It’s my first time taking part in a parade promoting equality for of homo-, bi- and transsexuals, and I probably would not join events like these in my home country of Germany. Not being a fan of large crowds, the typical Christopher Street Day parades in Berlin and elsewhere aren’t my cup of tea. I find them too loud, too freaky, too camp, to use some prejudicial vocabulary. The public display of sexuality by some in these parades is something which I am rather reserved about, regardless of the particular kind or peculiarity of the sexuality.
But this is not what Baltic Pride, taking place in Lithuania on 27 July 2013, is about. While homosexual couples in Germany are hoping to receive the same tax benefits as heterosexual couples, while gay marriage is being introduced in France in England, Lithuania is at the same level as Russia or Senegal. As almost everywhere else in Eastern Europe, homophobia is rampant from pubs to parliament, from churches to universities, from old to young. There is no possibility to legalise or formalise same-sex partnerships. The Lithuanian parliament only deals with homosexuality in the context of laws criminalising “homosexual propaganda”. This refers to any public mentioning of homosexuality which implies that this could be a normal human behaviour.
So this is about fundamental human rights, civil rights and about equality. It is sad that in 2013 this cannot be taken for granted in a member state of the EU. But if it’s necessary to stand up for civil rights, I will of course take part.
Gediminas Avenue in the heart of Lithuania’s capital Vilnius is guarded by so many police officers, cars and horses that there can’t be a single police officer left anywhere in Lithuania. A good day for a burglary. The reason for the police presence are protests and violence which have been threatened against the parade. But the organisation both by the Lithuanian Gay League and by the police is perfect and is clearly and successfully geared towards de-escalation.
I had been afraid that I would feel a bit like at a zoo if I run through the city with a bunch of homosexuals under the sceptical stares of the rest of the population on the side of the road. At least the plan to set up a fence, which reminded me too much of a cage, was ditched at the last minute.
I still felt like at a zoo then, but the other way round: you might think that you’ll go to a gay parade to see extraordinary, zany and somewhat “different” people, but then you see the most absurd and outrageous people among those standing outside of the parade and vociferously protesting against it. Some of the protesters attempt to look menacing and threatening, but those of us marching in the middle of the boulevard often can’t help but laugh at the comments being thrown at us. They range from religious fanatics to nationalists, from muscle-bound bodybuilders (an environment which I had so far always associated with homosexuality) to and old man leading a goat on a rope, from EU-opponents to scatterbrains whose beliefs defy any closer definition.
Among the thousands who don’t participate in the march but who prefer to observe the spectacle from the sidewalk , those who are neutrally curious are in the majority. Many also visibly express their support by waving, clapping, thumbs up. I dare to make the prognosis that many more people will march in the next Baltic Pride.
Some eggs are being thrown at us. If protesters throw eggs at their fellow citizens while they are being filmed and with police officers standing in front of them, one can easily imagine how these radicals would deal with (suspected) homosexuals when they encounter them at night in a constellation of many against one.
The more I speak to the fellow Baltic Pride marchers and the more those on the side of the road are trying to take me into collective liability for everything from AIDS to child abuse with their screams, the more I realise that I, as a strictly heterosexual man, feel more comfortable here than in the rest of society. Because there you can never be sure behind which face lurks a homophobic zealot, a bigoted idiot or someone despising human rights.
The closing event of Baltic Pride takes place at Lukiškės Square, which until 1991 was Lenin Square. Lenin is gone. That’s not the only reason why the wind of change and the hope for a better future blow across the leafy square in the bright sunlight. Stuart Milk gives a rousing speech. He is the nephew of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician in the USA, whose family coincidentally came from Lithuania and who was assassinated in 1978. Stuart Milk only got eggs thrown at him today, which is a progress of some kind, I suppose.
When the congregation dissolves, one of the organisers walks up to me, points out the protesters which are still loitering around the square and suggests that I remove the rainbow flag from my jacket which would identify me as one of the participants of Baltic Pride to ensure a safe passage to my home. “Yes, I thought so,” I agree with resignation. What must it be like if your worry is not only getting accosted for your convictions once a year, but if you have to be afraid every day that you might get insulted or beaten up because of your identity?