Pride and Progress

Feature by Nine | 07 Sep 2010

Following in the recent tradition of Pride marches in Kraków, Moscow and Belgrade, the Lithuanian LGBT community met with opposition in May 2010 when Pride took place in Vilnius, its ban having been overturned at the eleventh hour. Over a thousand protesters showed up, resulting in violent clashes. On my recent visit, I asked my hosts, a gay couple in their early thirties, about their own experiences in the country.

Armin is from Austria, which saw rapid changes in the last five years in terms of LGBT rights. How does this compare with Lithuania? “Zero. I do not think they want to be confronted with this topic.” The overall reaction recently when Vilnius Pride hit the headlines was one of outrage. “The gay community pushed too hard,” he says. “It would be better for them to search for more consensus and not throw it in people's faces. On the other hand, twenty years ago this country got freedom and I think this should be for all inhabitants and not just a certain part of [the population]. I heard that 40% of Lithuanians think homosexuality is an illness. Funny, I don't feel ill ...”

Armin's Lithuanian partner feels differently about Vilnius Pride. “It's good that it was there,” Dalius says, “because obviously it's not the same aim as it is in countries where they've had it for twenty years. It's good to start the discussion. Of course the process will be very long. 75% in polls say they are totally against it, but this is because people don't know and they have some strange preliminary prejudice. I think that when the people little by little demand what has been demanded thirty to forty years ago elsewhere, it's childish to expect to get it immediately. But gradually we can expect some of those 75% to change their minds.”

Dalius adds, however, that he has never personally experienced a single negative reaction to his sexuality. “So on the one hand, people as a whole are very homophobic, but on the other, when all of a sudden somebody they've known for ages [comes out as] gay or lesbian, they say 'wait a minute, there's nothing wrong, they're a normal person'. So this helps as well in a broad sense.”

In fact, Dalius' colleagues will be throwing them a wedding party. By the time you read this, the couple will have been married in Austria, leading to an odd legal status – according to Austrian law, Lithuania must recognise their marriage in some sense, otherwise Dalius could theoretically marry a woman in Lithuania. So, they need to provide documents to a solicitor who will draw up a civil legal contract. Armin will have the status of a married person, but for Dalius it's entirely new territory: “It will be funny,” he says, “to be both married and not married.”