anti-LGBT violence / baltics / lithuania / pride

Opinion: Whoever’s not jumping is a faggot!

lithuania-christian-land-baltic-pride(The Lithuanian original of this opinion piece appeared on the internet portal of today’s Lietuvos rytas, Lithuania’s leading daily.  Translation by author).

Whoever’s Not Jumping Is a Faggot

by Darius Sužiedėlis

A park thrives in Vilnius. It’s not a particularly special park and it’s not a landmark, but it’s beautifully looked after and has a brand new set of swings right in the middle. One beautiful late afternoon, on the eve of the Baltic Pride March for Equality, the park was full of children shrieking with joy, playing on those new swings. That day I may have been one of the few passersby (or even the only one) who knew that the park had been cleaned up and the swing set imported by a Lithuanian gay couple.

The next day, only a thin line of policemen protected Baltic Pride marchers from a group of tracksuit-wearing, muscular thugs, clad in suspiciously (from a gay man’s perspective) tight t-shirts, who had learned a rhythmic masterpiece of a chant.  A chant that, I’ll be the first to admit, has stuck in my head to this day. Like orcs from “The Lord of the Rings,” each drawing inspiration and courage from his sweaty neighbor, preparing for a holy war against the “imports from Brussels”, they leaped around in unison, raising their voices ever louder: “Whoever’s not jumping is a faggot!  Whoever’s not jumping is a faggot!”

An effective image, I’ll give you that. Message sent and received.

The march ended. The castle held. The orcs dispersed to battle another day. But op-ed authors, “talking heads” on television and the political class decided to soothe their egos as best they could, keeping the idea alive that the march which had just passed down Vilnius’ main Gediminas Avenue was nothing but a foreign inspired and financed threat to Lithuanian traditional values. How else could they console themselves? It would be much harder to admit that gays and lesbians are an integral part of Lithuanian society.

The belief (or the self-sustained conviction) that gays and people of “non-traditional” sexual orientation are something alien to “traditional” Lithuania is something we even come across in editorials penned by those supposedly seeking a “constructive” middle ground. In the best case, in their view, these are but a small group of misguided Lithuanians and their foreign supporters who simply need to be convinced not to “display” themselves. The worst case?  They are being forced on Lithuania as a completely alien “phenomenon,” one we somehow peacefully and magically avoided in Soviet times.

Putting it in economic terms: ceteris paribus – all things being equal – if not for the European Union, Brussels, America, the Freemasons or the Jews, Lithuania’s blue skies would never have been darkened by the “gay problem,” and Vilnius mayor Arturas Zuokas would finally be able to spend his time dealing with the “real” issues facing his city.

Recently, for example, a former Lithuanian foreign minister tried to convince listeners to a radio program that forcefully importing such “ideologies” from the West might undermine the European Union’s Eastern Partnership initiative. In his view, societies in Ukraine, Armenia or Moldova are unprepared and incapable of dealing with this issue. We should just remain silent about the fact that these countries (like Lithuania) possess their own sizeable and “native” gay and lesbian communities who each day must still conceal their natural sexual orientation out of fear. The time is just not right. What’s most important is that association agreements be signed with these countries while Lithuania is still presiding over the EU. After that, it’s another country’s problem (and one for the gay citizens of our new Eastern partners) to solve.

Another op-ed piece, this one by veteran independence movement participant Alvydas Medalinskas, had this warning to share: “I’d like to remind the gays and their Western supporters: your actions may have very dismal consequences.” He went on to add: “And just who is [Lithuanian Gay League leader] Vladimir Simonko? Was he born in Lithuania, or did he come here later? This march and his co-genderists are just an instrument to start forcing his values upon us on every front.”

Alvydas Medalinskas: “I’d like to remind the gays and their Western supporters: your actions may have very dismal consequences.”

The faces and names behind many of these editorial articles are familiar to me from the days of Sajudis, Lithuania’s independence movement. These were people who, as I stood beside them, patiently and emotionally shared long stories with visitors from East and West about human rights, about Lithuania’s historically deep traditions of tolerance, and about how a new Lithuania was being built for everyone living inside her borders –even for those like Vladimir Simonko who perhaps were born elsewhere and whose heritage now merits the suspicion of a former independence movement leader.

