Gay Rights Rally Up In Smoke (Again)!
When the Brussels-based, EU-backed International Lesbian Gay Association (ILGA) chose Vilnius as the host city for their annual conference, they did so for just this reason. Because, as documented on this site and elsewhere, homophobia is institutionalised in Lithuania. Because Lithuania has proposed legislation that contradicts European Union anti-discrimination legislation. Because Lithuania's mayor banned an EU tolerance campaign designed to educate people about the EU's human rights laws from entering the city. Because in the same month (May 2007) she also banned a gay rights rally from taking place. Because she supported city bus drivers who refused to drive buses with slogans promoting sexual diversity on them. Because there has never been a gay rights rally in Vilnius before. Because in June, leaflets and posters appeared all over the city promoting violence against homosexuals. Because Vilnius has been the worst example of all the new EU member countries in their anti-gay and thereby anti-EU policies. Because the EU has failed to act on any of these matters. Because Vilnius was (perhaps mistakenly) designated a "European Capital of Culture" for 2009, despite the entrenched homophobia of its government, media and citizens. Because things need to change. Now.
This week the ILGA arrived in town to address these issues, to cast them into the spotlight and garner support for the sexual tolerance from the Lithuanian government and the EU. The group was promptly met by city council and told that they could no longer hold their planned public rally, citing construction in the Old Town as the reason this would not be possible. Hours later, as the group attempted to go ahead with their conference, the meeting room in which they gathered was filled with a noxious gas when several smoke bombs were thrown into the room. Police barred anyone from leaving the building (despite it being filled with gas), because they had not secured the perimeter. Fortunately no one was injured and obviously no arrests were made.
As you can probably imagine, the ILGA will milk this event for all it can in getting Vilnius and Lithuania to change it's attitude toward homosexuals, or at least condemning this attitude before the European media. They have rejected the major's rejection of their own rally, for which no alternated site was offered, and called the city's ruling "appalling." "There is no doubt that the City of Vilnius used the construction works as a cover," Executive ILGA Director Patricia Prendiville said.
So what is to be done? How much will the EU allow LT to get away with before it takes some sort of action against this country which has become a total rogue in its stance on homosexuality? Presumably, no longer, particularly if the ILGA uses this action in a lawsuit against the city. The precedent was set earlier this year when a 2005 gay rights rally ban in Warsaw was ruled to be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Juris Lavrikos, communications officer for ILGA Europe said, "This ruling also applies to Lithuania. We're very sorry that the Mayor of Vilnius is apparently ignoring this. If we have to take this case to Strasbourg too, it will be a total of waste of Lithuanian tax-payers' money."
In other what-the-hell-is-the-matter-with-this-country?, what-the-hell-are-they-thinking? news, the Lithuanian Parliament is currently debating legislation that would ban "the propagation of homosexuality" to minors. By this, they mean to ban any and all literature and films from schools that include homosexual relationships. Should this legislation be passed, it would contradict the EU's anti-discrimination legislation, not to mention the values of the European Union. A vote on the matter is expected by Christmas.
Amnesty International has now worthlessly weighed in (as they like to do) on sexual tolerance in Vilnius, strongly condemning the mayor's decision to ban the ILGA's annual conference. Despite the prohibition (and smoke out), the conference concluded peacefully with over 200 hundred delegates from across Europe participating. Anti-gay protesters hawked their bigotry outside the conference, but there were no instances of violence. In fact the authorities have posited that the club where the conference meeting was being held when it was filled with smoke bombs actually gets bombed all the time and it probably had nothing to do with the ILGA's conference. Can we please come up some slightly more clever ways to explain these matters?Reply