Last year saw an alarming increase in abuse and hate speech against LGBTQ and intersex people in Europe and Central Asia, according to an LGBTQ+ rights advocacy group. And a great part of it came from lawmakers and politicians across the two continents.

On Tuesday, ILGA-Europe released its annual publication documenting legal, political and social developments in 54 countries in Europe and Central Asia

The group, a coalition of more than 600 LGBTQ and intersex rights organizations, found that politicians in 17 countries in the region — including Italy, Finland and Estonia — verbally attacked LGBTQ+ people last year.

The report, which analyzed data from January to December, found increasing animosity toward sexual orientation and gender identity minorities. And given the unprecedented global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the LGBTQ and intersex communities were at an even greater risk in 2020 than in previous years.

“Our Annual Review shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted all of the gaps in terms of lived realities of LGBTI people across Europe and Central Asia,” Evelyne Paradis, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

“In reports from country after country, we see a stark rise in abuse and hate speech against LGBTI people; many of whom became vulnerable to homelessness have been forced to move back into hostile family and community situations,” she said.

Paradis added that the current health crisis has led to a “resurgence of authorities and officials using LGBT people as scapegoats while authoritarian regimes are empowered to isolate and legislate without due process.”

That could be seen in the substantial rise in anti-LGBTQ+ speech, coming from both the public and officials channels, as reported in the ILGA-Europe Annual Review.

Verbal attacks by politicians “on LGBTI people has grown sizeably and spread in countries including Albania, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Czechia, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Moldova, North Macedonia, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, and Turkey,” according to the report.

In some countries, such as Belarus, Greece, Slovakia, Turkey and Ukraine, religious leaders have been responsible for the spread of hate speech, with many leaders directly blaming the minority communities for the deadly pandemic.

The organization also found that hate speech on social media has increased in Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Malta, Montenegro, Russia and Turkey, and in the general media in Slovenia and Ukraine.

The issue continues to proliferate in the media in the U.K., Spain, Georgia, Ireland, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Portugal, Romania and Slovakia.

The trend has been noticeable in many countries, the group said, leading some institutions to discuss ways to regulate online hate speech.

“We have to acknowledge how fragile the situation is for LGBTI people across Europe and Central Asia,” Paradis added.

The organization is calling for “bold and decisive action at multiple levels, so that the human rights of LGBTI people in all their diversity will continue to advance across the region, and the promise of equality will be experienced in their lived realities.”