Earlier this month a video by Edgaras, a young man from the port city of Klaipėda, went viral on YouTube. In his clip, Edgaras also patiently and emotionally tells his own story to his friends, family and anonymous Lithuanian internet surfers about the challenges he faces as a young, gay Lithuanian. He’s not from Vilnius, nor is he a board member of the Lithuanian Gay League, nor is he even some television celebrity who has decided to come out after years in the closet. His is a simple voice from far beyond Gediminas Avenue, testifying to the fact that not every Lithuanian gay or lesbian is the “spawn” of euros from Brussels.

Not every Lithuanian gay or lesbian is the “spawn” of euros from Brussels.

In truth, Edgaras’ voice is a dangerous one – in some ways more effective than any march or educational flyer published with the help of foreign funds. Without even knowing it, Edgaras has reminded the elite in Vilnius and the Lithuanian leadership that the colors of the rainbow shine in every corner of the country, even in places out of reach of the long hand of the ostensibly foreign Lithuanian Gay League.

I don’t doubt the commitment of my old friends to the ideals and goals of the independence struggle. I don’t doubt that they may know a lesbian or gay person whom they call a friend, perhaps even a close one. And I don’t doubt that, were the situation to arise, they would defend that gay friend being beaten in the street or fired from his job because of his sexual orientation. At least I still want to believe they would.

But here’s the problem. By always naming or classifying their gay compatriots as “the other” and condemning the organizations that represent them as being “imposed” from the outside, they support and legitimize those radical voices who would not only not stop to defend their neighbor being beaten in the street, but would probably join in with a kick or two. So long as the moderate, rationally thinking majority of society that spends its vacations traveling through Western countries refuses to admit that Lithuania’s LGBT community is (and always has been) an organic part of our country, the longer the radical voice of hatred will predominate and the longer that same majority of people will continue to be “shocked” when some gay citizen dares to request permission to march down the streets of his own country.

I’ve seen with my own eyes how Lithuanian government officials or business executives, while visiting America, Brazil or Western Europe, speak of their admiration of the diversity they see abroad. They rhapsodize so freely and with such dedication to tolerance it would make a Swedish liberal blush. “How nice,” they say, “that in the West you can be who you are. You should see what’s it like in Lithuania…”

What changes when they cross the border and return home to Vilnius, Kaunas or Klaipėda? How can the mayor of Vilnius, who still considers himself a liberal, mingle with all types of politicians and even high-ranking, openly gay officials, and then return home and belittle a peaceful march organized by residents of his own city?

Unfortunately, we – Lithuanian gays and lesbians – sometimes contribute to this problem ourselves. Before the march I heard one well-known gay politician share with us his hypothesis that all we need do is shut down “Lithuanian Gay League Incorporated” and we would somehow magically begin to enjoy that boundless, historic Lithuanian tolerance.

I also got into an argument with some gay friends who intended to avoid the Baltic Pride march because it was being organized by “that Simonko,” thus paradoxically relinquishing to that same person the right to represent themselves. What’s more, when we passively allow our friends, loved ones and co-workers to use us as proof of their broad-mindedness just because they “tolerate” us in private, we have only ourselves to blame each time we continue to come across such pearls of editorial wisdom like the one repeated recently by Alvydas Medalinskas: “I have nothing against gays as people.” A sentence that is always followed by: but…

On the eve of Baltic Pride I walked by that park and thought to myself: how many swing sets have been built in Vilnius by those editorial writers and those that will condemn us tomorrow, screaming about pedophiles, children being forced to live with gay parents and the imminent collapse of Lithuanian society? How many beautiful little corners like that one have been given to the people of this city by those Members of Parliament who just last week voted to strip gay and lesbian Lithuanian citizens of their protection against discrimination.

Sadly they, like those orcs at Baltic Pride, keep on jumping. They keep jumping because, if they kept their feet on the ground for very long, they would truly have to try to get to know their gay or lesbian neighbor. As long as they keep jumping, they won’t hear the voice of Edgaras from Klaipėda. And as long as they keep jumping, parks cleaned up by gay couples will continue to be just miraculous and anonymous good deeds, and the gay and lesbian friends they so often cite as proof of their own tolerance will remain unfamiliar and foreign.

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