LGBT conference concludes despite bans and protests

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

11th annual ILGA-Europe conference came to a close yesterday.

It was held in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius and attended by almost 200 delegates from all over Europe.

The conference provided an opportunity to discuss the organisational priorities, strategies and tactics on advancing equality and human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Europe.

Fears that anti-gay activists had attempted to sabotage the conference were unfounded – Lithuanian and international media had reported on smoke bombs set off in a gay nightclub adjacent to the conference venue.

“It appears it has no direct link to our conference and the participants were not targeted,” a spokesman for ILGA said.

“We learned that very similar incidents took place at this club twice prior to the conference and although we do not know exactly the reasons, most locals and the delegates believe the smoke bomb is not linked to our conference.”

The scare came amid a number of other challenges which organisers have had to face, including the banning of the public Rainbow Flag event by the city’s mayor.

Nine protesters also gathered outside the conference venue to voice their disapproval over what they believed to be “homosexual propaganda”.

The demonstrators, who asked passers-by to sign a petition calling on the Lithuanian parliament to ban such conferences, held banners saying “Go Home” and “Lithuania will be a no-gay zone”.

On the second day of the conference Ben Baks gave a notable speech on behalf of the government of Holland.

He informed the conference of the Dutch commitment to LGBT equality as well as their pledge to provide financial support towards a pan-European project on tackling hate crime over the next three years.

The European launch of the Yogyakarta Principles was also introduced by Professor Michael O’Flaherty, the United Nationas Rapporteur of the principles.

He encouraged everyone to use the principles, which outline the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity, in advocacy with their governments on LGBT rights.

ILGA-Europe specifically chose to meet in Lithuania, which joined the EU in 2005, to highlight the prejudice gay people face in the country, formerly part of the Soviet Union.

Conservative attitudes are common in Lithuania, as homosexuality was illegal in the Soviet Union until 1993.

Earlier this year, reported that more than half of Lithuanian MPs believe homosexuality to be a perversion.

A poll last December found that only 17% of Lithuanians support gay marriage.