Volunteering in Lithuania: My Experience of Rainbow Days 2015

As a foreigner volunteering in one of the most homophobic countries in the European Union, I admit I did not know what reactions would have generated the Rainbow Days 2015, the set of initiatives organized in Lithuania for IDAHOT (International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia).

Since I moved to this country, not many positive events occurred in terms of respect and tolerance towards LGBT* rights: from the declaration of the Lithuanian Member of Parliament Mr. Patackas warning LGBT* activists about a “massacre (as) in Paris” to the refusal of the police to start any investigation against this threat, from the harsh reaction spreading online after  a picture of a same-sex kiss was published on Facebook to the final judgement of the Court labelling this act as an “eccentric behavior”, from the several attempts inside the Parliament to legalize hate speech in the Lithuanian Criminal Code to Lithuanian MPs declarations supporting limitation of the freedom of speech and expression of the LGBT* people… The list continues in a quite embarrassing way that pays little justice to a country that firmly struggled to be part of the EU and claimed to be ready to embrace the more spread respect for human rights that the majority of the EU countries share.

LGL photoConsequently, from my perspective, I expected these Rainbow Days 2015 to be welcomed in a quite negative way from the general population of Vilnius. Especially the bus ride rolling down the streets of the city: I expected disgusted looks, protective mothers covering the eyes of their children, people shaking their heads in front of this crowd of colorful LGBT* activists dancing and waving their flags from the top of their rainbow bus, I even expected people blessing their souls. And instead, surprise surprise, all we got were people blowing us kisses, smiles, signs of support and encouragement: definitely something very far away from my initial expectations.

DID-30574However, this was not the only positive visible sign from these Rainbow Days. An incredibly impressive participation was observed during all the events, and first of all, during the opening event “Cheer Queer”. I believe the participation of the people to the initiative was the major indicator of how successful the event was. In the charming location of One-Two Bar, participants to the event had the chance to have a better understanding of LGBT* allyship while taking part of a sparkling and lively talk-show style seminar, to drink a cup of freshly-brewed coffee while assisting to the Drag performance of Alen Chicco, to laugh, talk and celebrate the incoming Rainbow Days while walking through an LGBT*-themed exhibition of local artists.

The explosive and successful start of the Rainbow Days was followed by a full agenda of initiatives including the presentation of the petition “Change it!” to the President of the Republic of Lithuania, the reception hosted by the Finnish Embassy to celebrate IDAHOT together, the Rainbow Days Party at SOHO, the event for the transgender community Trans-Pizza, the screening of the Italian movie “Loose Cannons” in Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipeda and finally the “LGBT* Myth Busters” workshop in Kaunas and Klaipeda.

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Now Rainbow Days are over and it is time for me to draw some conclusions. According to the ILGA-Europe Rainbow Map 2015, Lithuania scored 35th out of 49 countries in terms of advancement of LGBT* rights. Where do these data come from? From the consideration of parameters such as the legal framework of the country, the right to equality and non-discrimination in marriage and partnership rights, the right to apply for asylum, the legal recognition of gender reassignment, the respect of the right of assembly, association and expression and the measures taken at Institutional level in order to prevent hate speech and discrimination of LGBTI people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. How much Lithuania scores in respecting these parameters in a percentage scale from 0 to 100? Barely 19%.

But then, what all those smiles, kisses, signs of support that I saw from the top of the Rainbow bus where I was proudly waiving my rainbow flag represent? I believe they represent the light at the end of the tunnel, the beginning of a change. Because by seeing the amazing work of Lithuanian LGBT* activists and by observing the reactions of the people around, and despite all the homophobic declarations and lacks of respect coming from politicians, institutions, legal authorities and law-enforcing officers, I realized that a change is possible. It is there, it is present and it is waiting for the right moment to raise up and get rid of those mechanisms of oppression rooted in centuries of taboos, stereotyped realities and forms of society control. We just need to wait and in the meanwhile persist with our activism, our strength, our determination. Rainbow Days were the first step, EuroPride will be the next: a new goal for the LGBT* Baltic activists and a new outcome of our actions. See you all at EuroPride.

By LGL’s EVS volunteer Alice Michelini

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LGL is carrying out the 10 month project “Promoting Human Rights Activism in Lithuania” under the Erasmus+ programme EVS (European Voluntary Service).