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Gay Lithuanian MP sharply criticizes Russia

Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius elected to Seimas in 2020

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Lithuanian MP Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius. (Photo courtesy of Lithuanian MP Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius)

VILNIUS, Lithuania — A gay man who is a member of the Lithuanian Parliament last week said his country could be Russia’s next target.

“Historically after independence in the early 90s, Lithuania was very critical and fearful of its attitudes towards its neighbors,” MP Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius told the Washington Blade on April 28 during a telephone interview from Vilnius, the country’s capital, in reference to Russia. “The current events in Ukraine simply prove that we were right.”

“We have to understand very clearly that Russia is using not only military force, not only its gas and oil, but it is also using its soft powers,” added Raskevičius. “These soft powers are certain, specific world views which Russia tries to impose to its neighboring countries and those ideas are usually anti-human rights and anti-liberal democracy, so they are portraying human rights and liberal democracy as a threat, rather as a benefit to the society.”

Raskevičius further stressed that LGBTQ+ rights are “part of this Russia propaganda campaign.”

“They’re portraying the West as being rotten, plagued with abominations,” he said.

Lithuania borders the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, Latvia, Belarus, Poland and the Baltic Sea. The country declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, a year before it dissolved.

Raskevičius, 33, is a member of the liberal Freedom Party.

He worked for what is now called the Brooklyn Community Pride Center in New York and the Lithuanian Gay League, among other NGOs, before his election to the Vilnius City Council in 2019. Raskevičius in 2020 won a seat in the Lithuanian Parliament, which is known as the Seimas.

Raskevičius noted he is the second openly gay person elected to the Seimas, but the “first one” with a “pro-LGBT human rights agenda.” Raskevičius currently chairs the Seimas’ Human Rights Committee.

Russian, Belarusian LGBTQ+ groups relocate to Lithuania

Raskevičius said more than 50,000 Ukrainians have sought refuge in Lithuania since Russia invaded their country in February.

He told the Blade he knows of “isolated incidents” of LGBTQ+ Ukrainians in the country, noting that “LGBT people went to more open or progressive places than Lithuania.” Raskevičius said LGBTQ+ organizations are among the NGOs from Russia and Belarus that have relocated to Lithuania after their governments cracked down on them.

“Our local community demonstrates quite a high level of solidarity,” he said. “This is what the struggle for freedom is all about. It’s not only about physical security, but also security from Russian propaganda or soft power.”

Raskevičius also called for continued military cooperation and more economic sanctions against Russia.

“What is really important is not to get used to the war,” he said. “It has already been more than 60 days and you know people are getting used to seeing the terrible things on their TV and it becomes routine … we should be very mindful that we push harder because if Ukraine doesn’t win, we become the next one in the line.”

Raskevičius added Lithuania places “a lot of trust in our security partners, including the United States and NATO.”

“I wouldn’t say there is panic or any kind of that stuff, but it’s very close,” he said. “(Ukraine is) less than 1,000 km (621 miles) away and we have quite a nasty history with the Soviet Union and Russia, so we know what it’s all about it.”

Raskevičius sponsor of civil partnerships bill

Lithuania bans discrimination based on sexual orientation

The country on Sunday officially lifted restrictions for male blood donors who have sex with men, but opposition to LGBTQ+ rights remains strong. Raskevičius noted Lithuania is one of only six European Union member states that do not legally recognize same-sex couples.

He has introduced a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships.

LGBTQ rights opponents who Raskevičius said have “documented ties” to Russia in 2021 launched a petition to remove him as chair of the Seimas’ Human Rights Committee “because apparently a person who is gay cannot chair the committee who is in charge of all human rights.” Recall supporters claimed more than 300,000 people signed the petition, but Raskevičius noted journalists discovered the vast majority of them were fake.

Raskevičius told the Blade that opposition to the civil partnership bill was the “pretext” behind the petition. He acknowledged the ongoing debate over whether lawmakers should consider the measure “with war in our neighborhood,” but he stressed “it’s the best time to do so.”  

“We have to choose whether we want to belong to the sphere of influence coming from the East, or we want to move into the West,” said Raskevičius.

Raskevičius’ son is 2 1/2. He told the Blade that fatherhood has shaped his work in support of LGBTQ+ rights and human rights.

“For a very long time LGBT people were not visible in Lithuania,” said Raskevičius. “LGBT parents was another level of invisibility. These people exist, but they don’t publicly share their experiences because they are concerned about the well-being of their kids.”

“Me and other parents involved in my child’s upbringing made the conscious decision to talk about our experiences publicly,” he added. “We want to encourage people they are not alone.”

The European Court of Human Rights last month heard a challenge to Lithuania’s so-called “gay propaganda law” that specifically bans the distribution of information to minors that “expresses contempt for family values, encourages the concept of entry into a marriage and creation of a family other than stipulated in the Constitution of the republic of Lithuania and the Civil Code of the republic of Lithuania.”

