LGBTI in Lithuania: Equality Priorities Remain in a Political Periphery

Unprecedented success of  Baltic Pride 2019 festival in Vilnius which brought together around 10 000 LGBTI people and their allies marked the beginning of certain positive changes towards LGBTI acceptance and equality.  However, even after LGBTI-friendly Liberal political powers secured their place in the ruling coalition in 2020, the pace of change leaves a lot to be desired.

A Complete Lack of Strategic Approach

The latest European Union Fundamental Rights Agency survey on LGBTI situation suggest that the emotional wellbeing of LGBTI respondents in Lithuania remain among the worst in Europe. Survey results were nothing short of alarming: Lithuanian respondents admitted always (14 %) or almost always (20 %) feeling downhearted or depressed. Moreover, 55 % of Lithuanian respondents personally felt discriminated against in 8 areas of life due to their LGBTI identity. These rates are the highest among all EU countries.

On September 1, 2020, National LGBTI Rights Organization launched the first-ever professional emotional platform catering for young LGBTI individuals, their teachers and parents. Failing to receive any support from the government due to the lack of LGBTI priorities in its current financing programmes, emotional platform remains fully dependent on external funding.

LGBTI related actions seem to be perpetually stuck in Lithuania’s programmatic periphery. Such observation is corroborated by the very key policy documents for countering discrimination:  both Action Plan for Promoting Non-discrimination 2017–2019 as well as Action Plan for Promoting Non-discrimination 2021-2023 do not sufficiently address the specific needs of LGBTI individuals, nor they provide specific means to promote equal opportunities to them. In fact, the newest version of the document does not have a single measure expressly addressing issues related to LGBTI discrimination.

Alternative means to promote equal opportunities for LGBTI individuals

Since the government does not apply any positive action in recruitment politics towards people with such protected characteristics as gender identity or sexual orientation, National LGBT Rights Organization LGL has started an intensive and inclusive IT training program for young NEETs, free of charge. Such initiative was started in hopes to equip vulnerable youth with digital and career skills enabling them to integrate in the current Lithuanian labour market.

The free course caters not only people from LGBTI community but also invites participants of various vulnerable backgrounds. It also includes diversity building program and promotes cooperation with socially responsible businesses in order to boost culture of diversity and inclusion on a wider scale and create significant added value for both business and vulnerable communities.

It is expected that around sixty NEETs of age under 30 will directly benefit from this program.

Being Transgender in Lithuania

Multiple disadvantages faced by the transgender individuals in Lithuania arguably leave them the most vulnerable of all LGBTI groups.  More than 14 years have passed since the landmark ECtHR ruling in L. vs. Lithuania back in 2007 . It obligated Lithuania to lay down  specific regulations for Legal gender recognition (LGR) and establish a respective administrative procedure.  To this day it has not been implemented.

Lack of administrative LGR procedure, as well as the lack of access to specific healthcare constitute a peculiar strain for the Lithuanian transgender community.

Legal categories of “gender identity” or “gender expression” are not recognized in the current Lithuanian legislation which hinders the effective investigation in discrimination cases as the protected ground of gender simply does not cover all issues and specifics related to transphobic discrimination.

Family  Dilemma

The lack of same-sex family recognition is another deep rooted issue that often falls victim of political powers promoting the so called traditional family values agenda.

 On 11 January 2019 the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania issued a judgment on legal recognition of same-sex unions concluded abroad.  The Court ruled on a narrow issue, that is whether a same-sex spouse is entitled to a residence permit on the grounds of family reunification. Overall it simply reemphasized the decision in a profound Coman case of the European Court of Justice.

It, however, made certain important remarks in the obiter dictum of the judgment. It was once again  reiterated that the constitutional concept of family life includes not only married couples, but also couples in stable de facto relationships and is gender neutral.

Although such judgment could certainly be regarded as progressive in the Lithuanian context, it did not prompt any changes in the legislation yet.

Surprisingly, even the voice of the liberal Freedom Party which electoral agenda included plans for marriage equality, recently took a much more conservative tone. It is already been established that the soon to be registered draft Partnership Law would not enable adoption to same-sex couples, nor status of the same-sex partnership would be elevated to that of a family.

Moreover,  Law on Family Strengthening along with some other provisions introduced a retrograde concept of so called complementarity of maternity and paternity defined as the child’s essential need to have two parents of different sexes.

The only Anti-Gay Propaganda provision in the EU

Without a doubt the number of LGBTI friendly media has notably increased in recent years. However cases of discriminatory application of the provisions laid down in the infamous Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information continue to be documented since the said law entered into force around eleven years ago.

 In many cases it has been used as a legal basis to impose limits to LGBTI related content, even of educational and academic character, and some of these cases are as recent as of February, 2021.

Amendments to the  Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information were adopted on January 14, 2021, however it did not in any way address its central controversy.

According to this law,  Public Information which encourages the concept of entry into a marriage and creation of a family other than stipulated in the Constitution and the civil code of Lithuania  is still considered having a Detrimental Effect on the Development of Minors.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

The only area of protection of LGBTI individuals which has shown a non-sporadic institutional engagement is the development of a sufficient response to hate crimes which was prompted by the outcome of the European Court of Human Rights case of Beizaras and Levickas v. Lithuania (2020) where applicants were represented by the National LGBTI Rights organization through the entire proceedings in the national courts. Following this ruling, Lithuanian institutions among other means, initiated an intersectional working group on hate speech and hate crimes proposed to review the existing regulations and broaden the limits of liability in hate speech cases.

This breakthrough European Court of Human Rights ruling reflected on the systematic failure of the Lithuanian law enforcement institutions to maintain its equity and impartiality and secure the procedural rights of two gay men who faced flagrant instances of homophobic hatred.

New developments may gradually contribute to the overall wellbeing of the LGBTI community, however positive instances of institutional progress are scarce. Non-governmental sector organizations often remain the first and often single point of information and support for LGBTI individuals in Lithuania.