture and children.”

Pride events were also increasingly targeted by anti-LGBT groups, with reported attacks before, during or after parades and events in 16 countries. This included an attempted bomb attack in Austria while rainbow flags and LGBTQ symbols were vandalized, burnt or destroyed in countries including Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, Switzerland and the UK, the report said.

Positive trends

Despite the bleak findings of the review, there was a steady increase in public acceptance across countries where LGBT discrimination has been previously widespread including in Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. 

Progress was also made toward banning so-called conversion therapy, practices aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, with Belgium, Cyprus, Iceland, Portugal and Spain all adopting legislation opposed to it. Many LGBTQ people were forced to undertake these types of practices in recent decades but studies have shown they are not successful and often lead to mental health problems among participants.

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