On December 12th 2013, Kristina Kunsteinaite (pictured above) will become the first LGBT Lithuanian woman to ‘come out’ via You Tube. With her Invisible People project, she reminds LGBT Lithuanians that it is not they who are perverse, but the social stigma against them – a stigma which demands a life lived in conflict, exile or the shadows. This remarkable story demands our attention, and our support.
The Plight of LGBT Lithuanians
Lithuania sits North of Poland, south of its Baltic cousins Estonia and Latvia, and has a population of 3.3m people. Since declaring independence from the USSR in 1990, the nation was welcomed into both NATO and the EU in 2004.
Prior to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993, gay and lesbian people faced transportation to a gulag for up to two years if discovered. Since then legal protections and equality legislation have been passed by Lithuania as a precondition of its membership of the EU. This has done nothing to alleviate the social and political hostility toward LGBT Lithuanians.
Despite notional legal protections, LGBT Lithuanians face tough choices. Live openly, in a precarious existence surrounded by hostility, or live invisible lives as exiles (in more hospitable environments or at home in secret).
And things are getting worse.
In 2010, Lithuania passed a law banning the ‘public dissemination’ of materials considered to promote homosexuality. The legislation ranked gay people alongside child abusers and rapists, creating a ban on “encouraging the sexual abuse of minors, sexual relations between minors and other sexual relations”.
Trans men and women in Lithuania, are not even recognised in the legal system. Transgender Lithuanians find it almost impossible to further their gender reassignment within the borders of their own country.
The figurehead of bigotry in Lithuania, is lawmaker Petras Grazulis. A brief summary of his recent interventions on the matter:
- In 2010, he put forward legislation stating that “public promotion of homosexual relations is to be punished by a fine from 2,000 to 10,000 litas [£480 to £2,400]”.
- In 2012, he gate crashed an LGBT event being held by senior officials to demand all LGBT people leave the country. “How are homosexuals better than necrophiliacs or paedophiles?”he exclaimed. “I’m ashamed that the rotten West, coming from the European Union that is morally corrupted, propagates this to Lithuania and tells us how we should treat homosexuals. Gays should leave Lithuania, not dictate their terms to us.”
- The country’s second Pride event took place this year, but was attacked by hundreds of violent protesters. These mobs were led by Grazulis, who baited the marchers over a bullhorn, while inciting his mob to attack the march, storm the stage and pelt eggs at a pro-equality member of Lithuanian parliament and an EU observer.
- Earlier this month, when he sent a disgusting ‘gift’ to an LGBT community centre. Workers at the centre opened the box to find a pair of jeans with an anal zip inside.
But the problems run far deeper than this one hysterical bigot. Five anti-LGBT pieces of legislationare moving through Lithuanian parliament, with popular support. They include:
- A total ban on gender reassignment
- Legal protection of ‘criticism of homosexuality’ – hate speech directed at LGBT people would be protected by law
- The criminalisation of “public denigration of constitutional moral values” – outlawing signs of affection between same sex couples in public
- A new law that “every child has the natural right to a father and a mother” – outlawing same sex parenting.
- A law which would make Pride march organisers pay for their own security
The first two have been opposed by the government, but the rest remain. A key concern is that the government’s motivation for opposing has more to do with maintaining EU relations than promoting equality. Lithuania currently holds the rotating EU presidency, but is about to pass the role on. At which time, it is anticipated that the anti-LGBT legislation will progress quickly.
Recent surveys found that only 23% of gay men are open about their sexuality, just 4% of the population support registration of same sex couples (equal marriage/civil partnerships etc.) and 62% of Lithuanians object to a Gay Pride being held in Lithuania.
It was the severity of these impending laws and the rising social and political hostility that had LGBT Lithuanian Kristina Kunsteinaite experience an urgency to act.
Read more here