On 1-5 June 2022 the Baltic Pride 2022 festival took place in Vilnius. The festival provided Lithuanian and Norwegian partners to explore new cooperation opportunities, share and establish new best practices.
The organizer of the Baltic Pride 2022, the National LGBT rights organization LGL together with partners Oslo City Municipality, Vilnius City Municipality and Lithuanian Diversity Charter implemented a project “Mainstreaming equal opportunities in twin cities (Vilnius-Oslo)”, funded by the Fund for Bilateral Relations of the EEA and Norwegian Financial Mechanisms 2014–2021.
The project sought to mainstream equal opportunities in twin cities (Vilnius-Oslo) and foster diversity at municipal level by involving Vilnius and Oslo municipalities, socially responsible businesses, and human rights NGOs. The project aimed to foster exchange of best practices between Vilnius and Oslo municipalities on securing equal opportunities in twin cities. The project also encouraged the cooperation and increased knowledge and understanding between Norwegian and Lithuanian partners and encouraged a positive change in ensuring equal opportunities at municipal level.
Baltic Pride 2022: Celebration in Vilnius
The city welcomed the five-day event with rainbow-colored fountains, bridges, and a pedestrian crossing, Tolerance Street, traffic lights depicting all kinds of couples as well as cultural activities, conferences, and the long-awaited March For Equality and Peace.
Vilnius made numerous city-wide preparations to welcome the LGBT+ community, its residents, and visitors to the festival: a pedestrian crossing in the Old Town was painted in a rainbow palette and one of the streets was renamed to Tolerance Street. The changes are a testament to the capital’s support for the community and prompt Lithuanian authorities to legalize same-sex marriages.
At the same time, Vilnius’ fountains and bridges were illuminated in a colorful rainbow while the traffic lights in the heart of the city flashed in green depicting different and same-sex couples as a symbolic encouragement for all people to feel the freedom to be who they are. Also, five hot-air balloons rode over the city’s skyline carrying rainbow flags.
Leading up to the main parade, residents and visitors of the city were invited to conferences, creative workshops, exhibitions, cultural and educational activities, theatrical performances, and several other events aimed at encouraging tolerance and peace.
Baltic Pride 2022: March for Equality and Peace
Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, shimmered with all the colors of the rainbow this Saturday, celebrating the end of the Baltic Pride 2022 festival with the main attraction—the March for Equality and Peace. The event, which rotates in all three Baltic countries, was hosted in Vilnius for the fifth time from May 31st till June 4th.
Over 10K people joined the march the last time in Vilnius in 2019 which was a significant boost in comparison to the first march in 2010 where the event drew a crowd of only a couple hundred. Given that all pandemic restrictions have been lifted, the crowd was even bigger this time around.
Among those who participated in the parade were Lithuanian and foreign diplomats, Remigijus Šimašius, Mayor of Vilnius, Marianne Borgen, Mayor of Oslo, Colin Ratushniak, Mayor of La Ronge (Canada), Ann Linde, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, Cecilia Brinck, Chairwoman of Stockholm City Council, Jessica Stern, Special Envoy from the U.S., Judy and Dennis Shepard, parents of late Matthew Sheppard, and others.
Both Vilnius and Oslo Mayors participated at the Baltic Pride 2022 March for Equality and Peace. In a statement Mr. Šimašius, Mayor of Vilnius, claimed that the city has undergone a profound transformation, and is constantly improving and urging its residents and visitors to be more tolerant and respectful to all communities.
“Vilnius promotes the freedom for everyone to be who they are. The city and its residents have developed a strong sense of tolerance and respect for each other,” said the Mayor. “This festival and the rainbow colors adorning its streets today symbolize both the city’s support to different communities and the perseverance to fight for equal rights.”
Good Practices of Cooperation
Both Lithuanian and Norwegian partners participated in two exchange visits in Oslo and Vilnius. During the meeting the representatives of partner organizations learned about best practices on equality mainstreaming, diversity and inclusion in Oslo and Vilnius. The partners also exchanged ideas on how Oslo and Vilnius municipalities could take an active role during the Baltic Pride in Vilnius.
Equality perceptions: Assessment Questionnaires
Representatives of partner organizations filled in initial assessment questionnaire and final assessment questionnaire to evaluate expectations and opinions on equality mainstreaming, diversity and inclusion in Oslo and Vilnius and the impact the Baltic Pride festival has on those perceptions.
In the initial assessment questionnaire partners indicated that Oslo and Vilnius cities should act as role models and be at the forefront with inclusive employment policies. The representatives of partner organizations also claimed that municipalities should provide inclusive services, support human rights organizations, provide programs for underprivileged people.
When asked whether the emphasis on equal status and equal rights of women and men is visible and integrated into all of the City/s operations and strategies In the initial assessment questionnaire, 55,6 % of respondents claimed “No”, while 44,4 % claimed “Yes”.
When asked how effective Norwegian or Lithuanian laws and policies on human rights/ equality and diversity are, the respondents claimed that they provide a minimum of basic human rights. The respondents also insisted that human rights policies and laws must become a priority to municipalities.
Most respondents 55,6 % agreed that their city administration encourage residents to engage in safe discussion about issues of equality, diversity, and appropriate behavior.
In the final assessment questionnaire, the respondents were more likely to agree that the city administration encourages residents to engage in a safe discussion about issues of equality, diversity, and appropriate behavior.
When asked whether LGBT Pride events actively contribute to a more welcoming environment for LGBT community in the city, most respondents (88,9 %) agreed to this statement.
In the final assessment questionnaire, the respondents were more likely to agree that LGBT Pride events actively contribute to a more welcoming environment for LGBT community in the city.
When asked how municipalities could contribute to organizing LGBT Pride events and ensuring the needs of members of the LGBT community, respondents claimed that municipalities should listen to LGBT community and its needs and support them.
Also, municipalities should show respect for every citizen and treat all people equally. Municipalities should become a partner who encourages changes that in the city everybody would feel safe, welcome, and needed.
The Baltic Pride 2022 festival provided Lithuanian and Norwegian partners with an opportunity to build upon the status of Vilnius and Oslo as twin cities and focus on building their partnership on collaboration on equality mainstreaming, fostering diversity and inclusion.
The representatives of partner organizations demonstrated a high level of motivation in implementing this project and reported higher level of enjoyment when it comes to involvement of their municipalities in organizing Pride events, municipalities involvement in creating a more welcoming environment for LGBT community in the city.
Therefore, it is highly likely that partners involved in the project, including Vilnius and Oslo municipalities will continue to build upon the partnership secured during the Baltic Pride, learn from each other, and implement practices and policies to better the situation of communities affected by discrimination.
Good practice paper and evaluation are a part of the project “Mainstreaming equal opportunities in twin cities (Vilnius-Oslo)”. The project is funded by the Fund for Bilateral Relations of the EEA and Norwegian Financial Mechanisms 2014–2021.