Urban space and politics, not sex

Article published on March 5, 2010
community published
Article published on March 5, 2010
As some of you know, Lithuania is waiting (or not) for its first LGBT parade/demo on the 8th of May. It was, as expected, a very controversial issue, yet the way it will go will provide an important test for Lithuanian democracy. Similar initiatives in Vilnius previous years were banned by the local government, supposedly due to security reasons.
However, as someone said in a Facebook forum, if the police was strong enough to ensure the safety of George W. Bush and the Queen of England (I would add, the Chinese ex-president Jiang Zemin. I remember two groups of people on both sides of the bridge to the Vingis park, waiting with their kids, dogs, bikes, etc to go in or out of the park respectively, and policemen keeping them off, because the politician's car was expected to pass. Also, pro-Tibetan independence activists were locked in police cars) the demonstration of homosexuals would be piece of cake. The Swedish minister for EU affairs Birgitta Ohlsson announced she will also join.

This year the local government developed a new strategy. They try to push all the 'inconvenient' demonstrations away from the city centre with all government buildings, supposedly because in the new place designated there will be simply more space. I've never heard anyone complain about lack of space, so it's very obvious how political unrest is being pushed to the margins to make it invisible. However, when the space was assigned, the Department of cultural heritage under the Ministry of Culture paid attention to the fact that this space overlaps with the territory of the former ancient Jewish cemetery, and hence having a parade of homosexuals in the territory would be somewhat tref (not kosher). As far as I know, they are looking for a new place for the demo.

Meanwhile, many individuals in Lithuania are against the demo, imagining it to be organised after the example of the Love Parade in Berlin, with many wasted people making out in public - regardless of the fact that the idea of the organisers is to demonstrate for rights and against discrimination. Many people, including the recent politician, former newscaster Rokas Žilinskas, who came out a while ago, say that "bedroom affairs" whould be left in the private sphere, and there's no need to demonstrate.

So, a lot is being done to deny the political nature of the protest. The fact is, many homosexuals cannot talk openly about their sexual orientation in fear of rejection by their employers, colleagues, families and others. They are looked upon with suspicion. It doesn't matter that they have full "bedroom rights" in Lithuania - the fact is that anti-discrimination legislation is not effectively implemented, let alone anti-hate speech legislation.

Meanwhile, ordinary Lithuanians have nothing against individual homosexuals. The openly gay singer Ruslanas Kirilkinas is very popular (see his song for the national Eurovision contest). For many Lithuanians, homosexuals are OK as a 'sub-culture': glamorous, charismatic singers, designers, performers... As long as they are distant and live in their world. They are expected not to interfere with the 'ordinary' world, consisting of routine work, family life and political strife. As long as they 'pass as normal' in public life and keep their 'bedroom affairs' to themselves, they are tolerated. Yet the issue is not about bedroom, it's about a category of people who cannot enjoy full acceptance and some of the rights in the society.

The reluctance of the mainstream society and politicians to share urban (and other) space with openly homosexual people is at the core of the debate over the parade. Once again, I am deeply convinced that the demo is a claim over public space, and it has nothing to do with 'bedroom'.