President Obama Should Address the Human Rights of LGBT People During Estonia Visit
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today urged President Obama to address concerns about anti-LGBT legislation in Lithuania and Lativa during his meetings this week with Baltic leaders. Obama is travelling to Talinn, Estonia for a series of meetings prior to the NATO summit meeting hosted by the United Kingdom on September 4-5.
“These meetings this week offer an opportunity to both highlight Estonia’s commendable progress in advancing the human rights of LGBT people and to send a clear message to Latvia and Lithuania that the United States condemns laws and policies that discriminate against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord. “Estonia stands as an example of how countries can sustain and even promote national unity by moving forward in the protection of individual rights, even during times of high tension about national security.”
Although the Estonian LGBT community still faces many challenges, its parliament recently passed in the first reading legislation that would enable same-sex registered partnerships. The law is an important step forward, but members of parliament have been under severe pressure from anti-gay groups since the readings have begun, showcasing the need for international support as they stand to become the first former Soviet state to pass such an initiative into law.
In Lithuania, eight amendments threatening the rights of the country’s LGBT community have either been approved or are under consideration in the Lithuanian parliament, the Seimas. Throughout 2013, several draft amendments were submitted as part of efforts to reinforce “traditional” views of the family in the country’s legal framework. Amongst these were changes to the Family Code, stipulating that “every child has the natural right to a father and a mother,” and redefining the constitutionally protected concept of “family life” as only meaning marriage and parenthood between a man and a woman. In addition, measures were taken to infringe on constitutionally protected rights to freedom of speech and assembly, by introducing civil penalties for public defiance of traditional family values, emulating steps taken by Russian lawmakers. Activists are also anticipating an amendment to hold organizers of public assemblies liable for all expenses incurred in ensuring public safety and order during those assemblies. Troublingly, the Seimas has already approved an amendment establishing that criticism on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity cannot be considered discrimination.
“The respect for individual human rights and freedoms is a guarantee of peace and stability in the region. It is very important for Lithuanian authorities to understand that discrimination against the local LGBT community fundamentally undermines the whole social fabric,” said Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius, advocacy officer of the Lithuanian Gay League. “We hope that President Obama will emphasize the importance of human rights to the Baltic leaders.”
In Latvia, a referendum to amend the country’s child protection laws to prevent minors from receiving positive information regarding LGBT issues continues to move forward. With inspiration from the international family values organization “Save the Children,” certain political actors have begun amassing support in advance of the submission deadline on December 8. The referendum would be a disastrous blow for the country’s LGBT community, considering that EuroPride, the annual international event dedicated to honoring the rights and culture of LGBT Europeans, is slated to occur in RIga next year.
“We are very much looking forward to President Obama raising the question of the situation of human rights and in particular LGBT rights in Baltic countries, and encouraging Baltic leaders to take a clear stand and support LGBT rights,” said Kaspars Zalitis, board member of the LGBT nongovernmental organization, Mozaika. “Especially taking into account growing anti-LGBT political initiatives in Latvia and Lithuania that aim to drastically limit some fundamental rights.”
During the past two years, Russia’s homophobic laws and policies have spread throughout the former Soviet region. Human Rights First continues to urge the U.S. government work to prevent the spread of Russian-style anti-“propaganda” laws in the surrounding region.