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LGBTIQ

Is Spain really a tolerant country when it comes to LGBTIQ+ people?

Spain consistently ranks among the most gay-friendly countries in the world according to international studies. But is this lack of prejudice in Spanish society real or just visible on paper?

Is Spain really a tolerant country when it comes to LGBTIQ+ people?
People take part in a Pride march in Madrid on July 3, 2021. (Photos by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Spain has undoubtedly come a long way from the days of Franco’s dictatorship, when homosexuality was classified as “a danger”.

At the time, gay men were sent to so-called galerías de invertidos (prisons for ‘inverts’). 

Spain’s most celebrated poet Federico García Lorca was shot dead by nationalist forces in 1936 because of this sexuality.

Once Spain became a democratic country, same-sex sexual intercourse was legalised in 1979 and gay marriage and adoption were legalised in 2005, the third country in the world to do so.

In a 2017 interview in El País, Podemos founder Luis Alegre said Spain was “the most tolerant country in the world when it comes to homosexuality”.

In the same year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported a large increase in the number of asylum applications for Spain from LGBTIQ+ people escaping persecution, a legal option made available to refugees by the Spanish government in 2009.

According to a 2019 study into the global acceptance of homosexuality by the US’s Pew Research Centre, Spain was the third most gay-friendly country in the world after Sweden and the Netherlands. Two years earlier, it was top of the ranking. 

From a legal standpoint, we could continue to name progressive bills that further cement Spain’s image as a tolerant country when it comes to LGBTI people, the latest being the Spanish government’s decision to allow anyone aged 16 or older to easily change their gender on their ID documents.

But is this lack of prejudice in Spanish society real or just visible on paper?

In 2021, the homophobic murder of a young man over Gay Pride weekend shocked a country regarded internationally as one of the most tolerant when it comes to LGBTIQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Intersex and Queer) rights.

It prompted a wave of protests across Spain just as low-key Pride celebrations (as a result of Covid-19 restrictions) had wrapped up across a number of cities.

The timing of this heinous crime brought to light a worrying trend which according to Spanish Interior Ministry stats has been on the up recently: hate crimes against the LBGTIQ+ community.

Generally speaking, hate crimes due to sexual orientation or gender identity have risen in Spain in recent years.

The rate was higher between 2016 and 2019 (going from 169 to 278) although they did drop in 2020 and 2021 in most regions, largely due to the pandemic and limited social interactions.

However, according to Catalonia’s Observatory against Homophobia, in 2022 LGBTI hate crimes have skyrocketed again by 70 percent in 2022 across Spain.

A member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) community wears a sticker on his chest reading “Stop Homophobia” during the annual Pride parade in Madrid, on July 6, 2019. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

There are dozens of stories of homophobic attacks and insults from all across Spain, and although social media helps to bring attention to these crimes, many remain unreported. 

Politically speaking, there is one big change according to the experts.

“In Spain, people with a favourable opinion of the Vox party, which recently has begun to openly oppose some gay rights, are much less likely to say that homosexuality is acceptable than those who do not support the party,” the PEW Research Centre’s last report highlighted.

According to Barcelona City Councilor for Citizen Rights Marc Serra there’s a “certain normalisation of the intolerance rhetoric towards the LGBTIQ+ collective in the media and institutions due to the appearance of the far right”, something that is happening throughout Europe”.

 LGBTIphobia observatories have found that most of the attackers are males aged under 30. 

Even though the Spanish government continues to take steps towards more equality for different LGBTIQ+ collectives – most recently with its ‘Trans Law’ – these increasingly common hate crimes are tarnishing Spain’s image as a tolerant country.

However, Spanish society remains firmly against LGBTIQphobia, with 89 percent accepting homosexuality according to the Pew Research Centre and Spain being crowned world leader for transgender rights in a 2018 Ipsos study.

According to 2021 Ipsos data, Spain is also the third country in the world and the first in Europe with the highest number of people who don’t consider themselves heterosexual (78 percent consider themselves straight, 12 percent they have another sexual orientation, 10 percent would rather not comment). 

Six out every ten Spaniards say they have a relationship/friendship with people from the LGBTIQ+ collective, one in every five have attended Pride celebrations, 76 percent are in favour of gay marriage and 73 percent believe the LGBTIQ+ should be open about their sexuality (highest of all 27 countries surveyed). 

It’s perhaps this increasing openness and tolerance among the majority of Spanish society, and the freedom that this brings to the LGBTIQ+ community, that is triggering the select few bigoted people in Spain to turn to violence and homophobia. 

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UNDERSTANDING SPAIN

Why does tap water taste strange in some parts of Spain?

If you live in Spain or spend time here, you've probably noticed that the tap water tastes pretty bad in some parts of the country. Why is that? And where in Spain is the best (and worst) tap water?

Why does tap water taste strange in some parts of Spain?

A common query of foreign tourists abroad is ‘can I drink the tap water here?’.

Often these kinds of instincts come from memories of over-protective parents on summer holidays, but fortunately for us it isn’t really a relevant one in Spain.

