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A gay-themed programme on national broadcaster triggers firestorm

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A woman holds a rainbow flag next to an Anti Gay Parade activist during the «Baltic Pride 2013» in Vilnius

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Lithuanian media is pretty liberal, however the upgraded website of the national broadcaster, lrt.lt, funded with all taxpayers’ money, raise eyebrows of many for being what some call it jokingly «too gay friendly.»  However, the most recent reportage on the website’s new programme «Spalvos» (Colours) about two gay male couples in the United Kingdom successfully raising adopted children was just too much to bear for Lithuanian hardliners.

They claim that the programme «breached» the Lithuanian Constitution, which definition of family in the heavily Catholic country is understandably traditional – between man and woman.

Programme looks for interesting people

«Children raised by same-sex parents do not differ in any way from those raised in traditional families and, moreover, they do great in their lives,» «Spalvos» suggests. The programme aims to «look for» interesting people out there and tell their life stories for the public. From the beginning of October the programme goes on the air once a week and can be watched on the internet.

Introducing the programme about the gay parents, Elena Reimerytė, host of «Spalvos» said she wanted to «challenge» the wide-spread understanding that women, not men raise children better.

Conservative family organisation fumes

Outraged, conservative family organization «Apginkime Lietuvos šeimas» (Let’s defend Lithuanian families, ALŠ) has exhorted everybody supporting traditional families to boycott the national broadcaster and was planning a protest rally against the Lithuanian TV and Radio (LRT).

«We did receive some threats after the programme went on the air, but we ignored them until they threatened to restrict content of our future programmes,” the host said.

Contentious law

Amid the hoopla Reimerytė had to give explanations to LRT management and feared that the watchdog of Lithuanian TV and radio programmes, LRT Commission, can put end to «Spalvos» on the grounds of alleged breaches of Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information.

The piece of legislation stipulates that any information that «encourages a concept of marriage and family other than the one stipulated in the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania or in the Civil Code of the Republic of Lithuania» is detrimental to minors and should be restricted.

Lithuania criticised by «Amnesty International»

The international non-governmental organization «Amnesty International» criticised Lithuania’s violation of LGBT rights.  The NGO has said that the law violates the freedom of self-expression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

But the conservative family organization gears up for the protest rally against LRT on November 9, urging to «immediately» stop «propagating» what it calls «abhorrent sexual conduct deviances» and other perceptions of family on LRT programmes. Furthermore, the group wants LRT heads roll off for giving the green light to the «Spalvos» programme.

«We demand resignation of Monika Garbačiauskaitė-Budrienė under which supervision LRT has been turned into a mouthpiece of one political ideology – extreme liberalism,» ALŠ urges.

LRT went on the defensive

In response, Rūta Putnikienė, head of LRT’s Communications and Marketing Department, underlined that the reportage about the gay couples raising children has received not only negative but positive feedback too.

«We are being praised for bringing up inconvenient topics like this one. However, we understand some viewers disapprove it. Encouraging them to voice out their disagreement, we yet exhort them to respect the others,» Putnikienė said.

LGBT situation is stagnant

LRT could not be reached for comment for the article. Meanwhile Lithuania’s LGBT activists maintain that the situation of the LGBT community in the country has changed little over the past 15 years.

«We see stagnation, especially on the political level, when it comes to dealing with LGBT issues. Although we tend to occasionally hear more voices of politicians supporting same-sex partnerships, but no decisions have been made. We effectively got stuck where we were in 2004, when we seeking a EU membership passed quite a few progressive laws protecting LGBT people against discrimination,» Jūratė Juškaitė, head of Communications of Lithuanian Centre for Human Rights (LCHR), told BNN.

LCHR is a Vilnius-based non-governmental organisation that has been working in the field of human rights for two decades.

Not a single legal act protecting gays

According to Juškaitė, over the last 15 years, Lithuania has not passed a single legal act which would improve the situation of the Lithuanian LGBT community in any way and bring LGBT rights closer to those enjoyed by heterosexual people.

«For example, allow homosexual persons to form legal partnerships, get custody of the other partner’s children in case of his or her death, receive bank loans under the same conditions entitled to heterosexual couples and many other daily things,» she accentuated.

However, there is a silver lining, Juškaitė admits. According to her, last summer, with «Baltic Pride», a LGBT festival, in full swing, namely many heterosexuals came forward, calling on everyone to be acceptable of the LGBT community and help it get rid of homophobia.

Sensational pro-LGBT ruling of Constitutional Court

Importantly, Lithuanian gays have broken the glass ceiling in one of the toughest institutions, the Constitutional Court. Lithuania’s top court ruled in the beginning of the year that Lithuania must grant residence permits to foreign spouses of gay citizens even though same-sex unions are not recognised by law.

In a landmark ruling for gays, the constitutional court condemned the routine denial of residency permits for the spouses of gay citizens who married abroad. The practice, it said, was discriminatory and a breach of human dignity.

Vladimir Simonko, head of the Lithuanian Gay League, hailed it as «a progressive ruling» that sends an important message to our LGBT community and politicians. But the fight for more equality for Lithuanian gays is far from over.

Eurobarometer survey

According to Eurobarometer on Discrimination 2019, 30 per cent Lithuanians are in favour of same-sex marriages to be allowed throughout the Europe, while in neighbouring Latvia even less, 24 per cent respondents support the same notion. Numbers concerning this question are significantly higher in Estonia and even Catholic-majority Poland, 41 per cent and 45 per cent respondents respectively agree that same sex marriages should be allowed throughout Europe, although they are much lower than the EU average of 69 per cent.

Eurobarometer survey showed that only 44 per cent respondents in Latvia and Lithuania (52 per cent in Estonia) would feel «comfortable» having a lesbian, gay or bisexual co-workers. The numbers are even lower for the same question concerning a transgender person.


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