Last month, HRC traveled to Vilnius, Lithuania to participate in Baltic Pride 2016, an annual celebration that brings together the LGBTQ and allied community from all three Baltic states: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The location rotates among their capitals, making this the third time Baltic Pride has been held in Vilnius.
In 2010, Lithuania organized its first-ever public pride march on the edge of town. Approximately 350 participants marched under heavy police protection and many counter-protestors gathered to express their anti-LGBTQ sentiments. In 2013, after a long series of court proceedings, nearly 500 marched down the main avenue in the city center for Baltic Pride. However, they were again faced with large numbers of anti-LGBTQ protestors and surrounded by thousands of police officers, many in riot gear.
This year, HRC staff joined nearly 2,000 people as they gathered to march down the main avenue once again. The crowd was overwhelmingly friendly and there was minimal police presence. This stark contrast to previous demonstrations indicates the progress that has been made to advance LGBTQ equality in Lithuania in recent years.
Prior to the march on Saturday, HRC participated in the International Baltic Pride 2016 Human Rights Conference organized by LGL, Lithuania’s national LGBT organization. HRC Global Coordinator Ashley Fowler spoke on a panel about HRC’s work around marriage equality in the U.S. and how HRC was able to leverage that knowledge and experience to help advance the marriage equality movement in both Ireland and Australia.
Fowler also co-led a workshop exploring what it means to be an ally to the LGBTQ community and outlined specific actions that can be taken to support LGBTQ individuals.
Additionally, Judy Shepard, who has served on the HRC Board of Directors since 2001 and has appeared at HRC Foundation’s Time to THRIVE conference, and her husband Dennis spoke at a Baltic Pride event entitled "Pride Voices." The two spoke about the tragic loss of their son, Matthew Shepard, who was attacked in a brutal hate crime in 1998. Following the death of their son, Judy and Dennis established the Matthew Shepard Foundation to continue championing social justice, diversity awareness and education and equality for LGBTQ people.
While progress is undeniable, there is still much work to be done in Lithuania. A current law on the “Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effects of Public Information” bans the “promotion of homosexual relations” and severely limits advocacy and education efforts with regards to LGBTQ rights. HRC looks forward to continuing to work with LGL to support their efforts for full equality in Lithuania.
Learn more about HRC's work to strengthen the global LGBTQ equality movement through public education, advocacy, fellowships, partnerships and research by visiting www.hrc.org/global.