LGBT Voices for Equality: Lithuania
By Shawn M. Gaylord
“It can be observed that the social acceptance towards LGBT people – at least in the biggest cities of the country – has increased since the 2000s. The coverage of LGBT issues in the local media has also become more nuanced. These developments can be partially attributed to the successful implementation of Baltic Pride events in 2010 and 2013. However, institutionalized homophobia remains the most pressing challenge. It seems that local politicians are aiming at rendering the lives of LGBT persons more challenging on a daily basis through the proposal of various homo-, bi-, and transphobic legislative initiatives and policy measures. While Lithuania seeks to position itself as a progressive European Union country on the international level, homophobia and transphobia remain on the political agenda back home.”
-Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius, Policy Coordinator Lithuanian Gay League
Lithuania recently tabled an amendment that would’ve added civil penalties to its law banning public displays that defy “traditional family values,” and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community breathed a sigh of relief. The proposal’s continued existence, however, reminds LGBT Lithuanians that they remain a vulnerable and marginalized community.
The law currently in place, similar to the infamous Russian law banning propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations, lacks a disciplinary instrument. Lithuania’s propaganda law predates Russia’s, yet Russia maintains a marked influence on legislative strategy in the Baltic region to erode the human rights of LGBT people. Public disapproval of homosexuality remains high in Lithuania (approximately 50 percent), yet there has been steady progress within the past five to ten years towards inclusion. Meanwhile in Russia, 74 percent of the public disapproves of homosexuality.
The Lithuanian legislature is considering an additional homophobic amendment that would change the constitutional definition of family to be exclusively based around the marriage of a man and woman. The amendment has been brought up for votes twice before, failing both times.
Vilnius, the country’s capital, will host next year’s Baltic Pride, the annual celebration of LGBT communities in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Although there is still work to be done to combat violence and discrimination, the event is a mark of the improving environment for LGBT people. But if the proposed amendment had progressed, Baltic Pride organizers and participants could have been prosecuted and fined. Thankfully we can now look forward to an event free from such official persecution, where participants can proudly proclaim the event’s slogan: WE ARE PEOPLE, NOT PROPAGANDA.
For more information on Human Rights First’s efforts to combat homophobia in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, read our blueprint, “How to Stop Russia from Exporting Homophobia.”