Mayor “not ready” to support gay rights

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

One of Europe’s most bigoted politicians has once again defended naked prejudice in his city.

Juozas Imbrasas, the Mayor of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, was asked by journalists if he would back a campaign affirming freedom of assembly and expression for LGBT people in Europe.

19 mayors from across the EU have signed up, but Mr Imbrasas said: “I am not ready for such things yet.”

His response was unsurprising considering that Vilnius city council has effectively banned any gay Pride events on the grounds of “security.”

In November amendments to the public order and cleanliness regulations were passed, meaning the police or a special commission will be able to ban any event where they think a riot might occur.

“It will be useless to apply for permission to hold our events for the next 10 years, because we won’t get approved,” Lithuanian Gay League chairman Vladimiras Simonko said.

“Assurance of security during these events is not our responsibility. We pay taxes, and laws obligate the authorities to ensure our security during our events.”

Mr Simonko pointed out that football matches carry a high risk of violence and asked if they will be subject to the ban.

Vilnius Municipality Public Order Department will collect data from the police, the internet and the media and consider objections from members of the public, then decide on whether any event should be granted a permit.

Lithuania is a member of the EU but remains one of the most socially backward nations in Europe.

The vast majority of the population are Roman Catholics, and the church is openly hostile the rights of sexual minorities.

A law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment was passed in 2004, as an obligation for acceptance into the European Union, but politicians in the remote Baltic state struggle to understand the most basic concepts of equality.

More than half of Lithuanian MPs believe homosexuality to be a perversion.

The country has the dubious record of the highest suicide rate in the world, 91.7 per 100,000 people.

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

In September 2007 a Lithuanian transsexual won a case at the European Court of Human Rights over claims that he has been blocked from completing his gender transition.

The seven judges also ruled that Lithuania must implement new legislation on gender reassignment within three months or pay damages.

Twice last year gay activists have been banned from displaying the rainbow flag, an international symbol of gay rights. The Lithuanian Gay League is to appeal these rulings in court.

In May the mayor of Vilnius refused to give permission for the anti-discrimination truck tour to visit the city.

The truck was part of the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All campaign, but Mayor Imbrasas claimed it could cause a security risk and riots.

Anti-gay feeling reached new heights later that month after a Swedish ambassador called for tolerance towards LGBT people.

Ambassador Malin Karre delivered a speech to the Lithuanian Parliament on Wednesday May 16th to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia.

Activists protested her comments outside the Swedish embassy in Vilnius.

Because of the de-facto ban on gay events in the city, LGBT activists are to hold Baltic Pride in Riga next year.