Vladimir Simonko, Executive Director of the National LGBTI rights organisation LGL, which celebrated its thirtieth anniversary recently, says that since the restoration of Lithuania’s independence, it has been difficult for changes in the LGBTIQ sphere to find their way onto the political agenda: “The LGBTIQ community had high hopes for Lithuania when it regained its independence, and we hoped that change would soon come as Lithuania sought to become a member of the Council of Europe (COE), the European Union (EU) and other international mechanisms. This is probably why we were not afraid to come out with a partner as early as 1995 and become actively involved in the defence of human rights.”
“I will not hide the fact that the community had high expectations from the current ruling coalition, so it is disappointing that the Seimas has so far failed to reach a consensus not only on the issue of civil partnerships, but also on the abolition of the so-called ‘gay propaganda law’,” Simonko said.
The expectations of the LGBTIQ community have not been met and today Lithuania, along with Hungary, Romania and several other countries, is one of the worst EU member states in terms of guaranteeing the rights of LGBTIQ people. According to a study by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, Lithuania has high rates of LGBTIQ discrimination compared to the EU average, while international human rights monitoring mechanisms have repeatedly made recommendations to Lithuania in the area of LGBTIQ rights. According to activists, Lithuania has made little progress in implementing the EU LGBTIQ Equality Strategy 2020-2025, which was adopted by the European Commission in 2020.
Guidelines for the National LGBTIQ Rights Plan
V. Simonko noted that the coming year is particularly important because of the presidential and parliamentary elections, and the organisation is looking forward to raising the issue of the need for a national plan for LGBTIQ rights: “Lithuania has, for example, energy and climate plans, defence plans, a strategic document to define the vision of Lithuania’s future. But can there be a vision of Lithuania’s future without human rights? That is why we want to present a roadmap to policy makers for a national document with sustainable, coordinated and evidence-based goals for Lithuania’s human rights agenda”.
The document contains an overview of the challenges of ensuring LGBTIQ rights in Lithuania, the legal and social conditions for ensuring LGBTIQ equality, and recommendations for the content of the National LGBTIQ Equality Plan.
“Our proposed actions are quite ambitious, covering not only well-known but also less explored and discussed areas of LGBTIQ rights in Lithuania, considering that the National Plan for LGBTIQ Equality should contribute to the development of a long-term human rights agenda. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of recommendations and we do not expect an easy process of implementation. However, LGL is ready to work with state institutions and NGOs to find solutions together in the coming year,” said Simonko.
Lack of strategic human rights commitment
“LGBTIQ people in Lithuania create the same social, economic, cultural and other benefits for the state as any other citizen, pay the same taxes to the state, abide by the same laws and rules, and the values of a decent and safe life are, I believe, universal. However, the catalogue of rights guaranteed by the state to an LGBTIQ person is much narrower than that of a heterosexual person. Western democracies have long understood the value of diversity and its strategic importance for people and society. They are strengthened and enriched, for example, by Pride festivals that promote the visibility of the community, the retention of LGBTIQ talent in the country, the attraction of investments and capital and, above all, a basic respect for the person, whether or not that person conforms to a particular norm imposed by the majority. Lithuania is not using the full potential of equal opportunities and diversity, and demographic, social and economic indicators are suffering as a result, which does not contribute to increasing the authority of our state in the eyes of strategic partners,” commented Monika Antanaitytė, legal advisor representing LGL.
“Not only have we failed to catch up with our Baltic neighbours on LGBTIQ rights this year, but we are also lagging behind countries that are still in the process of integrating into the European Union, such as Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, which have adopted plans for LGBTIQ rights, following the example of some EU members. In Poland, same-sex couples can now defend some of their family’s property and social interests, at least in court, while in Lithuania the courts have been reluctant to address these issues this year, shifting all responsibility to the legislative”, Antanaitytė said.
Attitudes towards human rights also reflect geopolitical orientations
According to activists, the current presidential institution is also a weak link in the area of human rights, and not only on the issue of legalising partnerships: ‘For example, advisor of the President called the poster of a Lithuanian-American woman with the inscription ‘Nausėda is a homophobe’, which was put up during the president’s speech in Chicago, ‘an attempted attack’ and ‘an assault’. This official narrative and accusatory rhetoric can stifle civic engagement in Lithuania and is reminiscent of Russian examples where the government tries to create maximum public hostility towards the LGBTIQ community for political purposes. The adoption of a National LGBTIQ Equality Plan by the relevant institutions would provide a common strategic direction and measures for human rights policy,” said the LGL representative.
Human rights experts also pointed to developments in neighbouring countries: for example, the newly formed Polish Cabinet has for the first time appointed ministers for equality and civil society issues. This, they say, creates some expectation that progressive decisions in Poland, the recognition of family rights for LGBTIQ people in Latvia and Estonia, and the laws passed this year in the Ukrainian Rada to protect against discrimination on the basis of gender identity will be reflected in Lithuanian policy.
The Roadmap to the National LGBTI Equality Plan recommends targeted measures in five policy areas, covering legal recognition, LGBTIQ inclusion, security, health, and international relations.
LGL would like to thank the Friedrich Ebert Foundation for its support in developing the guidelines for the National LGBTIQ Plan.