Despite what some overly cautious people might say, at least 99.5 percent of Spain’s water supply is safe to drink, according to the Spanish Ministry of Health.

In Spain there are over 1,200 dams and 100,000 kilometres of distribution network that supplies tap water across the country.

And it is heavily regulated and tested, experts say. According to the director general of the Spanish Association of Water Supply and Sanitation (AEAS) Fernando Morcillo, “it [water] is the food product that passes the most controls.”

Spanish tap water is, simply put, perfectly safe to drink and heavily tested.

READ ALSO: Drought forces water use rethink in Spain

The taste

Reassuring though it is that Spanish tap water is entirely drinkable and regularly tested, it doesn’t change the fact that there can be great variation in the taste depending where exactly in the country you are. 

So, why does the tap water taste a little strange in some parts of Spain when it should be odourless and tasteless? 

Speaking in general terms, water is collected locally in dams and swamps, and then filtered, chlorinated, and transported to wherever it is going before coming out of our taps.

The local geography of this process – that is, not only where you live but where your water is collected and where it passes through on its way – can have a big impact on how it tastes at the other end.

Water treatment also contributes to making it a ‘heavy’ tap water with hints of chlorine, and when it comes to desalinated seawater, leftover magnesium and sodium are common.

If you ask many Spaniards, they’ll tell you that the tap water is ‘bad’ or worse on the coast.

Tap water in places like Valencia, Alicante and Málaga usually has a chemical odour and taste and many locals prefer bottled water.

Why is that? After the filtering process, water on the way to the coast can pick up more sediment and chemicals. The taste of tap water has a lot to do with the terrain it is collected in and the type of earth and rock it passes through on the way to your house.

Let’s take the tap water in Catalonia, for example, which comes from one of two main sources: the river Ter and the river Llobregat.

The Ter has low levels of contamination, but the Llobregat does not. Therefore, if you drink water somewhere on the banks of Llobregat, it will have more of a noticeable chemical flavour than water from the Lobregat. 

Many people who live in Madrid swear they have the best tap water in Spain. Although not quite the best in the country, Madrileños are right that it’s better than most and it comes down to where the water passes through.

Unlike in Catalonia, Madrid’s Sierra de Guadarrama has an advantage over other areas because the stone is mostly made up of granite, which better facilitates the filtration of minerals.

tap water safe spain

Despite what some overly cautious people might say, at least 99.5 percent of Spain’s water supply is safe to drink, according to the Spanish Ministry of Health. Photo: Kaboompics/Pixabay.

Where the predominant rock in the earth is more calcareous, it will generally taste worse, since limestone is soluble and produces a very ‘hard water’ that doesn’t taste as good. That’s why the tap water in areas such as Alicante, Valencia and Murcia has a worse flavour, plus the fact that they are all coastal areas.

Talking in very general terms, if you were to draw an imaginary line that ran from Andorra diagonally across Spain all the way down to Cádiz, the ‘soft’ or better tasting tap waters will be the north of the line and the ‘harder’ waters the south and east of the line.

There are some exceptions, of course, depending on local geography and filtration processes. 

The best and worst

Spain’s consumer watchdog, the Organisation of Consumers and Users (OCU), took samples of the tap water in 62 municipalities across Spain and had them analysed for their degree of mineralization and ‘hardness’, their hygienic quality, and level of possible contaminants. They then produced a report ranking the results

So, where in Spain has the best quality tap water and which has the worst?

The best

Despite what many Madrileños will tell you, Spain’s best tap water isn’t in Madrid. According to the OCU’s testing, the highest quality tap water in Spain was found in:

  • Burgos – Tap water in the northern Castile and León municipality had very few minerals, no lime no contaminants of any kind.
  • San Sebastián – Another northern area, San Sebastian in Basque Country has water with very light mineralization and is excellent in all hygiene and pollution parameters.
  • Las Palmas – Surprisingly, despite being on an island, Las Palmas de Canarias snuck into the top three.

Generally speaking, and as outlined above, the broader Levant coastal area, as well as the Spanish islands, are generally the areas where locals say the tap water isn’t quite as good.

The worst

And what about the worst?

  • Lebanza – In Lebanza, Palencia, the OCU found the presence of E. Coli, an indicator of fecal and recent contamination, and was generally found to have a very poor water quality.
  • Ciudad Real: Tap water in the Castilla-La-Mancha city had traces of trihalomethanes, a substance that comes from the combination of chlorine with the organic matter of water during water purification. 
  • Palma de Mallorca: Hardly surprising as it’s an island, but the water in Palma de Mallorca proved to very hard and very mineralized, which gives a bad taste. The most worrying thing, though, was that the OCU’s testing found that it contained 26 mg/litre of nitrates. Inside the stomach, nitrates are transformed into nitrites, which can cause serious health problems for children.
  • Barcelona, Huelva and Logroño: all cities on or close to the coast, the OCU found a high presence of aerobic microorganisms in the water in all three.
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