11th Dec 2018


Europe's shame

  • Marcher at a gay pride event. Lithuanian law forbids "propaganda of homosexuality" to minors (Photo: See-ming Lee 李思明 SML)

Yet again another eastern European country is trying to block a gay pride event. This time it is Lithuania. A Baltic Pride march is due to take place on 8 May, as part of a wider festival celebrating equality for the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community across the region, but the Lithuanian authorities have temporarily suspended the permit.

The Administrative Court of Vilnius has used special measures to "freeze" permission, which had previously been issued by the mayor of the Lithuanian capital. The court believes the public and marchers' security cannot be assured in the face of what they say are planned violent counter-protests. The police force deny this however, and have stated in the past that they are confident security can be assured.

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The decision of the court to ban the event came after Raimondas Petrauskas, Lithuania's interim attorney general, and Stanislovas Buskevicius, a member of the Kaunas City Council, made a complaint. Organisers of the event have now lodged an appeal and the outcome is yet to be decided.

I have experienced homophobia in Lithuania first hand. I was in a gay bar that was smoke bombed in Vilnius in 2007. In 2008, I returned to the country to do some filming for my documentary Beyond the Pink Curtain. That year, the mayors of both Vilnius and the second city, Kaunas, banned the EU's anti-discrimination bus tour from holding events in public spaces.

I met and interviewed Stanislovas Buskevicius (who has lodged the case to ban the march) who said he firmly believed homosexuality was immoral. At the time, he was deputy mayor of Kaunas. He told me being gay was the same as theft and prostitution.

Lithuania is also a country where a new law on the "Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information" includes "the propaganda of homosexuality or bisexuality."

On top of that, in 2008, a large number of MPs tried to remove the clause on homosexuality from the Law on Equal Opportunities. This was defeated, but by a very narrow margin.

Any real or proactive commitment to equality is still distinctly lacking across the Baltic States. It was the same in Riga last year. The Latvian authorities' decision to ban the Baltic Pride march was overturned at the very last minute. An appeals court judge finally saw sense and said the ban was unconstitutional. Let's hope the Lithuanian courts do the same.

The biggest shame of all this though, is that the apparent indifference of governments across Europe. How many capitals have made public statements condemning the judgements made this year in Vilnius, and last year in Riga? This is blatant institutional homophobia, and it must be halted.

Homosexuality is still not classed in the same light as race or gender in the eyes of EU legislation. The new so-called horizontal anti-discrimination directive, which was launched with quite a fanfare two years ago, continues to face stiff opposition.

It is therefore not surprising that governments in the Batlics, and indeed across Europe, feel they can openly condemn the gay and lesbian community, and get away with it.

The writer is a freelance journalist and writer/director of Beyond the Pink Curtain

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