The global COVID-19 pandemic is affecting LGBTI activists throughout the world and imposes a lot of restrictions on campaigning. H. E. Karsten Klepsvik, Ambassador of Norway to Lithuania is confident that the upcoming International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia will provide an opportunity to raise awareness on the challenges the LGBTI community is facing during global health and economic crisis.
On May 17 the world will commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. Why do you think it is important to celebrate this day, especially in the times of global health and economic crisis?
I think it is always important to celebrate diversity, equality and human rights for all. Recognizing and respecting diversity does not get in the way of unity we need in times of crisis. As I have often mentioned, diversity is a source of strength and resilience. At these times we need empathy, solidarity and acceptance. LGBTI people are our family members, friends, colleagues and neighbors. To mark this day is not to single them out or separate them. It is a way of showing that we see you, care about you and support you as valuable members of our communities that face specific struggles due to persisting prejudice.
LGBTI human rights groups throughout the world are experiencing many constraints and challenges when it comes to their daily activities, gathering and campaigning. Could you please share how Norway is coping with these issues at home and abroad?
Norway has been a dedicated and active supporter of LGBTI human rights groups at home and abroad. Norway aims to educate, raise awareness, support initiatives that strengthen human rights and act as an LGBTI rights advocate in international forums. We also want to make sure that human rights issues remain on the agenda and are integrated into decision-making across various policy areas.
In your opinion, what are the best Norwegian practices from which Lithuania could learn when it comes to support of human rights, active citizenship and social support for vulnerable groups during the COVID-19 pandemic?
High level of public trust is often mentioned as one of the major strengths of the Norwegian society. Trust is achieved when people are involved, from volunteering on local community level to participating in the national political process. People get engaged when they feel that their opinion is heard and there is space for a variety of different points of view in the public debate. Strong and active civil society is very important in this regard. The idea is to have an inclusive debate, encourage public involvement and create opportunities to contribute for those who would like to support a cause or an activity.
Why do you think it is important to maintain visibility of the LGBTI community during these challenging times? In your opinion, what means could be used to raise visibility of the LGBTI community when social gatherings such as marches are prohibited and could potentially be a threat?
I think it is important to maintain the visibility of the LGBTI community because there are still major issues that have to be addressed. Whereas the immediate public health crisis demands unprecedented resources and attention, social development does not stand still. I hope that the emphasis on unity in these trying times can live on past the crisis and can be extended to embrace and support any groups that remain marginalized or excluded.
While public gatherings as we are used to them cannot go ahead, we can try and harness the power of social networks, provide input representing LGBTI perspective to the media and authorities and be active in public debate where it has implications for LGBTI rights or human rights in general.
What message would you like to give to the Lithuanian LGBTI community on the occasion of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia?
I would like to extend the message of support and encouragement. Norway will continue to be your friend and ally fighting for equal rights and opportunities during these challenging times and beyond.
The social media campaign, carried out by the National LGBT rights organization LGL on the occasion of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, is funded by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Vilnius.