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The Baltic States: home to homos? A comparative study of gay rights in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania Nick De Leu // Tartu University // 2010

Introduction Since their independence from the Soviet Union at the onset of the 1990s, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have been undergoing tremendous reforms. Each of the countries soon reinforced its very own nation state and installed a democratic regime. The Baltic states focused on legitimizing and consolidating their newfound independence, venturing into the world of economics and discovering their own culture in the meanwhile. Coming out from under the Soviet umbrella, the Baltics were thrown into a more and more globalized world – a change they embraced by applying to join the European Union, and eventually gaining accession to it in 2004. On top of that, in a Europe filled to the brim with welfare states, people could shift their focus from their material needs to what they value in life, and so-called post materialist values – the stance of people regarding abortion, euthanasia, divorce, gender equality and homosexuality – came into play. This forces the Baltics, slowly but surely, to reassess their own cultures, attitudes and values. Of the aforementioned issues, it is homosexuality which will be discussed in this paper. The following dissertation will examine what the current state of affairs is in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, concerning the rights of homosexual, lesbian and bisexual people. Furthermore, the differences between the Baltic attitudes will be assessed, and an explanation for these diverging views will be addressed. More precisely, this paper will argue that whereas Estonia has adopted the most liberal stance, Latvia repeatedly demonstrated homophobic tendencies, with Lithuania teeter-tottering in between. In order to prove that statement, a first point will be made by briefly framing the context of gay rights in the Baltics before their accession to the European Union in 2004. Next will be a look at what the EU, as a main pole of attraction for the three countries, has to say on the matter at hand. Subsequently, the policies of the countries will be discussed, parallel to several freedoms which the European Union propagates in its Charter of Fundamental Rights, such as freedom from degrading treatment, the right to marry and

The Baltic States: Home to homos? // Nick De Leu // Tartu University // 2010

found a family, freedom of expression and information, freedom of assembly and the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. Several remarkable events in the history of gay rights in the Baltic states will be mentioned, and the underlying values and attitudes held by the people of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will be discussed. In conclusion, an attempt to explain the differences between the countries will be made.

History In Russia, the 1917 October Revolution had done away with the whole Russian Criminal Code, effectively decriminalizing homosexuality in the new Code. This was however short-lived, as Soviet leader Joseph Stalin introduced “pro-family” policies in the thirties and recriminalized homosexuality in 1933. It was Article 121 of the Criminal Code which punished homosexuality with imprisonment for up to five years, and this article was directly exported to the respective Penal Laws of the Baltic States when the occupation began.1 In Soviet times, sexual liberation – even for heterosexuals – was regarded as something which promoted individuality, and that in turn was considered threatening to a totalitarian society.2 The numbers of men arrested remain unknown, but by the 1980s there were believed to be about 1000 every year. In 1984, the first attempt at organization of gay men was suppressed by the KGB but in the shadow of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost, the Moscow Gay and Lesbian Alliance was founded (1989). Eventually, by 1993, Article 121 had been omitted from the new Russian Criminal code.3 By then, the Baltic States had of course already gained their freedom. Independent since 1991, Estonia and Latvia decriminalized homosexuality in 1992. Lithuania, which had gained its independence in 1990 already, lagged a few months behind, and removed the paragraph outlawing consensual sex between men from its Criminal Code in 1993. 4

Middlebury Community, “Russian Gay History”, (Accessed December 12, 2010). 2 Lilian Kotter, “Estonia”, (Accessed December 12, 2010), 53. 3 Middlebury Community, “Russian Gay History”. 4 Handheld Friendly, “Homosexuality Timeline”, (Accessed December 12, 2010). 1


The Baltic States: Home to homos? // Nick De Leu // Tartu University // 2010

In 1990, there was already a first study of attitude towards homosexuality among Estonian students. A quarter of the respondents condemned homosexuality, and half of them considered it to be a disease or at least an abnormal form of sexuality. However, the majority objected to the isolation of gay individuals from society, and one third regarded homosexuals as normal people, unjustly deprived of human rights. The factor that says the most about the situation in Estonia at that moment, however, is that only a few of the respondents reported having any direct contact with lesbian or gay people.5 Nonetheless, in May 1990 a Sexual Minorities and Society in 20th Century Europe Conference was held in Tallinn – the first of its kind in Eastern Europe. The Estonian Lesbian Union, established there, was also the first gay union in the Baltics – it was officially recognized as an NGO in 1993. The nineties posed no significant problems with Estonian lesbians in general. There were only a few reported cases of employment discrimination – but this was probably due to the fact that few lesbians were open about their sexual orientation. They chose minimal discrimination as a single woman above likely negative consequences as lesbians.6 In 2001, anti-incitement to hatred laws were introduced, however both grounds of “sexual orientation” and “other grounds” had been omitted from the text, leaving gays and lesbians unprotected. Estonia did equalize the age of consent, bringing it to 14 for both hetero- and homosexuals. Before, it had been fixed at 16 for gay men.7 In Latvia, that equalization had already taken place in 1998, bringing it to 16 for both hetero- and homosexuals.8 That, however, did not imply that there was an extremely socially fertile climate for gay people in the country. After Gatis Bugoveckis, a Latvian policeman, declared in a local newspaper in 1997 that he was homosexual – and not the only gay man working in the police force – he was immediately suspended and

