Article published on Jan. 6, 2014
Article published on Jan. 6, 2014

The fight against homophobia in Lithuania still has a long way to go. Politics, media, and the Church stand between the LGBT community and social acceptance. And the EU doesn't seem to be doing anything to change the status quo. Here's the first of our reports on the situation.

Lithuan­ian MP Pe­tras Gražulis proudly holds up a pair of jeans with a zip on the back­side. We are in his of­fice in the Seimas- Lithua­nia's par­lia­ment- dis­cussing the 55-year-old MP’s ha­tred of ho­mo­sex­u­als. Gražulis is the leader of the pop­ulist right-wing party ‘Order and Jus­tice’. He has had the jeans made spe­cially to show his dis­gust for ho­mo­sex­u­als. On 12 No­vem­ber he vis­ited the LGBT as­so­ci­a­tion in Vil­nius to show them off in per­son and to offer a pair as a gift. ‘I'm going to get them patented, I'll sell tonnes of them,’ he as­sures me, be­fore launch­ing into a long di­a­tribe backed up by an abun­dance of Bible quotes. He pro­poses ways of ‘cur­ing’ ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, which he calls ‘a curse brought from the EU.’

Gražulis' ini­tia­tive would seem like noth­ing more than a joke in bad taste if it wasn’t so dis­tress­ingly symp­to­matic of the state of gay rights in Lithua­nia, a coun­try of 3.5 mil­lion peo­ple. ‘Every­one's heard about what he did,’ laments Vladimir Si­monko, pres­i­dent of the Lithuan­ian Gay League (LGL), 'but not a sin­gle politi­cian has con­demned it.’


There have been sev­eral stud­ies show­ing the ex­tent of Lithua­nia’s an­i­mos­ity to­wards ho­mo­sex­u­als. Only 52% of Lithua­ni­ans sup­port equal op­por­tu­ni­ties for gay peo­ple in the labour mar­ket, ac­cord­ing to a state om­buds­man's re­port. 42% of those asked said they would be scared if their child was taught by a gay teacher. A study by the Vi­enna-based Eu­ro­pean Union Agency for Fun­da­men­tal Rights showed that 61% of LGBTI (les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual, trans­gen­der/tran­sex­ual, in­ter­sex) peo­ple in Lithua­nia had been dis­crim­i­nated against or ha­rassed - the high­est rate in the EU.

No fewer than five draft laws are being drawn up which could quite eas­ily be called ho­mo­pho­bic or anti-tran­sex­ual: bans on sex changes and gay adop­tion, crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of, ‘the defama­tion of con­sti­tu­tional eth­i­cal val­ues,’ (i.e. the idea that mar­riage is only be­tween a man and a woman), the re­moval of ‘ho­mo­pho­bic in­sults’ as an of­fence from the Penal Code, and the halt­ing of pub­lic fi­nan­cial sup­port for pub­lic protests (i.e. gay pride fes­ti­vals). What's more, sev­eral at­tempts have been made to en­shrine mar­riage in the Con­sti­tu­tion as an in­sti­tu­tion be­tween a man and a woman, as has been done in Croa­tia.

A TV ad for Baltic Pride was re­jected by pub­lic broad­cast­ers a few months ago due to an amend­ment to child pro­tec­tion law which came into force in 2010 and which for­bids ‘pro­pa­ganda in favour of ho­mo­sex­ual, bi­sex­ual and polyg­a­mous re­la­tion­ships.’

The Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment voted to ap­prove a res­o­lu­tion against the amend­ment, but this had lit­tle ef­fect. The only way to get the ad shown is to tele­vise it after 11pm, with an ‘adult con­tent’ warn­ing pre­ced­ing it. As a re­sult, only one com­mer­cial chan­nel has ap­proved it for broad­cast dur­ing the day.  ‘It's like Rus­sia here,’ says Si­mo­nenko, re­fer­ring to the Russ­ian law for­bid­ding ‘ho­mo­sex­ual pro­pa­ganda.’ One human rights ac­tivist was re­cently im­pris­oned for break­ing this law.


Aside from a few minor in­ci­dents nearby, and de­spite the failed at­tempts of the city's mayor to dis­tance the event from the city cen­tre, July's Baltic Pride was a suc­cess. ‘It feels like every time we take a step for­ward, we take two steps back,’ sighs Si­monko. ‘It's ac­tu­ally our politi­cians who are the prob­lem. They're con­vinced that most of our peo­ple are ho­mo­phobes and they act ac­cord­ingly. Ei­ther that, or they dare not come out in favour of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity for fear of los­ing votes.’ Most peo­ple in the coun­try con­sider ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity as ei­ther an ill­ness or a per­ver­sion to be fought against, ac­cord­ing to an en­quiry car­ried out by MPs.

The lib­eral and so­cial de­mo­c­ra­tic par­ties have a few mem­bers in their ranks who are openly in favour of gay rights, but their num­ber can ap­par­ently ‘be counted on one hand.’ Apart from the lib­eral party cur­rently in op­po­si­tion, not a sin­gle party is cam­paign­ing for the in­tro­duc­tion of civil part­ner­ship for same-sex cou­ples. What's more, Lithua­nia is gov­erned by a grand coali­tion, led by Prime Min­is­ter Al­gir­das Butkevičius, com­pris­ing Order and Jus­tice, the So­cial De­mo­c­ra­tic Party, the Labour Party and the party of the Pol­ish mi­nor­ity, mean­ing that, ‘when it comes to gay rights, you can for­get it,’ says Si­mo­nenko.

How­ever, the so­cial de­moc­rats pos­sess a pow­er­ful human rights ac­tivist in 69-year-old pro­fes­sor and fem­i­nist Mar­ija Pavil­ion­ienė. She says that only four or five of her fel­low party mem­bers share her point of view. She finds Gražulis' jeans dis­gust­ing. ‘Like so many other ho­mo­phobes, he is ob­sessed with sex­u­al­ity. But it's not a ques­tion of sex, it's a ques­tion of human rights!’ Many so­cial de­moc­rats don't buy it, how­ever. ‘I feel a con­stant pres­sure to aban­don my pro­gres­sive ideas,’ she ad­mits dur­ing a meet­ing at a café in cen­tral Vil­nius. ‘I ar­gued with the min­is­ter of jus­tice, try­ing to bring in civil part­ner­ships,’ Pavil­ion­ienė ex­plains. ‘He promised me it would hap­pen, but I'm still wait­ing. The pro­posal's there wait­ing, it just has to be taken out of the drawer! But he's scared. Even the pres­i­dent, Gry­bauskaitė says that the time for civil part­ner­ships hasn't come yet. She wouldn't dare, but if she'd just say that sev­eral dif­fer­ent kinds of fam­ily life are pos­si­ble, that would greatly help our cause.’  For that mat­ter, ru­mours abound that Gry­bauskaitė, who is sup­ported by so­cial con­ser­v­a­tives, is her­self a les­bian.

Up until now only one Lithuan­ian politi­cian has come out as gay - Rokas Žilin­skas, 41, a for­mer jour­nal­ist and news pre­sen­ter, and serv­ing MP of the con­ser­v­a­tive ‘Pa­tri­otic Union’ party. ‘His party uses him to knock back gay rights,’ says Si­monko. ‘He was op­posed to Baltic Pride!  He be­lieves in silent protest and that ho­mo­pho­bia will just sort it­self out. He even sug­gested that I dis­band my or­gan­i­sa­tion.’


Keep an eye out for the sec­ond part of the re­port which will con­cen­trate on the in­flu­ence of the media and of the church on gay rights in Lithua­nia.