Author Neringa Dangvydė Macatė in 2019 filed a lawsuit against the law after Lithuanian authorities censured her children’s book that featured two same-sex couples. Bob Gilchrist, the openly gay U.S. ambassador to Lithuania, is among those who have publicly criticized the statute.

“Our law is also framed in terms of protecting minors from the detrimental kinds of public information and defines information about LGBT relationships as potentially detrimental,” noted Raskevičius. “Based on that legislation, public authorities could censor public information.”

Raskevičius during the interview also praised the U.S. Embassy and Gilchrist himself for their support of LGBTQ+ rights in Lithuania.

“The current ambassador demonstrates not only the embassy’s leadership, but he’s demonstrating personal leadership,” said Raskevičius. “He’s very open about who he is and he’s not afraid to speak his mind.”

Raskevičius noted Gilchrist attends public events and speaks about LGBTQ+ rights on Lithuanian television.

“It’s a very powerful message because we see the United States as a strategic ally,” said Raskevičius. “They would not only defend our territory, but also defend the same values and regarding that, anti homophobic sentiments should have no place.”

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Eastern Europe

Huge show of support for Slovak LGBTQ+ people after murders

“Certain people are responsible for this tragedy. They are intensively & increasingly inciting spreading hatred towards the LGBTI community”

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20,000+ people gathered to honor victims of the hate crime in the Slovakian capital city (Photo Credit: Barbora Slivkova/Košice PRIDE)

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – A vigil held Friday evening in the Slovakian capital city to honor the two victims killed and a third who was badly wounded in a Wednesday night shooting outside of the Tepláreň bar, a popular LGBTQ+ establishment in the old city, was also attended by the nation’s president and the European Parliament’s Vice-President.

Organized by the Initiative Inakosť (Iniciatíva Inakosť), a LGBTQ+ non-governmental agency, there were an estimated 20,000 plus people gathered according to officials. The murders shook the tight-knit Slovakian LGBTQ+ community and its allies. Slovakia is a fairly conservative European Union member country where same-sex marriage is not legal.

A spokesperson for the Polícia Slovenskej republiky, the country’s national police force, said that his agency has classified the shootings as premeditated murder, motivated by hatred of a sexual minority.

19-year-old Juraj Krajcik, the son of a prominent member of the far-right extremist Vlast party, a radicalised student from Bratislava, had left social media posts filled with anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ+ messages including a so called ‘manifesto’ which the gunman had posted prior to the rampage.

Krajcik, who had an online history of hate-filled rhetoric had posted a picture of himself outside the Tepláreň bar this past August along with other writings and posts that led Polícia Slovenskej republiky investigators to conclude that the crime was planned.

Gunman’s August pictures taken in front of the Tepláreň bar from his Twitter & 4 Chan accounts

According to Polícia Slovenskej republiky, the gunman was outside of the bar for nearly an hour before opening fire at around 7 p.m. local time. Investigators said multiple rounds were fired but did not disclose the number nor the weapon used. Police say he was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot.

During the vigil for the shooting victims, Slovak President Zuzana Caputova told the crowd, “I’m sorry that our society was not able to protect your loved ones,” adding, “You belong here, you are valuable for our society.”

BBC Europe reported that European Parliament Vice-President Michal Simecka was also at Friday’s event. Simecka expressed his determination to have the European legislature discuss the murders during a session next week.

“To express our sympathy, but also to call on the Slovak authorities to take clear steps to put an end to the language of hatred towards LGBTI people,” he said.

In addition to political leadership at Friday evening’s vigil, Elena Martinčoková (Eleny Martinčokovej) the president of the Association of Parents and Friends of LGBTI+ people spoke expressing her grief and anger towards the environment in the country that fostered far-right hate.

In a Facebook post published by Košice PRIDE, she told the crowd;

I’m going through a lot of pain. Since I heard about this tragedy, I’m in spirit with the parents of the murdered children. They were adults, but they were mainly children, grandchildren, cousins, friends, colleagues who will be greatly missed and the wound and pain the survivors will feel will never heal.

Many tragedies affect us in life, some of them cannot be prevented. Yes to some of them. And this is exactly the one that could have been prevented. Long-term and intensively spreading and inciting hatred towards LGBT+ people in our public space. It is hatred that blinds people, prevents them from thinking sober.

Certain people are responsible for this tragedy. They are the ones who are intensively and increasingly inciting and spreading hatred towards the LGBTI community. They are all over the place. In the National Council of Slovakia, in government, among many church representatives, in extremist groups, among disinformation spreaders and those who do not have credible information, or when they have it, they do not understand them or do not want to understand. I hope this tragedy will not leave the public indifferent. We must act, we must act now. We will not be quiet. We are not going to be intimidated.