Lilian Kotter, “Estonia”, 54. Lilian Kotter, “Estonia”, 57. 7 Gay Times, “Gay Guide: Estonia”, (Accessed December 12, 2010). 8 Gay Times, “Gay Guide: Latvia”, (Accessed December 12, 2010). 5 6


The Baltic States: Home to homos? // Nick De Leu // Tartu University // 2010

pressured by the investigating officer to name other gay men in the force, which eventually led to Bugoveckis’ resignation.9 In 2001, a publishing company announced a competition for the best essay on “Latvia without homosexuality”, inviting people to take part in the “just struggle against homosexuality”. However, the Latvian National Human Rights Office soon stated that the topics for the competition were “discriminatory and humiliating”.10 The Latvian Evangelical Church also had its say: in 2002, it excommunicated the gay priest Maris Sants after his coming out.11 He has remained an important figure for the gay community in Latvia ever since. Lithuania became the last of the three Baltic states to equalize the age of consent (to 14), in 2004.12 Research had revealed that in 1991, Lithuania had the lowest index on acceptance of homosexuality – this had not changed much by 1997, placing Lithuania at the bottom of the list, together with Poland and Hungary. In 1992, the Ministry of Justice denied the registration of the first national homosexual organization, under the pretext that the word “gay” does not exist in the Lithuanian language, and therefore no group with that word in its name could be registered. Only in 1995, the Lithuanian Gay League was officially registered.13 When the country decriminalized homosexuality in 1993, it was only after pressure from the Council of Europe, pushing Lithuania to “conform to basic human rights standards”.14

International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, “Latvia: Nationalism finds new enemies”, 10/01/1997, (Accessed December 12, 2010). 10 Juris Ludvigs Lavrikovs, “Latvians Urged to Join ‘Struggle against Homosexuality’”,, 21/10/2001, (Accessed December 12, 2010). 11 Barbara Oertel, “Der lange Marsch zum Coming-out”,, 23/07/2005, (Accessed December 12, 2010). 12 Free Repubic, “Lithuania Lowers Age of Consent for Homosexual Sex to 14”, 03/01/2004, (Accessed on December 12, 2010). 13 Lithuanian Gay League, “About Us”, (Accessed on December 13, 2010). 14 Global Gayz, “General Description of the situation of homosexuals in Lithuania”, (Accessed December 12, 2010). 9


The Baltic States: Home to homos? // Nick De Leu // Tartu University // 2010

Europe Europe’s full-fledged engagement with lesbian, gay and bisexual issues, however, has been much shorter. It is the Treaty of Amsterdam (1999) which empowered the European Union to “combat discrimination based on sexual orientation”.15 From that treaty, the Employment Framework Directive (2000/78/EC) arose – arguably the most effective instrument of the EU concerning the issue to this day. It compelled all EU states to ban discrimination at work on grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. However, limited exceptions to the inherent principle of equal treatment were made, where an employer legitimately needs an employee to be from a certain age group, or where the ethos of a religious organization needs to be preserved. In 2009, the aforementioned Charter of Fundamental Rights came into power, together with the Lisbon Treaty.16 However, the proposal for a directive against discrimination beyond the workplace (in areas of social protection (social security and health care), education and access to and supply of goods and services commercially available to the public, like housing) was put on hold, mostly because member states feared high adaptation costs.17 18 From the EU policy on free movement, implications for same-sex couples can also be deduced. The Free Movement Directive (2004/38/EC) allows EU citizens to move and reside within the EU with their spouse. However, if the host state does not recognize same-sex marriages or partnerships, the spouse must revert to other grounds for joining their partner. The Family Reunification Directive (2003/86/EC) applies when both individuals are third country nationals, and one of them is lawfully residing in the territory of a Member state, but members are not explicitly obliged to extend this right to same-sex registered (or unregistered) partnerships. Concerning asylum, the

Café Babel, “Perspective: what has the EU done for LGBT rights?”, 17/05/2010, (Accessed December 12, 2010). 16 European Commission, “Your rights and Obligations”, (Accessed December 12, 2010). 17 European Commission, “Your rights and Obligations”. 18 Café Babel, “Perspective”. 15


The Baltic States: Home to homos? // Nick De Leu // Tartu University // 2010

Qualification Directive (2004/84/EC) stipulates that those at risk of persecution in their home state (including on grounds of sexual orientation) can request asylum.19 Concerning hate speech and hate crime (respectively defined as “the incitement and encouragement of hatred, discrimination or hostility towards an individual […]” and “a physical or verbal attack on an individual that is motivated by prejudice against that person because of a particular characteristic, for example, their sexual orientation”), the EU stresses that human dignity is inviolable and that it must be respected and protected. However, in the absence of a single rule for the EU, Member States adopt different approaches to hate speech and hate crime.20 In 2007, the EU established an advisory body called the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, which gathers evidence about the situation of fundamental rights across the Europe.21 In its studies on “Homophobia, transphobia and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation gender identity” (2009 and 2010), the agency investigated the implementing of said EU legislation.

