First Baltic Pride will be celebrated in Riga next year

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

LGBT organisations from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have announced their plans to hold a joint Pride event next year.

Baltic Pride aims to draw attention to the situation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the three EU member states and “encourage people of different sexual orientations to celebrate diversity and Baltic unity.”

Estonian Gay Youth (EGN), Latvian LGBT group Mozaika and the Lithuanian Gay League (LGL) have agreed to organise joint pride events in the Baltic and will begin with Riga next year.

The Pride programme will consist of a political discussion on non-discrimination principles in the European Union, seminars, cultural events and a Pride parade.

The festival will run from May 15th to May 17th, the international day against homophobia (IDAHO).

Lithuanian gay activist Vladimir Simonko, chairperson of LGL, said it is important to “follow the example of Estonia and Latvia, where Pride parades have already taken place for a few years and the understanding of freedom of assembly and expression has grown bigger than in Lithuania.”

LGL are planning Baltic Pride in Vilnius in 2010.

In August two mayors of Lithuanian cities refused to allow an EU anti-discrimination exhibition on public land.

In a compromise, the touring vehicle, organised by the European Commission, was displayed on private property.

The mayor of Vilnius, Juozas Imbrasas, refused to allow the truck into the city claiming that participation of LGBT activists would be “propaganda of homosexuality.”

Andrius Kupčinskas, Mayor of Kaunas, said that the “homosexual festival may cause many negative emotions.”

The LGBT community face considerable prejudice in the Baltic states, where the Roman Catholic church and other Christian denominations have considerable political and social influence.

In the run up to this year’s Riga Pride, Cardinal Janis Pujats said homosexuality is against the natural order and, therefore, against the laws of God, and that homosexuals also claim unlawfully to have the rights of a minority.

The event in June passed off peacefully. Police arrested four of an estimated 400 anti-gay protesters, but the threats of violence against the Pride march did not materialise.

British and Swedish human rights advocates and politicians were among the 300 people who took part in the event. City authorities closed off streets and deployed police to keep the groups apart.

The marchers were taken away in buses at the end of the event.

Despite the situation in Latvia and Lithuania, Estonian gays may soon be given new rights.

“The Estonian LGBT community is still waiting for the discussion of same-sex partnership to be brought up in the Estonian Parliament,” said Madle Saluveer of EGN.

“The partnership law would be the first big step forward in the recognition of LGBT rights in the Baltic states.”

“We would like similar progress to take place in all three countries – after all, we are close neighbours and have in common a wish to develop our democracies.”

In July the Estonian Ministry of Justice confirmed it was preparing a draft law which would allow same-sex partners to register their cohabitation.

Amendments to inheritance, property rights and citizenship will be included and unmarried heterosexual couples could also benefit from the draft law.

In 2006 Tallinn Pride was marred by violence.

15 people were injured after being attacked by groups of skinheads with sticks and stones.

Tallinn police tried to alter the parade route in 2007, claiming their presence would infringe the rights of other residents to go about their business. However, the route was authorised after protests by gay rights activists.