Baltic Pride 2013: Who needed it?

Submitted by ILGA-Europe

Reposted from The Lithuania Tribune:

Mark Splinter | The Lithuania Tribune
Special thanks to Martynas Ambrazas for the photos.

After months of apocalyptic predictions, flawed legal arguments and hateful outbursts which nobody would want their child to hear, a second gay parade finally happened in Vilnius.

I spent hours arguing about it with friends and enemies, dealing with a never-ending stream of insults on facebook and trying to convince as many people as possible to ignore the haters and go to the parade. The organisers were working night and day to create a positive event. So, I was literally filled with pride when I arrived in Gedimino Prospektas and saw hundreds of happy people forming up, unafraid and unashamed to walk in the centre of town under a rainbow flag. I had my “Lietuva visiems” (Lithuania for everybody) placard, someone gave me a whistle, and I stood waiting impatiently for the start of the march with friends from the Liberal Movement party and my fellow immigrant Richard Schofield.

Looking at the parade, I was filled with pride, but not because I am gay. I am not gay. That wasn’t the point. I was filled with pride for Vilnius, my adopted hometown, where I sincerely believe that the future is bright and the potential exists to make the best little city in Europe.

Sometime during Baltic Pride 2013, it became obvious that positivity is slowly winning the battle. There is nothing to be scared of. Vilnius is a place in which I can be proud and excited to live.

The person who seemed most scared of the parade was the Mayor, Arturas Zuokas, who spent a lot of time and money going to court to try to justify moving the parade to a street nobody cares about. Instead of supporting and joining the parade like a normal Mayor, he helped to fuel a huge hatefest and maintained a steady flow of “I’m not homophobic but…” press releases. This tactic shifted the blame for all the hysteria onto the parade organisers, because it became their fault for causing a fuss and demanding to march along the main street in town like everybody else. Still, it’s great to live in a city where the courts and police support a gay parade even while MPs and the Mayor oppose it.

After the parade, Zuokas bitterly remarked that the whole thing was unnecessary and was simply an advert for a “lifestyle”. He compared the worst homophobic politicians to human rights activists, and blamed them all equally for wasting the town’s money. Of course, everything costs money, but it would cost less money if the politicians would calm the situation down instead of pouring petrol on the fire. Democratically elected Mayors should know that it’s OK to “promote your values” peacefully in the street. The only people that needed policing were the drunk heterosexuals and mentally ill MPs with megaphones.

If we dismiss the rabid rantings about pedophiles, AIDS, population depletion by anal sex, animal rape orgies and oppressive EU mind-control, the most commonly heard argument against the parade was: “Who needs it?”

This question was asked entirely by people who hadn’t actually seen the parade, because it hadn’t happened yet, so they didn’t know what they were talking about. Well now it’s happened, so we can see what all the fuss was about and maybe answer the question.

To get an idea of the atmosphere in the street, try this helmet-cam video which I think feels pretty much like it felt in real life, strangely ordinary.

The majority of spectators didn’t seem to know what to expect, or didn’t seem to understand why the parade looked so “normal”. A confused old man shouted “ARE YOU PEDERASTS?” at us so much, it was like he was genuinely requesting information rather than firing a rhetorical question. It’s probably the only chatup technique he knows.

Where were the hordes of transsexuals in feather bikinis? Where were the half-naked men covered in oil? Why does it actually look like quite good fun? What was all the hype about? Why am I bothering to film this on my phone when nothing interesting is happening and nobody is showing their penis? My arm hurts from holding a thumbs-down while hundreds of people ignore it! This was supposed to be more cathartic, dammit.

I felt like I was JFK driving through Dallas, the people of Vilnius lined up at the side of the road all staring in the same direction, out of fascination and curiosity, just to catch a glimpse of “the gays”. Of course there were horrible hostile pockets of people with psychological problems shouting “PEDERASTS” into a megaphone (these people have a one-word vocabulary), and some of the leading marchers got a box of eggs thrown at them, but there were also people on the pavement genuinely happy to see such a parade in their town. I heard “Well done!! We support you!!” more than once. My friends around me agreed that it was truly inspirational to hear those words and see those smiles.

It all ended up with a few expertly-executed mounted police skirmishes and some long boring speeches in the hot sun, so we left safely and nobody got hurt. The organisers are already planning for next year, and I can’t wait. I hope there will be a much bigger sound system and much more dancing.

So, who needed the parade? Well, obviously – everybody.

The LGBT community needed to be seen in public for real, instead of being imagined by fantasists.

The extreme homophobes needed to learn that they cannot disrespect the police without being arrested, and they do not own the streets.

The Mayor needed to realise his mistake.

The police needed to practice their crowd-control techniques and boost their reputation.

The organisers needed to get more experience.

The EU needed to see if Lithuania knows what she is doing.

The people who don’t really know what all the fuss is about needed to see that the fuss is about nothing.

The people who weren’t brave enough to join the parade needed to see that everything will be OK next year.

The people who complained about the cost of the policing needed to see that their police are high-quality and worth double the money.

And personally, as an immigrant, I needed the parade so that I could have the chance to walk down Gedimino with my head held high, and to feel a bit less sad about the xenophobic festival that insulted me earlier in the year on the same street.

Everybody needed to see that in a civilised country, hooligans should never be able to stop a parade by threatening violence.

It’s strange to hear Lithuanians (who fought so recently for their freedoms) complain that it “costs too much” to defend the right to freedom of assembly. It’s strange that they would demand a society where only “normal” people can decide anything, including the definition of “normal”. It’s weird hearing people defend their country with hate.

On the plus side, it’s amazing that humans can totally disagree with each other but still arrange a way to allow everyone to have their say. It’s inspirational to show people that they can win court cases and take control of the streets democratically, without hate. It’s great to have rights and to win against the government. It’s great to give the opposition a chance to come to the parade and express themselves too, as safely as possible. And it’s great to give everybody a chance to see the people they share a city with.

And that’s why we needed the parade.

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