Commentary by Nikolai Baev
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MOSCOW, July 18, 2009 – The bitter fruits of ‘quiet lobbying’ surfaced earlier this week in Lithuania and Ukraine.
In Vilnius, the Lithuanian Seimas passed a Bill banning any discussions on homosexuality in schools and making illegal any “gay propaganda” in the media. Moreover, most of Lithuanian deputies on Tuesday annulled the presidential veto.
Also this week, the Ukrainian Culture Ministry banned the movie Bruno because of its “homosexual propaganda”. Earlier, authorities of the Ukrainian city of Nikolayev had banned local gay festival while city authorities of Lviv had banned the presentation of a book on Ukrainian LGBT community during local book fair.
The so-called ‘arguments’ of homophobes are always same: one should ban “propaganda of sin, of immorality, of deviation” and everything that is linked by them to homosexuality. One should do this especially for children who are always used as a living shield by all bustards in the world: from terrorists to homophobes.
What are the reactions of established and legally active gay organisations in Lithuania and Ukraine to such an unexampled attack on freedom of speech and expression for gay people?
Eighteen months ago, I spoke with leaders of Lithuanian Gay League during an international LGBT conference in Warsaw. They commented very sceptically on Gay Pride Parades which, they said, were too “provocative”.
They thought, instead of gay parades, they should concentrate on the quiet and detailed work with gay community and authorities, persuading them to refute their homophobic points of view.
As result of such an approach, I suggest, Lithuania introduced homophobic censorship.
Leaders of Ukrainian Gay Forum – a legally constituted group and the most prominent gay association of Ukraine, has said that they consciously refused to hold any Gay Pride events.
According to them, they made a discrete agreement with authorities that they would reject the idea of Gay Pride Parades, and the government would give them an opportunity of “quiet lobbying” of their interests.
As result of such a “lobbying”, Ukrainian authorities keep banning and censoring homosexual expressions across the country. Even an amendment to the Labour Code of Ukraine which would ban discrimination of gay people in the working place that has been lobbied for by Gay Forum ignominiously failed in the Ukrainian parliament.
Lithuanian and Ukrainian gay activists evidently chose the wrong strategy of the “quiet closet” where one can easily imitate gay activism and suffer all homophobic escapades of authorities without any murmur.
The effects of this strategy are present: more and more attacks on civil rights of sexual minorities in these countries.
Latvia and Poland are no less homophobic societies than Lithuania, Ukraine and Russia. But already in early 2000s Latvian and Polish gay activists have chosen absolutely different strategy of LGBT visibility.
First in Poland, then in Latvia, Gay Pride Parades were organised – the strongest and the most efficient gay events, both in media and in politics.
Latvian and Polish activists had mounted a very hard legal and political battle against homophobic bans by local courts and authorities. Now Gay Pride Parades are held in Riga, Warsaw and Krakow. At the same time neither in Latvia nor in Poland have been passed such shameful laws introducing homophobic censorship like Lithuanian parliament did.
The Polish Campaign Against Homophobia association and, Latvia’s Mozaika which organises Gay Pride in Riga, execute the same strategy of gay visibility and of all civil rights for gay people that has been chosen by the organisers of Moscow and Slavic Gay Pride Parades in Russian and Belarus – and, in the interests of ‘disclosure’, I am one of them.
Levels of homophobia are approximately same in all Eastern-European countries which belonged to the former Soviet bloc. Their political systems may differ from “soft authoritarianism” in Russia to democratic regimes in Poland and Baltic countries.
But everywhere, we face total homophobia among the political classes, the refusal of human rights activists to support gay rights, and homophobic prejudices in media and society.
The question is how most effectively to fight against homophobia and to change the situation?
Should we be invisible for society in order not to “provoke” homophobes, or we should politically and socially ‘come out’, achieving through courts and political and legal campaigns all civil rights for gay people?
The latest events in Lithuania and Ukraine proves, I suggest, that the second way is possible the most efficient.
Even in Russia, where we have been held already four Gay Pride events, of sorts, led to enormous media and political coverage. And; last month, deputies of the State Duma rejected a bill which would criminalize “homosexual propaganda”.
Authorities can pay attention only to those who are ready to fight for their rights. Only in this way can we expect some concessions from ‘their’ side.
Invisibility of gays and lesbians is exactly what homophobes need. The only solution is break of homophobic blockade, censorship and discrimination.
Gay history doesn’t know any other way but ‘street protests’, with demands to respect our rights when authorities don’t want to make a compromise. Just look back 40 years to Stonewall in America and, in Europe, to those early marches in London 30 years ago.
Activism from ‘inside the closet’ just plays into hands of homophobes and cannot stop discrimination.
■ Nikolai Baev is a gay rights activist in Russia and is one of the organisers of Moscow Gay Pride. He lives in Moscow and is a contributor to the GayRussia.ru Website.
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