Equality The 2010 update of the report reveals that, together with seventeen other Member States, the three Baltic countries have extended the mandate of their respective equality bodies to cover sexual orientation discrimination, as part of a general convergence in the EU towards the model of a single equality body, competent to deal with all discrimination grounds. 22 The document also distinguishes three groups according to the extent of areas covered by non-discrimination legislation. Ten member states have fully implemented the aforementioned directive against discrimination beyond the workplace, and eight others, among which Latvia and Lithuania, have extended their legislation to at least European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), “Same-sex Couples, Free movement of EU citizens, Migration and Asylum”, 2009, (Accessed December 12, 2010), 1-2. 20 FRA, “Hate Speech and Hate Crimes against LGBT Persons”, 2009, (Accessed December 12, 2010), 1-2. 21 FRA, “The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA)”, (Accessed December 13, 2010). 22 FRA, “Homophobia, Transphobia and Discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, 2010 Update, Comparative legal analysis”, 2010, (Accessed on December 12, 2010), 7. 19


The Baltic States: Home to homos? // Nick De Leu // Tartu University // 2010

some of those areas. In Estonia, however, people are only protected on grounds of sexual orientation by the EU-required Employment Equality Directive. In areas beyond employment, people are only protected on grounds of racial and ethnic origin.23 24 Furthermore, the implementation of that directive didn’t go that smoothly in Estonia. A 2002 survey revealed that 53% of lesbians, gays or bisexuals hid their sexual orientation at work, and that 14% reported being harassed at work because of their sexual orientation.25 Nonetheless, the legalization on the Equal Treatment Act, which would implement the directive, had been put on hold since 2002. This meant that Estonian gays were only protected by the inclusion of “…or on other grounds” in the Estonian Constitution’s Equal Treatment Principle. Only in January 2007, when the European Commission sent Estonia an official letter in which it complained that Estonia was not fulfilling its duties, the Riigikogu proceeded to work on the ETA draft, but even then it was rejected twice before the act was finally passed in December 2008. 26 The Lithuanian Law on Equal Treatment (2005) covers discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation, not only on the labor market, but also in access to goods and services and education.27 However, Article 3 of that law provides for particularly broad exceptions in favor of religious organizations, including educational establishments. This is based on the aforementioned Article 4 of the Employment Equality Directive, stating that differences of treatment are justified in case of churches and other (public or private) organizations the ethos of which is based on religion or belief.28 An important exception indeed, in a country dominated by the Catholic Church.

FRA, “Homophobia – 2010 update”, 19. FRA, “Homophobia and Discrimination on Grounds of Sexual Orientation in the EU Member States: Part I – Legal Analysis”, 2009, (Accessed on December 12, 2010), 28. 25 Danish Institute for Human Rights (COWI), “The social situation concerning homophobia and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in Estonia”, March 2009, (Accessed December 12, 2010), 7. 26 Human Rights Centre at Tallinn Law School of the Tallinn University of Technology, “Human Rights in Estonia 2008-2009”, 2010, (Accessed on December 12, 2010), 46. 27 COWI, “The social situation concerning homophobia and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in Lithuania”, March 2009, (Accessed on December 12, 2010), 3. 28 FRA, “Homophobia – 2010 update”, 25. 23 24


The Baltic States: Home to homos? // Nick De Leu // Tartu University // 2010

In Northern neighbor Latvia, the directive’s provisions prohibiting discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation were adopted with notable reluctance. The legislator did not go beyond the minimum requirements, explicitly stating that discrimination is only forbidden in private and public employment and civil service. 29 The Saemia had initially omitted such protection, after a heated debate in which some Latvian MP’s described homosexuality as a sin.30 Subsequently President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga refused to sign the bill until the provision was added in 2006, since its omission would render Latvia the only EU country lacking apt legislation.31 A small survey of lesbian, gay and bisexual people published in 2002 revealed over half of the respondents concealed their sexual orientation, while 17 per cent had experienced verbal harassment because of it.32

