National LGBT rights organisation Lithuanian Gay League cooperated with ILGA-Europe in publishing a report at the end of 2013 on ‘Homophobic and Transphobic Hate Crimes in Lithuania’ for the year. Lithuania has the highest hostility rate of any EU member state, with 61% of its LGBT community claiming they suffer discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Only one in ten people reports a perceived hate crime to the authorities, often because they are reluctant to disclose orientation or identity. There is likely to be distrust of the authorities as well: the report describes a gay man who believed the police were ‘indifferent’ to his concerns. The findings of this report, based on interviews from March to November 2013, help us to break down incidents of discrimination and violence, and understand where they are coming from.
The Law in Lithuania currently does not allow legal recognition of gender reassignment or same-sex marriage. Like in Russia, censorship against ‘gay propaganda’ can be practiced. Adverts for Baltic Pride, an event held annually in one of the three Baltic countries, were banned by the Ethics Office. The LGL protested against this in October. Petras Gražulis, an MP for the Order and Justice party, wants to push this censorship further and institute fines for the „denigration of family values“. Among these so-called crimes are public speeches, protest signs, posters, slogans, and promotional videos, and of course demonstrations like Baltic Pride. 46 MPs voted in favour of Gražulis‘ ammendemnts, 10 voted against, and 22 abstained.
Three key opinion-makers are the source of a great deal of homophobia in Lithuania. First is the press and in particular tabloid journalism. Nationalist paper Respublika is most strongly compliant: they ran a media campaign against LGBT people from 2004—2006. Secondly: church leaders, especially the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. A statement by the Lithuanian Catholic Church said that “homosexuality is perversion”. Politicians are just as bad, with frequent statements comparing gays to paedophiles and calling for the death penalty for homosexuality. MPs were asked for their opinion on the statement “homosexuality is perversion” and over two thirds were in favour, with more abstaining than being against it. Even one of those against the statement, Vilma Martinkaitiené, showed a homophobic nature: “There needs to be more tolerance towards the disabled and the sick. I think that these people are sick, in a way.”
Rokas Žilinkas of the Homeland Union party is the only openly gay MP in Lithuania. Even he thinks LGBT people should keep quiet! In an interview with Lrytas he said of Baltic Pride: “I don’t think one should shout about one’s sexual orientation in parades.” (Baltic Pride last year was held in Lithuania’s capital city, Vilnius.) He also views same-sex marriages negatively and appears to think the law should be influenced by the country’s dominant religion: “Christian tradition recognises marriage between a man and a woman. It is natural and should be observed.”
In November, solidarity from London was expressed with Lithuanian LGBT people in a protest staged by the RMT Union. The demonstration was against the five anti-LGBT bills to be considered in the Lithuanian parliament. Worldwide protests against anti-gay laws and violence in Russia will continue most likely escalate, with many groups supporting a boycott of the Olympics being held in Russia. Lithuania is bordered with Russia and ethnic Russians make up 5.8% of its population. Considered with the fact that Lithuania is obviously a far smaller country, we can expect Russian politics will always inform public opinion in the Lithuania as well as the other Baltic states. On any rally or public event around international gay rights we ought to make sure the situation in Lithuania is talked about, not merely to tick a box, but to mention the specifics in the LGL report and link the liberation struggles of Lithuania and Russia, while reaching out to the 97,000 Lithuanians living in the UK.