Exchange of LGBTI rights NGO’s between Finland and Lithuania – Seta visiting Vilnius

Seta’s Training Coordinator Marita Karvinen and I visited Vilnius for two weeks in November 2017 as part of the exchange programme between Seta – LGL Rights in Finland and the National LGBT* rights organization LGL. The NGO exchange between Seta and LGL is part of the Rainbow Rights project that promotes LGBTI Equality and non-discrimination in Finland and in the Baltic countries. The project is led by the Ministry of Justice of Finland and other implementing partners include LGL, Seta and the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities. The Project is supported by the Rights, Equality and Citizenship (REC) Programme of the European Union.

Programme of the exchange visit, that aimed to ensure mutual learning and exchange of good practices, was jointly planned by LGL and Seta. The specific issues related to LGL’s and Seta’s work that we discussed included for example work on hate crimes and hate speech, homophobic and transphobic bullying, training, ways to collaborate with national and international partners and work with projects.

We also met with many of the LGL’s partners including Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson’s Office, the Lithuanian Office of the Nordic Council of Ministers, Centre for Equality Advancement, Lithuanian Centre for Human Rights and Pro-LGBT+ group of Vilnius City Councillors. We learned a lot about the LGBTI rights situation and wider political and social context in Lithuania and shared and discussed Seta’s work and other experiences from Finland. We also visited the European Institute for Gender Equality.

During the visit Seta gave four training sessions for LGL and its partners including the National Equality and Diversity Forum (NEDF), Youth Line volunteers and LiMSA’s medical students. Training topics included e.g. gender norms and norm awareness and in case of NEDF also how Seta functions and organizes trainings and services for trans people.  Transgender Support Centre  that provides services to all trans and intersex persons and has 4 staff members is part of Seta.

We participated the first regional Rainbow Rights seminar that took place during the exchange period. The seminar focused on the LGBTI rights situation in Europe and especially in the Baltic States and Finland. The overall situation, recent progress and key challenges were discussed, and specific topics included trans rights, LGBTI equality in education and health as well as hate crimes and speech. Before the seminar the Finnish Embassy organized a reception that provided a great opportunity to meet other seminar participants and LGL´s partners.

Although the LGBTI rights situation is quite different between Finland and Lithuania, there are also similarities and much work remain to be done in both countries. The exchange visit and the seminar proved once again that a lot that can be learned from other organizations´ and countries´ experiences. We took home for example lessons related to the multi-country projects that LGL frequently participates as well as to the work documenting bullying and combatting hate crimes and hate speech. It was also inspiring to see how the small gains can be reached with hard work and commitment, and worrying to notice the pushback from the conservative sectors for example in the form of the bill that had been registered in Lithuania to ban legal gender recognition.

We are grateful to LGL for their hospitability and all the efforts to coordinate our visit. Seta is really looking forward to receiving LGL staff for the exchange visit to Finland in 2018!

Read more about the visit from travel log below, also published at Seta_ry’s Instagram.

Day 1.

Seta and Lithuanian Gay League (LGL) discussed about the programme for the exchange as well as about the most relevant current LGBTI-rights issues and the conservative anti LGBTI- and women’s’ rights movement. Seta trained LGL’s staff and volunteers on gender norms and norm-critical approach. “We also heard about the situation and work to promote gender equality in Lithuania from Virginija Aleksejūnė and Margarita Jankauskaitė from the Centre for Equality Advancement. In Lithuania, too, the #metoo is the topic of the day as some sexual harassment cases in the film industry were brought to public attention.”

Day 2.

The cooperation between Nordic and Baltic countries and promotion of the rights of sexual and gender minorities were the main topics of the meeting with the Vilnius Office of the Nordic Council of Ministers. Legal gender recognition and especially recent legislative proposal of the Lithuanian Parliament to totally ban legal gender recognition was raised as an issue of great concern .  LGL and Seta also discussed about cooperation between NGOs, projects and funding.

Day 3.

Seta participated of the National Equality and Diversity Forum’s (NEDF) training on social services and spoke about the services and trainings that Seta and the Transgender Support Centre provide. LGL and Seta exchanged information about studies on bullying and approaches to work with the education sector and young people. In Lithuania the Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public causes significant barriers especially for working with the young people.

Day 4.

Seta had meetings with the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman and the Lithuanian Centre for Human Right.

Day 5.

The topic of the day for LGL’s and Seta’s discussions was combatting hate crime and hate speech. Seta also trained the member of the Lithuanian Medical Student Association LiMSA on diversity of sexual orientation and gender.

Day 6.

Seta learned about work of the Youth line to which young people can call if they feel down or have problems they want to discuss about. Youth line’s volunteers were trained by Seta on gender norms and norm awareness.

Day 7.

LGL and Seta met with Mark Harold, representative of the pro-LGBT+ group of Vilnius City Councillors. LGL and Seta also discussed about the studies they had carried out on bullying as well as other work with the schools and the possibilities for that in both countries.

Day 8.

Seta attended a meeting with the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) to learn about their work to advance equality between men and women. The reception was organized by the ambassador of Finland to Lithuania on the occasion of the regional seminar Rainbow Rights.

Day 9.

The first regional Rainbow Rights seminar, that concentrated in the priorities and recent developments around LGBTI rights and policies especially in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland, but also at the European level in general, took place in Vilnius.

Day 10.

The day started with a feedback discussion on the regional seminar as well as on planning of the next seminar to be organized in Riga during the Baltic Pride in June 2018. The steering committee reviewed the progress so far on the project’s implementation and discussed reporting and upcoming activities.

1The Project Rainbow Rights is supported by the Rights, Equality and Citizenship (REC) Programme of the European Union.