Family policy By 2005, same-sex marriage was already illegal in Latvian civil law, and it had been cemented by the Parliament in article 110 of the Latvian Constitution, defining marriage as “union between man and woman”, despite criticism of prominent government officials.33 The constitution now explicitly states marriage can only exist between a man and a woman. The change was proposed by Latvia’s First Party, which explains it did so to “protect the traditional family group” from what it calls “the threat of homosexual lifestyles”.34 As Latvian law does not provide for same-sex partnerships either, lesbian or gay couples are de facto not recognized by the state. This leads to problems concerning procedural law, criminal law and criminal process law (as same-sex partners will be denied the right not to bear witness against family members), inheritance law, healthcare (as samesex partners will be denied the right to take medical care decisions on behalf of a partner in an unconscious state), tax allowances, right to pension due to loss of support

COWI, “The social situation concerning homophobia and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in Latvia”, March 2009, (Accessed December 12, 2010), 8. 30 Laura Sheeter, “Latvia Defies EU over Gay Rights”, BBC News, 16/06/2006, (Accessed on 12 December 2010). 31 Gudrun Schultz, “Latvian President Insists on Homosexuality Inclusion in Workers’ Discrimination Law”, LifeSiteNews, 22/09/10, (Accessed December 12, 2010). 32 COWI, “Latvia”, 8. 33 COWI, “Latvia”, 7. 34 Laura Sheeter, “Latvia cements gay marriage ban”, BBC News, 15/12/2005, (Accessed on 12 December 2010). 29


The Baltic States: Home to homos? // Nick De Leu // Tartu University // 2010

by a surviving partner and even immigration and residence.35 Consequently, this poses a problem for the European Union’s Freedom of Movement Policy, mentioned above: spouses or registered partners of EU citizens do not qualify as family members for entry and residence. The same goes for Lithuania, as it also bans same-sex marriage, on the basis of Article 38 of its constitution: “Marriage shall be concluded upon the free mutual consent of man and woman”, and does not grant homosexuals a right to registered partnership either.36 37

In Estonia, the new Family Law Act, which entered into force in July 2010, states that “any marriage contracted between persons of the same sex is invalid”, thus lining the Baltic countries up with 16 other Member States (Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovak Republic and Slovenia) in which the same-sex spouse of an EU citizen would not be treated as a spouse. Consequently, the Baltics don’t provide for extension of family reunification rights either.38 In a statement accompanying the new Family Law, Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip stated that “marriage between man and woman is a sacred relationship”, but that he accepts that same-sex cohabitation could have the same social guarantees. Nevertheless, Ansip is quoted as stating he does “not believe that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania would soon accept same-sex marriages in the eye of the law, but it does not mean that same-sex couples living together would not be tolerated. This certainly not – Estonia is a tolerant country”.39 Although it did fully implement the Council Directive, Estonia is the only Baltic country where sexual orientation as grounds for recognition of refugee status is still “implicit”. 40 Refugees, persecuted in their own state for their sexual orientation, can request asylum

COWI, “Latvia”, 7. Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, “Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania”, (Accessed on 12 December 2010). 37 COWI, “Lithuania”, 11-12. 38 FRA, “Homophobia – 2010 update”, 46 39 Maria Victoria Becerra, “Estonia and Homosexuality: between (little) tolerance and inclusion”, Estonian Free Press, 05/07/2010, (Accessed on December 12, 2010). 40 FRA, “Homophobia – 2010 update”, 55. 35 36


The Baltic States: Home to homos? // Nick De Leu // Tartu University // 2010

on grounds of belonging to “a particular social group”.41 Latvia and Lithuania have already made it explicit that “a particular social group” includes a group defined by the sexual orientation of its members.42

Hate Regarding domestic persecution – or rather, hate speech and hate crimes – it has already been mentioned that there is no single EU rule concerning the subject. However, in twelve EU Member states, among which Estonia and Latvia, it is indeed a criminal offence to incite hatred, violence or discrimination. Lithuania falls into the category of countries that haven’t specifically defined hate speech as a criminal offence, but since the law is phrased in a general way, it could also be used to protect homosexuals. In the case of so-called hate crimes, EU law does not require Member States to include homophobia as “aggravating factor” for criminal offences, so up until 2009, fifteen member states, among which the Baltic states, do not explicitly define it as such. Nevertheless, in Latvia (and five other EU countries), the general notion of hate crime is recognized in law, so it is possible that homophobia could be taken into account.43 However, moves to prohibit homophobic hate speech in Latvia were countered in 2007, when a newspaper published a letter signed by 266 schoolteachers and addressed to the Latvian Prime Minister, demanding to stop the intended amendments and stating that homosexuality is “a perversion”.44 The 2010 update of the research by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights illustrates how fast the tables can turn, as Lithuania adopted motives based on grounds of sexual orientation as aggravating circumstances since 2009.45

Expression Considering this unexpected turn, the introduction of the Lithuanian Law on Protection of Minors against Detrimental Effects of Public Information in December 2009 seems rather odd. In Article 4 of this act, where sexuality and family relations are addressed, information is described as detrimental to minors if it “promotes sexual relations; (…) COWI, “Estonia”, 9. FRA, “Homophobia – 2010 update”, 55. 43 FRA, “Hate Speech”, 2. 44 COWI, “Latvia”, 10. 45 FRA, “Homophobia – 2010 update”, 8. 41 42


