Enrique Anarte Lazo: LGBTQ people across the Baltics fight for their rights

Around 10,000 people from across Eastern Europe attended an LGBTQ Pride event in Lithuania over the weekend, many of them hopeful for their futures.

Around 10,000 people, mostly young adults, flocked to the capital, Vilnius, from across Lithuania — a country of 2.8 million and the biggest Baltic country — and its neighbors Latvia and Estonia to join the annual Baltic Pride march Saturday.

Since 2009, the annual event has rotated among the capitals of the three countries, gathering local activists and international allies. Vilnius hosted Baltic Pride for the first time in 2010. Back then, only 400 people marched.

“This is incredible,” said Juan Miguel, a Spaniard who studied abroad in Lithuania and arranged a reunion with his friends who are now spread across the continent. “Nine years ago, there were neo-Nazis at both sides and more police than participants.”

“It wasn’t easy. People looked at us like they were in a zoo,” said Vladimir Simonko, executive director of LGL, Lithuania’s biggest LGBTQ group. “Our community is very brave to show up, and we have lots of allies that march with us.”

Big companies such as Google, Moody’s and the Nordic-Baltic bank Swedbank were among the participants and sponsors of this year’s march, as well as the embassies of countries such as the United States, Canada and Norway. The parents of Matthew Shepard, the American student brutally killed in Wyoming in 1998, also attended.