It is always important to consider things in context. This means both on the local scale, as well as globally. Working for non-profits and NGOs it can be easy to get caught up in a small silo or on a highly broad conceptual global scale, and while it’s important that work is done in both these venues, it is important that we as people are considering as many angles and perspectives as we can while completing this work. LGL has served as an excellent reminder of this. This is thanks to the context in which it works, where the local LGBT* environment sits outside of any prior experience of my own but that is informed by the global community at the same time. I certainly feel moving forward that my experience here has shaped me.
Growing up in the US Midwest, I had heard of the country of Lithuania only in passing, and knew very little about it. In fact, I knew very little about the Baltics and Eastern Europe in general, whether regarding culture, history, anything. However, it is a priority in my life to constantly explore the world and to expand my horizons, so when I found the opportunity to intern at LGL and to move to Vilnius and work for LGBT* rights, I had to take it. I am so grateful I did.
Primarily my work has focused on the upcoming Baltic Pride 2019, an event which is hosted only every three years in Vilnius (on other years it is in Riga and Tallinn). I had recently discovered a personal affinity for government relations, so it was a great opportunity to learn more about how a local NGO interacts with the international and local institutions. Most of this occurred through fundraising letter-writing, however I also has the opportunity to participate in some meetings with representatives from different embassies in Vilnius, including the US and the Netherlands. It was very inspiring the way we were all treated as equal partners at the table. It was simple human interaction: people trying to learn from and understand each other. One never felt a divide between the government representatives and us from the NGO, nor were us interns treated any different by them than the LGL employees. This was a pleasant difference from my previous experience as an intern lobbying in the US government, which I had already enjoyed, and thus deepened my desire to go into this line of work. I also helped with other activities around the office, such the LGL shop and community center, some projects, and the Baltic Pride Facebook page.
In general, the office has been cosy, not too small but not too big either, and everyone is friendly and open. As an intern, I always felt like my work and experience was valued and appreciated. I had few expectations for this internship: I simply wanted to experience something new and to gain knowledge in the field of LGBT* rights, and these objectives were certainly accomplished. I especially loved the international environment of the office, where I’ve met people from all around Europe who were also interns, volunteers, and employees, as well as simply supporters just dropping in for some information or an event.
While as a whole, the internship has been an amazing experience, there were some unpleasant moments as well. During the past month we have had a number of homophobic arson attacks on our community, the first of which on our own office door. This has rallied great support from the community, however it is saddening to still see such hate. It is disappointing proof of the current worldwide rightwards swing. However, it has further emboldened me to continue working for NGOs and for human rights, and it is an important reminder of how valuable our work remains. I had never seen so obviously and blatantly the importance of the organisation I work for: you can see here speaking with people, knowing the laws, feeling the consequences, that Pride and a strengthened LGBT+ community is still so necessary.
As I prepare to leave LGL and move back to the UK to finish my bachelor’s degree, I look forward to what the future will bring me after graduation. I am thankful for my experience here, learning about a new topic in a new environment, and excited to bring what I have learned from the Lithuanian context and apply it to whatever’s next. I am confident that the skills I have gained will help me moving forward with my career in NGOs, and I am confident that the impressions the work has made on me will help me moving forward with life- and I can only hope my work has made a similar positive impact on the LGBT* community in Lithuania as well.