The Baltic States: Home to homos? // Nick De Leu // Tartu University // 2010

expresses contempt for family values, encourages the concept of entry into a marriage and creation of a family other than that stipulated in the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania and the Civil Code of the Republic of Lithuania (…)”. 46 As pointed out before, these mention that marriage can only be between men and women. In fact, this relatively soft and vague wording was the result of amendments to an earlier version which explicitly banned materials that “agitate for homosexual, bisexual and polygamous relations” from schools, public places and the media.47 The amendments were made after the European Parliament passed a resolution of protest and the European commission, along with some member states pressured Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite to remove the “homophobic clause”.48 The Seimas had scheduled a vote on a draft law that would punish this “promotion of homosexual relations with a fine of between 580 and 2900 euro on December 16th, 2010. However, the vote was taken off the agenda because they had not been examined by the relevant parliamentary committees. The amendments are not completely off the table, however: it is possible that they will be addressed again at the plenary session of the Seimas in spring.49 According to the Agency for Fundamental Rights, the Lithuanian case is the only recent attempt to “sustain the invisibility” of lesbian, gay and bisexual people through laws that “embody a predisposed bias on the part of a heterosexual majority against a homosexual minority”, and the Agency condemns it as “as unacceptable as any differential treatment based on similar negative attitudes towards those of a different race, origin or color”.50 In contrast to the Lithuanian example, some European Member States are turning to active promotion of public acceptance of homosexuals, encouraging distribution of materials that discuss homosexuality. In Estonia, more specifically, the Ministry of Social

FRA, “Homophobia – 2010 update”, 34. FRA, “Homophobia – 2010 update”, 34. 48 Café Babel, “Perspective”. 49 Amnesty International, “Lithuanian Parliament must reject homophobic law”, 17/12/2010, (Accessed on December 20, 2010). 50 FRA, “Homophobia – 2010 update”, 35. 46 47


The Baltic States: Home to homos? // Nick De Leu // Tartu University // 2010

Affairs encourages the Ministry of Education and Science put the discussion of sexual minorities on the national study curriculum.51 // Gay Pride in Lithuania Only in May 2010, Lithuania had its first Gay Pride march.52 Whereas fellow Baltic states Estonia and Latvia had already seen marches since 2004, Lithuania has had a complicated relationship with gay parades, a right to which gay associations claim based on the Freedom of Assembly, guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights.53 In May 2007, the authorization for the organization of a public gay event in Vilnius was denied due to “objective information received from the police” that there was a great possibility of violent protests, and the law enforcement institutions stated that they were not able to ensure public safety and order for the event. The legality of the decision was not challenged in court. When the Lithuanian Gay League wanted to launch an advertising campaign, placing statements like “a lesbian can work at school” and “a gay man can work as police officer” on trolleybuses in Vilnius and Kaunas, the company running the buses, the bus drivers and both municipalities opposed the plans – the decision went unchallenged again.54 The second attempt to organize a public event followed a few months later, in October 2007 during a week of events organized by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), but authorities refused again to issue permission, without proposing an alternative site – a move for which Poland had been reprimanded by the European Court of Human Rights in 2005. A complaint by the organization was rejected both in the court of first instance as in the court of second instance.55 2007 was also the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All – for the occasion, as part of the “For Diversity, Against Discrimination” information campaign, the EU sent out an anti-discrimination truck, touring 19 Member States. However, Juozas Imbrasas, the Mayor of Vilnius, refused to let the truck stop in Vilnius, on grounds of security risks FRA, “Homophobia – 2010 update”, 36. Steve Williams, “Lithuania’s Gay Pride Gets a Boost as Baltic Pride 2010 March is Reinstated”, Care2, (Accessed on December 13, 2010). 53 COWI, “Estonia”, 6. 54 COWI, “Lithuania”, 7. 55 Mathew Charles, “Lithuanian mayor bans gay rally”, BBC News, 26/10/2007, (Accessed on December 13, 2010). 51 52


The Baltic States: Home to homos? // Nick De Leu // Tartu University // 2010

– the truck might cause riots. Meanwhile, he stated that “we disapprove of the public display of homosexual ideas in the city of Vilnius”. The European Commission stated that it “highly regretted” the decision, especially since it was “the first time in the four years the truck has been on tour that a stop has been cancelled by local authorities”.56 In 2008, the same truck was banned from only Vilnius and Kaunas (whereas it had been completely banned from Lithuania in 2007). Imbrasas again refused on grounds that it would mean “propaganda of homosexuality”, whereas Andrius Kupčinskas, Mayor of Kaunas stated the “homosexual festival may cause many negative emotions”. The truck was displayed on the private territory of a supermarket by means of a compromise agreed on with the European Commission – much to the detriment of ILGA and the Lithuanian Gay League. The LGL’s chairman, Vladimir Simonko, even called the situation “some kind of 21st century apartheid”.57 Perhaps unsurprisingly, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas stated in a Seimas session that “Lithuania is one of the most homophobic countries in the EU”, and that “this has to be viewed as a fact. The situation cannot be changed by any one party or minister”.58 // Gay pride in Estonia In Estonia, Gay Pride Parades have been taking place yearly in Tallinn since 2004. In 2006, there was upheaval with some 20 counter-demonstrators attacking the circa 500 participants with sticks, stones and eggs. A dozen people were injured, but parade organizers emphasized the positive role played by law-enforcement officers, who eventually detained six people.59 In June that year, Hans Glaubitz, the Dutch ambassador

