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Lithuania’s Gay Pride: Despite Molotov Cocktails, Smokebombs and Protests, They Marched

Lithuania’s Gay Pride: Despite Molotov Cocktails, Smokebombs and Protests, They Marched

On Friday, it emerged that Lithuania’s first gay pride march to be held in the capital, Vilnius, on Saturday, had been reinstated by a supreme court ruling that cited international human rights law. This came after a last minute appeal was made by LGBT rights groups to overturn a lower court decision to suspend the parade’s license. You can read more about that here. While being widely praised by international human rights and LGBT rights advocates, the go ahead was overshadowed by threats of violence from right-wing groups and anti-gay protesters.

On Saturday, things didn’t get off to a good start. Early in the morning, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the building of Youth for Tolerance, a human rights organization that helped to organize the Baltic Pride event. Fortunately, the device failed to ignite and there were no reported casualties.

Regardless, the march itself went ahead, with 400-500 people marching in the parade, a larger number than had been expected. LGBTs and straight allies came from miles around to attend with a strong foreign contingent being present.

Marchers walked beneath a huge rainbow banner and carried placards saying “Human Rights Are My Pride”, “Different Families, Same Love” and “Marching For Those Who Can’t.”

From the Associated Press:

Holding large rainbow flags and dancing to music blaring from loudspeakers, they walked along a road near the city’s Neris river.

Participants included many foreigners, diplomats and members of the European Parliament.

“We are here because we believe … in a just society. Labels are for filing, for clothing, not for people. And we are here today to remove labels from people,” said Birgitta Ohlsson, Sweden’s minister for European Union affairs.

Here is a clip of the historic pride parade:

And a longer video:

Around 500 police were stationed around the parade route, some on horseback, so as to protect marchers from a crowd of around 1000 protesters (though some reports suggest that there were closer to 2000).

Protesters were kept at a distance by a wall of barriers that had been erected around the parade route, but that did not prevent demonstrators from shouting anti-gay epithets through megaphones while carrying placards baring similar messages. The protest was allegedly joined by a fascist group that chanted such things as “Away with pederasts, away with Jews, away with occupants… EU pederasts.”

At one point, police reportedly fired teargas into the crowds of protesters when several attempted to jump the barriers. Protesters retaliated by throwing stones and improvised smoke bombs as well as broken street signs. Fortunately no one was seriously injured, while the pride marchers themselves were kept safe by the preparations the police had made.

Many protesters apparently believe that LGBT rights threaten Lithuania’s “traditional” values and that the pride march itself only came about as a result of outside influence because homosexuality, they say, is not native to Lithuania:

Protesters carried crosses and signs and shouted insults at rally participants. A Catholic Mass at the nearby national cathedral was held to pray for homosexuals.

“Sweden has already wiped out traditional families. Now they came over here to tell us how to live, how to think and who to sleep with. Lithuania will not allow such perversions,” said Jonas Kempinskas, who walked from the Cathedral to the protest holding a huge cross.

From the AFP:

Same-sex relations were decriminalised in Lithuania in 1993 — two years after the country won independence from the crumbling Soviet Union, which had banned homosexuality.

But opposition remains entrenched.

“Homosexuality is not part of our traditional values. It’s something imported into our country. They should keep it to themselves and not flaunt it,” said mother of three Lina Saluckiene, as protesters prayed earlier outside Vilnius’ cathedral.

The above quote draws on an almost universal criticism that is put to LGBTs over pride parades. “Why do you flaunt your sexuality?” “Why throw it in my face?” This is often followed by: “Just keep it private. Keep it in the bedroom.”

While in places like America and Britain, pride parades are annual, often commercial, events, Saturday’s Baltic Pride 2010 event in Lithuania demonstrates the core message at the heart of every pride parade: visibility and solidarity.

Pride events are not about “flaunting” sexuality or trying to indoctrinate or coerce. Simply, if you are not seen, it is unlikely that your voice is recognized as significant enough to be given attention; if you can not be heard, you can not combat the prejudice you face, and no one can hear you cry out when you are the victim of injustice or when you suffer intimidation, violence or labor under institutionalized homophobia, which, as we have seen, is a reality for LGBTs in Lithuania, just as it is many other places such as in Uganda and Iraq where to speak out in this manner would certainly lead to more than protests, perhaps even death. The banner mentioned above baring the message “Marching For Those Who Can’t” takes on a new dimension, then.

And if there was any doubt of the power or significance of marches like this, a small part of a Reuters news article on the parade caught my eye:

For some the parade became an emotional moment.

“I just called my mother and told her I am gay. She was shocked, initially, of course, but I hope she will get over it,” Artur, 17, who declined to give his family name, told Reuters.

Similar tales are being reported of how, moved to action by the march, others have come out to friends and family. As such, Saturday’s march was historic, and as many marchers themselves noted, a significant landmark that, even under the potentially stifling threat of violence, was not halted. While there could be a backlash from this, the positive affirmation of the march, named “For Equality”, radiates like a laser beam in the dark regardless.


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Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to lighttripper.

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58 comments

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1:35AM PST on Jan 20, 2011

Sorry if someone is disadvantaged with my post. I will change my mind about EU, if it will be our peoples right to decide (based on our culture, education, religion, values) what is good for our country and what is bad.

1:17AM PST on Jan 20, 2011

well.. in psychiatry books it was said that pedophiles and homosexuals and etc. it's disorder due to certain environmental factors, and how to restore this disorder. Now some pederasts removed this disorder from psychiatry list. And are propagating it as very normal. Ok, now lets remove alcoholism, drug addiction and etc. from list of disorder and start propagating. Dear homosexuals, You are fighting not for what You believe. You are fighting for what You ill. :).
If nothing to do, you will see, 50 years will pass, and maybe then heterosexuals will be treated as not normal :)
I'm from Lithuania and i feel sorry that my country joined EU. European union is pederastic union. And it's stuff destroys what we belief and are proud of.

12:31PM PDT on Sep 12, 2010

Being that my mother's side of the family left there 90 years ago due to religious intolerance, I'm glad to read there has been an evolution of tolerance in that country.

8:13AM PDT on Sep 5, 2010

from argentina we had equal marriaadge since last july, i just cannnot believe that all this stuff still happening. all my suports for you guys. cheer up equalty

5:23PM PDT on May 24, 2010

Shameful - why do they not read the Bible on the subject?

5:01PM PDT on May 17, 2010

While Im not a person who would deny anyones so called rights, I do dislike their lifestyle getting shoved down my throat!!! I wonder what the government will do when they have their next parade complete with nudity, children watching adults act out sexual acts, etc. If they want rights, they do come with some responsibility. After all we are supposed to believe that they are such good people & citizens!

11:25PM PDT on May 14, 2010

congrats to all involved. you showed strength,pride,and a belief that was unshakeable. keep up the good work. stay strong. there are many of us who are praying for all of you.

10:47AM PDT on May 13, 2010

Thanks for the article

8:13PM PDT on May 12, 2010

Congratulations to the organizers.....and the participants. What a development!

11:02AM PDT on May 12, 2010

How brave you are.Don't give up!

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