Roughly 2,000 people marched down the main street of Vilnius in celebration of equality and in memoriam of the victims of the Orlando attack.
This year’s Baltic Pride March for Equality, for the first time in its history, did not resemble a bona fide warzone. The smiling, waving passers-by, the music, everyone’s high spirits and new people spontaneously joining the procession all helped create the impression that the summer festivities in the city were in full swing – and, at the same time, made a small crowd of people opposed to the event feel very, very uncomfortable.
Public responds to hatred with solidarity
So what led to this turnabout? After all, those who wished to take part in the first Baltic Pride in 2010 had to go to the event in buses escorted by security. The procession took place under heavy police protection, in a fenced-in area away from the city center besieged by furious protesters.
The participants back then were greeted not with friendly smiles, but with smoke grenades, curses and a cross planted squarely in the field. In 2013, following long legal battles with the municipal authorities, Baltic Pride finally took place in the main street of the capital – however, the mood then was far from merry.
The event was not without incident – an MP attacked the procession and had to be dragged away by the police.
The change in attitudes is most likely a result of the wave of solidarity with the LGBTI community in the wake of the Orlando attack. Lithuanian news reports about the tragedy were met with such malice, twisted joy and hatred from anonymous commentators, that even those who, in the past, did not pay much heed to the problems plaguing the LGBTI community couldn’t afford to remain indifferent.
Famous journalists, politicians and other public figures expressed their sympathy for and solidarity with the friends and family of the deceased, condemning the hateful comments and urging people to join the Baltic Pride festival.
‘Thank you for your silence’
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and no fewer than 12 foreign ambassadors expressed their support for the event, and many diplomats from abroad, Lithuanian politicians as well as two Swedish ministers took part in the procession on Saturday.
That being said, Lithuania’s top officials were curiously absent from the event, with the mayor of Vilnius sending his compliments through a pre-recorded video.
However, this did nothing to abate the high spirits of everyone involved, and the Lithuanian LGBTI community, being used to insensitive remarks from all sides –including, on occasion, the authorities – wrote their thanks to the president on a banner: “For your silence, if nothing else.”
The participants also paid their respects to the victims of the heinous hate crime in Orlando by lying down on the pavement to take part in the solidarity action “We Are Orlando.”
Love and prayers won’t suffice
Stuart Milk, president of the Harvey Milk foundation, was moved to mention the tragedy in his introductory speech at the conference that took place on the eve of Baltic Pride.
“I am weary, I am bruised, and a big piece of my heart is broken,” said Stuart, remembering his fallen friends and comrades. “Our love and our prayers are simply not enough. Hate and separation continue to bring forth too much grief, too many stolen lives across the world.”
Following this emotional speech, which brought many to tears, Vice-President of the European Parliament and President of the Intergroup on LGBT Rights Ulrike Lunacek, from Austria, posed a simple rhetorical question: Would the people who so stubbornly refuse to accept the LGBTI community be able to cling to their homophobia after listening to Stuart’s words?
“Would they still be able to talk about us with hatred, would they still bring themselves to violence against us or any other discriminated minority?”
After paying their respects to the victims of the attack, the participants of the conference considered the evolution of legal status for same-sex couples in different parts of the globe, such as South Africa, the US and the member states of the Council of Europe, and discussed the possibility of such legislation in Lithuania.
Of course, it was impossible to avoid talking about the attempts by Lithuanian lawmakers to further curtail LGBTI rights by stripping LGBTI families of constitutional protection –the attendees were urged to sign a petition against this initiative, which will most likely be voted on in the Lithuanian Parliament next week.