UKGaynews, “Mayor of Vilnius bans official EU Anti-discrimination truck from city”, 21/05/2007, (Accessed on December 13, 2010). 57 Jamie Skey, “Lithuanian mayors claim EU anti-discrimination trucks are ‘propaganda of homosexuality’”, Pinknews, 20/08/2008, (Accessed on December 13, 2010). 58 Pinknews, “’We are Homophobic’ says Lithuanian minister”, 7/10/2008, (Accessed on December 13, 2010). 59 MosNews, “12 injured as gay pride marchers attacked in Estonia”, 13/08/2006, Globalgayz, (Accessed on 13 December 2010). 56


The Baltic States: Home to homos? // Nick De Leu // Tartu University // 2010

to Estonia asked to be transferred after his black, Cuban partner had been subject to “persistent racist and homophobic abuse”.60 One year later, Estonian officials wanted to reroute the parade, “considering the problems of last year and possible threats involved in holding the event”. Eventually, a compromise was reached, which entailed that the parade organizers would hire security guards, and the march could go ahead.61 A small alternative procession chanting “No Pride” followed the colorful parade of about 300 gay rights supporters, but there was no violence. Tallinn Pride coordinator Lisette Kampus stated that not all of Estonian society is homophobic, but that “the objectors are a small minority who is really radically against gay issues, and they have a very loud voice. What differs us from Western Europe is that […] in the Baltics, nobody is reacting against these negative opinions”.62 After complaints, the Estonian Chancellor of Justice issued a statement that “the Northern Police Prefecture had not followed standards of good governance by not fully cooperating with the parade organizers”.63 // Gay pride in Latvia Riga saw its first Pride March in 2005. However, it did not go unnoticed. Prime Minister Kalvitis had stated that he “as head of the government, cannot accept that a parade of sexual minorities takes place in the middle of our capital city next to the cathedral”, following two weeks of homophobic campaigning against a permit for the march, led by the Evangelical Lutheran and Catholic Churches, Latvian MP’s, and several “extreme right-wing nationalist organizations”.64 The permission was withdrawn and again reissued, but hundreds of protesters outnumbered the few dozen marchers and threw eggs at them. Police were even forced to reroute the march and had to form a chain around the participants to protect them.65

BBC news, “Dutch envoy flees Estonian abuse”, 7/06/2006, (Accessed on December 13, 2010). 61 Pinknews, “Police finally authorize Estonian Pride”, 31/07/2007, (Accessed on December 13, 2010). 62 Pinknews, “Tallinn Pride attracts tourists, not violence”, 13/08/2007, (Accessed on December 13, 2010). 63 COWI, “Estonia”, 6. 64 ILGA, “First LGBT Pride March in Riga to go ahead – Latvian Court orders ban on Latvia’s LGBT parade to be lifted”, 22/07/2005, (Accessed on December 13, 2010). 65 BBC News, “Protests disrupt Latvia Gay March”, 23/07/2005, (Accessed on December 13, 2010). 60


The Baltic States: Home to homos? // Nick De Leu // Tartu University // 2010

The 2006 march was banned for security reasons and replaced by a private gathering in a hotel. Nevertheless, participants were besieged by an “anti-Pride” crowd, shouting and throwing bags of excrement at them.66 Eventually, 14 people were detained.67 In November 2007, the Latvian Supreme Court declared that the ban was illegal. Following these events, the 2007 Pride Parade was intensely watched by the international community, human rights organizations and locals. The parade was authorized and took place in a fenced-off urban park, under heavy police protection.68 Protesters tried to enter the park, but were turned away by the riot gear-clad police, which had built a double perimeter around the site. After the event, the 400 participants were transported out of the are in heavily guarded buses.69 In 2008, streets were closed off but the march – with about 300 participants – passed peacefully nevertheless.70 // Baltic Pride In December, that year, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania decided to hold a joint Pride event starting in 2009, in order to “draw attention to the situation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in three EU member states and encourage people of different sexual orientations to celebrate diversity and Baltic Unity”.71 The permission for the parade was initially withdrawn by city officials after a majority of city council members had demanded so on the grounds that the march was “offensive to public decency” and “posed a threat to public security”.72 The decision was overturned after the organizers took the case to court, and the parade took place peacefully.73 74

