Guest Blogger

International Day Against Homophobia: In Latvia Prejudice Is Ingrained

Filed By Guest Blogger | May 07, 2008 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: Amnesty International, Amnesty International UK, Britain, Bulgaria, Croatia, Eastern Europe, Europe, hate crimes against LGBT people, homophobic behavior, Hungary, International Day Against Homophobia, Kate Allen, Kosovo, Latvia, Russia, United Kingdom

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Kate Allen is the Director of Amnesty International UK. Amnesty International will be launching a hard-hitting briefing on the problem of homophobia in Eastern Europe on May 17th.

kate-allen.jpgLater this month sees the International Day Against Homophobia. It should be a day of global celebration across the world and one glance at the statute books and you could easily be fooled into thinking it is being effectively dealt with - an increasing number of countries recognise civil partnership and there are numerous UN resolutions and European Union conventions in place designed solely to protect the gay community.

But the day-to-day reality is very different. Despite the swathe of legislation, most countries fail to take the issue seriously. Homophobia is showing little sign of subsiding, both here and abroad.

Take the UK as an example: two thirds of lesbian and gay schoolchildren have experienced homophobic bullying - an astonishing 17% of which were death threats. In the US almost 65% of lesbian and gay schoolchildren felt unsafe at schools due to their sexual orientation.

The gay community in Britain are still subject to abuse on a daily basis simply for showing affection for their partners in public. It is a deeply disappointing attitude in this day and age, after all love is not a crime.

The difficulty is getting that message across - and Amnesty is among those organisations trying hard to do so.

On 17 May, the International Day Against Homophobia, we will be hosting an event at our headquarters in London. In the next few weeks we will be launching a new education resource that will tackle prejudice. And then there's Riga.

Riga is home to the annual Latvia friendship days and Amnesty International will again be sending a delegation.

Amnesty firmly believes that by raising awareness of the needs and interests of the gay community ingrained prejudice can be eroded. And in Latvia that prejudice is very much ingrained.

Last year, the Latvian newspaper Ritdiena published the following editorial:

"Readers, people of all ethnicities and all residents, we have arrived at the final barrier. Unless the people rise up in defence of the interests of their children and their future, then this nation will be a death nation. Homosexuals have crawled into responsible government jobs. Homosexuals want to amend at least 16 laws in the Republic of Latvia, defining special rights for themselves in these laws. They call this tolerance, but in truth it is the shameless attempt of the homosexual minority to oppress the normal majority of all of society."

It's an editorial that could not be more out of step with international law. But then this is also a country that has elected as chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee an anti-gay activist. In 2006, their parliament voted against an anti-discrimination law that would have brought the country into line with its European partners on gay rights.

Amnesty International chose to work with Latvia, but it could easily have been anywhere in Eastern Europe.

Petrol bombs were thrown at marchers taking part in last year's Pride events in Croatia and Hungary, leaving dozens injured.

In Kosovo, the parents of a leading gay rights campaigner received a letter saying that their son was going to be burnt alive for devaluing the "pure nation".

The situation is so bad in Bulgaria that the leading gay rights group there has refused to even consider the idea of holding a gay pride event. And in Russia, Pride events continue to be banned.

Amnesty International UK is calling on the UK government to lobby their Eastern European counterparts and get them to honour their human rights commitments and begin to educate their citizens against homophobia.


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Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | May 8, 2008 12:35 AM

Ms. Allen,

Thank you so very much for this posting. In an earlier posting (in that Britain is so far ahead of the United States in her laws) I felt UK particularly had turned the corner on these problems.

Let's face it: Kids are Cruel in Screwel. I feel informed in a manner I would otherwise not have been informed. I would love your comment on whether or not you believe (or there is any research linking) violent videogames and television to these childhood problems.

As to eastern europe, I have never visited Latvia, Estonia, Lituania or Bulgaria. In Hungary I found warm acceptance of Gay people individually in Budapest, Moscow and St. Petersburgh, but I was not in a Gay Pride march either. Thank you so very much for your insights.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | May 8, 2008 12:39 AM

I just remembered Romania, there was a lot of fear there.

Thanks for updating us Kate. We'll be doing a post on IDAH ourselves, but you've laid out a great groundwork that we can build upon. Please keep us updated and stop by to visit and guest post often.

One way we, in the USA, can help is not to visit these countries, along with Jamaica, when we are planning our vacations this year. There are LGBT-friendly countries to visit, and I would avoid the following:

Latvia
Croatia
Hungary
Poland
Romania
Russia
Jamaica

There may be others as well.

So what can we do? What does "lobbying governments" entail?

Something tells me that a decrease in American gay tourism to Russia isn't going to collapse its economy, or that we'll be successful in getting the European gays to stop going to Croatia. Moreover, if it did have a dent on the problem, the situation is cultural, not political, in a lot of these countries, and most people don't have tourist dollars on the mind.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | May 8, 2008 9:18 AM

Ok, When I was in Romania they had just passed a "decriminalization" of homosexual acts that our hetero tour guide (but Gay friendly man) included in the remarks made to the entire bus load of people on our particular "Eastern European Treasures" tour.

Alex, the reason Kate Allen can be effective is that EU countries have a mandate to provide full rights and recognition to all persons. Many countries like Spain, where once you could be sent to prison, now have partner recognition with full government and business benefits for couples.

They also work with governments that "wannabe" in the EU for all the benefits financially. Poland is already a member and if they want to do business with Germany and France they had best get their house in order. There is no way to protect against individual acts of ignorance wherever you go.

My cardinal rule, whenever I travel, is to remember that I am a guest in another country. With the exception of an American in China there has never been an issue when my partner and I have traveled. We are also guests that are spending money so we should be well treated.

Eh? I live in Latvia and I don't feel that people had homophobic thoughts and opinions, but, there are still many people who are having them. The youth is mainly accepting people, no matter what are they like, with the exception of some weak-minded individuals. Give us time. Saying that homosexuals should be allowed to make "prides", is clearly not working with our still sovietised society. A clear reason why they are making those parades, could clear the confusion of the masses.

Religious people are also against gay and lesbian activities in Latvia.

And, speaking of Russia, if you would meet there, ehmmm, it would be not just dangerous, it would be stupid, and Latvia is certainly not the worst thing that could happen to you all.