On April 26th, 2017 a student of Žemaitė Gymnasium in Telšiai (Lithuania) published photos from religion class on “Facebook“ that caused an uproar on the social media. The photos display slides shown for tenth grad students as a part of religious education class. The slides contain information indicating that homosexual persons are “murderers and cannibals, often enjoying sadomasochism and raping children”. “Most serial killers who killed and ate their victims were homosexuals,” states one of the slides.
Žydrūnas Želnys, headmaster of Žemaitė Gymnasium, confirmed that he had seen the aforementioned post on the social media. The headmaster assured that he would consult with Petras Kuizinas, the Mayor of Telšiai, regarding the situation at school.
Vladimir Simonko, Executive Director of the National LGBT* Rights Organization LGL, stressed that it is not the first time that such information has reached the organization. In 2009, LGL received a copy of notes made by a student during a religion class in a different school with similar claims about homosexual persons. LGL applied to school administration, however, the school management was unwilling to “interfere with religious education”.
In Lithuania, students can choose between classes of religious education or ethics. According to the LGL’s Executive Director, many students choose religion classes as they are “trending” among young people.Vladimir Simonko also pointed out that Lithuania has adopted laws prohibiting dissemination of positive information about LGBT* persons to minors. “Any information relating to the LGBT* community is considered as detrimental. These are the consequences of the infamous “anti-gay propaganda” law. This law gives a green light for such statements,” explained the Executive Director of LGL.
The Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson of the Republic of Lithuania has already started an investigation of possible discrimination based on sexual orientation in the religion class curriculum in Žemaitė Gymnasium.
“Depending on the results of the investigation, the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson may take several decisions. In case the investigation determines a criminal offense, all materials will be forwarded to corresponding institutions for a criminal investigation. There can be more options but it is hard to comment at the moment due to the ongoing investigation,” claimed the spokesperson of the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson.
Birutė Sabatauskaitė, the Head of the Lithuanian Centre for Human Rights, believes that this situation reflects a broader problem existing in Lithuania. “It is not only the teacher’s responsibility. The politicians and leaders of educational system should also claim their share of responsibility for this incident,” stressed Ms. Sabatauskaitė.
“First and foremost responsibility must be claimed by the school administration, school community, the school board and municipality. I do not think that a teacher providing such materials for students can continue to work in a public school. The Ministry of Education and Science is planning to reform the school curriculum, provide trainings for the teachers and implement further steps in order to ensure that students are provided with quality education,” commented Jurgita Petrauskienė, the Minister of Education and Science.