COWI, “Latvia”, 7. Globalgayz, “Riga Pride: Gay bashers arrested after parade attack”, 24/07/2006, (Accessed on December 13, 2010). 68 COWI, “Latvia”, 5. 69 The Associated Press, “Gay pride parade in Riga takes place peacefully amid enormous police presence”, Globalgayz, 03/06/2007, (Accessed on December 13, 2010). 70 Pinknews, “Heavy Security as Protesters outnumber gays at Riga Pride”, 2/6/2008, (Accessed on December 13, 2010). 71 Pinknews, “First Baltic Pride will be celebrated in Riga next year”, 16/12/2008, (Accessed on December 13, 2010). 72 Pinknews, “Riga bans Baltic Pride”, 14/05/2009, (Accessed on December 13, 2010). 73 Amnesty International, “Baltic Pride March gets green light in Latvia”, 14/05/2009, (Accessed on December 13, 2010). 66 67


The Baltic States: Home to homos? // Nick De Leu // Tartu University // 2010

The next Baltic Pride was to be held in Lithuanian capital Vilnius, but the Vilnius District Administrative Court ordered the suspension of the permit – only to be overturned by the Supreme Administrative Court. Lithuania’s first Pride march took, as the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights noted, “place under heavy police protection and with a significant number of hostile protesters surrounding it. The hostility towards the event meant that the police outnumbered the participants”.75 According to the BBC, police fired teargas and detained 12 people as opponents threw stones and fireworks at marchers.76

Church In Estonia, there appears to be a lack of research on the involvement of the church, but since Estonia is a largely non-religious country (only 34 percent of the people call themselves religious), it is believed not to be active on gay issues.77


In Lithuania, a

predominantly Catholic country (79 percent identifies as religious), the Church has a strong voice in public affairs.79


The Minister of Social Affairs and Labour has stated

that the amendments which weakened protection for lesbian, gay and bisexual people in the implementation of the Employment Framework Directive had been “discussed and approved by the Lithuanian Bishop’s Conference”, and while arguing against antidiscrimination legislation, Lithuanian members of parliament referred to “the Christian traditions of Lithuania”.81 However, it is the Church in Latvia that the boldest statements have been attributed to. Cardinal Janis Pujats, Archbishop of Riga and head of Latvia’s Catholic Church stated: “Homosexuality means complete corruption in the sexual sphere. It is an unnatural kind Amnesty International, “Mixed Weekend for LGBT Marches”, 17/05/2009, (Accessed on December 13, 2010). 75 FRA, “Homophobia – 2010 update”, 33. 76 BBC News, “Violence as Lithuania gay pride march goes ahead”, 08/05/2010, (Accessed on December 14, 2010). 77 Fredrika Björklund & Vilmanté Liubiniené, “Value Change Related to the process of Democratisation in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia”, Södertörns Högskola, 2004, (Accessed on December 12, 2010), 17. 78 COWI, “Estonia”, 8. 79 F. Björklund & V. Liubiniené, “Value Change”, 17. 80 COWI, “Lithuania”, 10. 81 European Agency for Fundamental Rights, “Homophobia and Discrimination on Grounds of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in the EU Member States: Part II – The Social Solution”, 2009, (Accessed on December 12, 2010), 83. 74


The Baltic States: Home to homos? // Nick De Leu // Tartu University // 2010

of prostitution”.82 Before the 2008 edition of Riga Pride, Pujats also said that “homosexuals unlawfully claim to have the rights of a minority”.83 The leader of the Evangelical Christian Church is quoted as saying “Homosexuality is a disease, a degeneration. […] You never give rights to people who are sick. You isolate them, and treat them. Otherwise, the epidemic will take over the whole society”, whereas the Latvian Orthodox Church, although generally keeping a low profile, has universally condemned homosexuality as a sin.84

Values This unsurprisingly impacts the Latvian attitude towards homosexuality, as 68% of the Latvians consider themselves religious.85 A report by Södertörns Högskola on Value Change Related to the Process of Democratization in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia reveals that on average, Latvians describe homosexuality as less justifiable (they attribute it 1.9 on a scale from 0-10, ranging from “not justifiable” to “always justifiable”) than Lithuanians (2.2) and Estonians (2.8). This general attitude is reflected in the outcomes of the 2006 and 2008 Eurobarometer surveys. On average, Estonians would rate their level of comfort regarding having a homosexual neighbor as 7.2 out of 10, whereas Lithuanians rate it 6.1 and Latvians 5.5, comparing to an EU average of 7.9. 86 87 88

Latvians are also the least open to same-sex marriage (12% would allow it) and

adoption (8%), whereas Lithuania (respectively 17% and 12%) and Estonia (21% and 14%) do a better job of keeping up with the EU averages of 42% and 31%.89 90 91

