Thursday

16th Aug 2018

Opinion

Lithuania and the EU's blind spot on gay rights

  • Why does the EU have a strategy for protecting gay people abroad, but not at home? (Photo: compscigrad)

On 1 July, Lithuania took over the EU Presidency.

The EU is one of the leading voices on LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex) equality, but Lithuania is way out of tune.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Vilnius' EU presidency began with a controversy on LGBTI issues when its head of state, Dalia Grybauskaite, faced tough questions from MEPs and media on Baltic Pride.

Its EU chairmanship is a chance for Lithuania to take concrete steps to tackle discrimination.

Its presidency is also an opportunity for the EU to set the record straight - its LGBTI policies have so far been piecemeal, have lacked consistency.

Why is Lithuania such a challenge when it comes to LGBTI rights, or, to put it another way, human rights?

The Baltic Pride March for Equality is scheduled to take place on 27 July on Vilnius' main avenue.

But municipal chiefs have said organisers cannot do it here despite two favourable court judgements (the city is appealing the latest verdict).

Baltic Pride is just one of many LGBTI problems in Lithuania.

According to the 2013 Rainbow Europe Index, it is among the worst in the EU in terms of laws and policies to protect LGBTI people. It has in just 21 percent of the - necessary - measures in place.

The real life situation is equally bleak.

The EU's Fundamental Rights Agency in Vienna, in its first-ever survey on the subject this year, said 61 percent of LGBTI people in Lithuania feel discriminated against or harassed over their sexual orientation or gender identity.

It is the highest rate in the EU.

Meanwhile, some recent legislative proposals in Lithuania threaten the basic principles on which the EU is founded.

Bills put to the Seimas (parliament) include a ban on gender reassignment and an amendment to a Criminal Law article on slander, saying that criticism of homosexuality and claims that homosexuals should change their sexual orientation should not be construed as discrimination or hate speech.

They also include proposals for a new administrative liability for "public denigration of constitutional moral values and of constitutional fundamentals of the family life" and for "organisation of public events contravening public morality."

Lithuania, as the EU chairman, should be a leading light on EU values.

The least it could do is to let Baltic Pride go ahead as planned and to protect the people who take part.

It should also reverse the Seimas trend and, indeed, introduce pro-LGBTI legislation to improve its shameful 21 percent score.

But reforms on paper are not enough.

In order to cultivate progressive views in society, it should formulate a political strategy for inclusion of LGBTI communities in public life.

What can the EU do to help?

In an unprecedented statement, the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, has already made it clear that Brussels is closely monitoring the situation in Lithuania.

Non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation is a pillar of EU law since 1997. It is prohibited under both the EU Treaty and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Gender identity does not yet enjoy the same level of protection, but the issue is gaining recognition.

What remains unclear is: Which legal instruments can EU institutions turn to when a member state violates LGBTI rights?

There is no single document laying out the EU strategy on this problem.

Just last month, the EU adopted comprehensive and practical guidelines for its overseas missions on how to protect the human rights of LGBTI people in third countries.

The guidelines clearly refer to freedom of assembly "without excessive political and administrative obstacles” and to police protection in the event of "public hostility."

It is ironic - if not irrational - that there is no similar policy for upholding EU Treaty values in this area in member states.

The Lithuanian moment and the new foreign policy guidelines cry out for such a document.

The writer is a campaigner at the Brussels-based NGO, Ilga-Europe

Focus

Lithuania: In the EU spotlight

Lithuania takes over the EU presidency on 1 July. EUobserver talks to the country's leading politicians about its austerity policy, its euro plans and relations with eastern neighbours.

Focus

EU ministers urge Reding to do more for gay rights

Fourteen member states have backed a petition urging the European Commission to do more for the rights of sexual minorities, with the last major initiative several years ago.

How long can Bulgaria keep facing both East and West?

Sofia may be wearing out its welcome with Western democracies by playing both sides - seeking closer integration in Europe while cosying up to Moscow and Beijing, claiming to work towards hitting EU targets while putting its own interests first.

News in Brief

  1. Salvini questions EU 'constraints' after bridge collapse
  2. Bosnian Serbs to rewrite 1995 Srebrenica genocide report
  3. Malta to allow Aquarius migrants to disembark
  4. Juncker sends condolences over Genoa bridge collapse
  5. EU pledges €500,000 more for Indonesian earthquake island
  6. EU commission in talks with states on new Aquarius migrants
  7. Man held after car crashes into UK parliament security barrier
  8. Brexit delays better readability of medicines' instructions

EU's moment of truth in Khan al-Ahmar

EU states have spoken out in strident terms against the Israeli demolition of another Palestinian community - but what are they prepared to do to stop the war crime?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  2. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  3. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  4. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  5. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  6. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  8. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  12. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma

Latest News

  1. US trial sheds light on murky Cyprus-Russia links
  2. Burned cars fuel Swedish election debate
  3. EU court to hear citizens' climate case against EU
  4. How long can Bulgaria keep facing both East and West?
  5. EU commission steps up legal case against Poland
  6. Separation of powers instead of 'Spitzenkandidat' process
  7. Revealed: ExxonMobil's private dinner with Cyprus' top EU brass
  8. What Salvini teaches us about Operation Sophia

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  4. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  6. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  8. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  9. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  11. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  12. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us