In The South

Lithuanian Councillors fight for equality for Vilnius LGBT community

Alice Blezard May 17, 2016

In a bid to help reverse the reputation of Eastern Europe as a region plagued by homophobia, a group of Councillors from Vilnius, Lithuania, have come together to declare their city open to all residents regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Cllr Mark Adam Harold
Cllr Mark Adam Harold

City Councillor Mark Adam Harold leads the group, named City for LGBT Equality. Harold is a British immigrant who last year became the first foreigner to be elected in Lithuania, under EU laws allowing all European citizens to run for office in local government anywhere in the Union.

The crossbench initiative includes Councillors from Lithuania’s social democratic, conservative and liberal parties, and was announced by Mayor Remigijus Šimašius at a recent council meeting on May 12, 2016.

Cllr Mark Adam Harold, said: “As a proud resident of Vilnius and an elected City Councillor, I couldn’t be more happy to initiate the group City for LGBT Equality, and I am very thankful to my colleagues for joining in and proving that Vilnius is moving forward fast. We will help to municipality and the community work together to ensure Vilnius is a friendly place where all are welcome. We will advise our colleagues on policy, and liaise with the various national government institutions, media outlets and NGOs to coordinate the City’s approach and communication. Vilnius is a great city and we want everyone to enjoy it!”

Cllr Harold is also one of the founders, alongside filmmaker and LGBT activist Romas Zabarauskas, of the project Friendly Vilnius. Friendly Vilnius is a pioneering nonprofit initiative to encourage private businesses to declare their friendliness to people of all orientations, nationalities, diets and disabilities.

The annual Baltic Pride event tours all three Baltic States: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. At the first ever Baltic Pride parade in 2010 participants were forced to register their names in advance, the parade was restricted to a minor street away from the main avenue, and a heavy police presence failed to stop openly homophobic Member of Parliament Petras Gražulis jumping the barriers and running towards the marchers.

When Baltic Pride next returned to Vilnius in 2013, Gražulis was again arrested, this time for attempting to join the parade and “disinfect” the marchers while wearing what looked like a hazardous chemical protection suit. He resisted arrest and was carried off by four police officers and taken away in a van. He is protected by Parliamentary Immunity.

Cllr Harold, continued: “Every municipality in the European Union must fully respect the human rights of residents and guests, including freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. The newly elected Mayor has always said there will be no barriers thrown in the way of the Baltic Pride parade, the route will be on the main avenue of the city, and we will make it as safe and enjoyable as possible for all participants. The formation of the Councillors’ group City for LGBT Equality will send a strong message to the LGBT community – you have friends on the council who will work to guarantee your freedom, and who thank you for organising such events in the wonderful city of Vilnius.”

City for LGBT Equality will advise on Council policy ahead of the 2016 Baltic Pride parade “For Equality!”, which will take place on June 18, 2016, and is organised by the LGL, the national LGBT rights organisation.

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