COWI, “Latvia”, 11. Pinknews, “First Baltic Pride will be Celebrated in Riga next year”, 16/12/2008, (Accessed on December 13, 2010). 84 COWI, “Latvia”, 11. 85 F. Björklund & V. Liubiniené, “Value Change”, 17. 86 COWI, “Estonia”, 4. 87 COWI, “Latvia”, 4. 88 COWI, “Lithuania”, 4. 89 COWI, “Lithuania”, 4-5. 90 COWI, “Latvia”, 4. 91 COWI, “Estonia”, 4. 82 83


The Baltic States: Home to homos? // Nick De Leu // Tartu University // 2010

The Södertörns Högskola researchers also discover age differences in the percentage of people that think homosexuality can be justified: Estonia















Percent on value 6-10 on scale not justifiable – always justifiable, 0-10

The researchers attribute these differences to the effect of religion, as the elderly are frequently more religious and less tolerant in this matter, but also to the Soviet heritage of the Baltic states.92 The existence of homosexuality was denied during that period, and only since the independence, open discussion of the subject seems possible. The Soviet system is said to have left a deep imprint on the attitudes, beliefs and value systems of the now elderly, whereas the value formation of the youngsters has taken place during the development of democracy, in the advent of the information age.93 However, this does not make up for the differences between the countries. The researchers suggest that these can be attributed to Latvia and Lithuania’s religious identities.94 The proximity of Estonia to the more gay-friendly Nordic states as opposed to Latvia and Lithuania’s nearness to Eastern Europe might also be a factor. As for the remaining differences between Latvia and Lithuania, it is suggested that there is a primary positive correlation between so-called post materialist values (among which the stance on homosexuality) and education, possibly overruling the religious factor.95 The Human Development Index, arranged according to education level indeed indicates Estonia to have the highest level (ranking eighth in the world), while putting Lithuania in 19th place and Latvia on number 28.96 Economic grounds are dismissed, as the researchers argue that there appears to be no correlation with post materialist values.97

F. Björklund & V. Liubiniené, “Value Change”, 41. F. Björklund & V. Liubiniené, “Value Change”, 44. 94 F. Björklund & V. Liubiniené, “Value Change”, 25. 95 F. Björklund & V. Liubiniené, “Value Change”, 22. 96 Human Development Reports, “Build your own development Index”, (Accessed on December 14, 2010). 97 F. Björklund & V. Liubiniené, “Value Change”, 22. 92 93


The Baltic States: Home to homos? // Nick De Leu // Tartu University // 2010

On top of that, Latvia is the Baltic state that suffers the most from ethnic tensions between Russians and autochthones.98 The FRA sees this as a factor with negative impact on the gay agenda, as it creates a platform for right-wing nationalist groups that coincidently include anti-homosexual rhetoric in their messages.99 This might account for why the situation in Latvia appears to be more explosive than in the other Baltic States.

Conclusion In general, the Baltic states appear to listen to what the EU tells them to do. However, they seem to be severely marred by their Soviet past. Estonia has adjusted its laws and values the fastest, hosting the first gay conference and registering the first gay NGO in the Baltics. There were some fallbacks considering EU legislation (such as the full implementation of the Employment Directive), but all in all these were minor events. High education and lack of religion seem the most important factors in this evolution. Lithuania, on the other hand, seemed to lag behind initially. Both the decriminalization and the equalization of the age of consent concerning gay sexual relationships occurred later than in the other states, and it took until 2010 for the first Pride Parade to be organized. There is domestic and international concern about the new law on Protection of Minors, at it still remains to be seen if there were – if any – political motives behind the cancellation of the vote to impose fines. Nonetheless, Lithuania has passed some gayfriendly legislation, and the situation does not seem that explosive. Strong religious dominance and an intermediate level of education could be the cause of this ambivalent position. Latvia sports the most highly publicized individual cases. The sacking of a gay policeman, the excommunication of a homosexual priest, menacing protests during Pride parades, etcetera. The country definitely seemed most susceptible to escalating situations, with anti-homosexual opinions easily finding their way into the media. It has also defied the EU by passing legislation outlawing marriage after the accession, and by showing severe reluctance to incorporate the provisions concerning homosexuals 98 99

F. Björklund & V. Liubiniené, “Value Change”, 28. COWI, “Estonia”, 5.


The Baltic States: Home to homos? // Nick De Leu // Tartu University // 2010

required in the Employment Directive. The events seem to be fueled by religion, a lower education rate and ethnic tensions. It could therefore be stated that Latvia is the Baltic country that is moving towards in the direction of a homophobic attitude the fastest. Lithuania, on the other hand, seems to have trouble deciding, passing ambivalent legislation left and right. Compared to the Southern states, Estonia is the most open to people of a different sexual orientation. In that regard, the move of the 2011 Baltic Pride event to Tallinn, where the first Gay Parade in the region was organized in 2004, can feel like a homecoming for Baltic homosexuals.


The Baltic States: home to homos?  

A comparative study of gay rights in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

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