Video via România liberă, a Romanian daily newspaper founded in 1943 and currently based in Bucharest:

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Eastern Europe

Gunman dead in potential hate crime in Slovakian capital

A Twitter account tied to the shooter was discovered and shared, filled with anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ+ posts

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Polícia Slovenskej republiky at shooting crime scene at LGBTQ bar on Oct. 12, 2022 (Photo Credit: Polícia Slovenskej republiky)

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – Three persons are dead including the gunman in a shooting in front of a popular LGBTQ+ bar in the old town neighborhood of the Slovakian capital city Wednesday evening. A spokesperson for the Polícia Slovenskej republiky, the country’s national police force, told media outlets that the shooter was found deceased Thursday morning after an hours long search through the night.

Picture of the gunman from his now suspended Twitter account

The Polícia Slovenskej republiky said the incident at the Tepláreň bar on Zámocká Street in central Bratislava, left two young men dead and one woman injured, and investigators are naming the perpetrator, Local media identified him as 19-year-old Juraj Krajcik, the son of a prominent member of the far-right Vlast party, a radicalised 19-year-old student from Bratislava.

According to Polícia Slovenskej republiky, the gunman was outside of the bar for nearly an hour before opening fire at around 7 p.m. local time. Investigators said multiple rounds were fired but did not disclose the number nor the weapon used. Police say he was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot.

Polícia Slovenskej republiky also said that the female victim is in critical but stable condition at local hospital. She and one of two young men killed were both employed at the bar.

Allegations and speculation arose on social media as a Twitter account tied to the shooter was discovered and shared, filled with anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ+ posts including a so called ‘manifesto’ which the gunman had posted prior to the rampage. That account also had a picture of the gunman outside the Tepláreň in mid-August.

Gunman’s August pictures in front of the bar from his Twitter& 4 Chan accounts

On Facebook Dúhový Pride Bratislava said, “We’re shocked by the information about the shooting and casualties at Tepláreň, where we meet regularly.” The organization changed its Facebook page photo to black. Iniciatíva Inakosť, another Slovakian LGBTQ+ organization followed suit.

Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger condemned the double murder on Thursday in a press conference telling media outlets that “extremism is unacceptable.”

President Zuzana Čaputová called on politicians to stop spreading hate. “My thoughts are with the family & friends of the victims of yesterday’s horrific attack in Bratislava & everyone in the #LGBTIQ+ community affected by it,” Čaputová said in her Twitter post.

“Words can become weapons. Hate kills. As politicians, we must weigh every word we say before it’s too late,” she added.

Čaputová came to the scene of the shooting on Thursday afternoon, laying flowers in front of Tepláreň and embraced the owner of the bar.

Polícia Slovenskej republiky in a statement issued late Thursday said:

First of all, we would like to thank conscientious citizens who provided us with valuable information on the shooting case in Bratislava at 158. We need to remind everyone again and again: don’t hesitate to call 158. Just putting something on social media may not help. Thank you!

Police act from the first moment. The physical presence of our uniformed colleagues was undoubtedly noticed in the streets throughout the night.

Not only uniformed policemen worked and are working and not all of them are active in the field. Due to the ongoing investigation, but also the tactics, we can’t comment more closely, so we can’t even defend ourselves when any “guaranteed” news regarding our activities appear at these moments. Hence our silence at this stage, please understand.

Procedures to be followed by a police investigator are firmly established in the Criminal Order. Of course, his top priorities include finding the perpetrator’s motive. In order to publish his motive as a Police Department, it is necessary to take necessary actions.

We will inform you about everything, we are thinking about active communication, but we all have to be patient and give the investigator time and space.

And whether it is a hateful motive or not, we want to assure the public that the Police Department maintains zero tolerance for any form of violence, bullying or hatred. We have our values, which we will always stand by, which we have announced long ago.

Thank you for your help and understanding of the legal procedures we follow.

In a tweet Friday morning, LGBTQ+ rights group ILGA-Europe condemned the attack:

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Eastern Europe

Slovenia legalizes same-sex marriage & adoptions

Slovenia has become the first country in Eastern Europe to legalize same-sex marriage & the adoption of minor children by same-sex couples

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Slovenian Parliament building, Ljubljana, Slovenia (Photo Credit: Parliament of Slovenia)

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia – This Eastern European country which emerged after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia has become the first country in the region to legalize same-sex marriage and the adoption of minor children by same-sex couples.

After considerable debate Tuesday in the Slovenian parliament, 48 lawmakers passed legislation that guarantees the rights of same-sex couples to marry. 29 Members of Parliament opposed the legislation while one MP abstained.

This past July, the country’s Constitutional Court, in a 6-3 ruling, found that Slovenia law that granted rights to only opposite-sex marriages and adoptions violated a constitutional prohibition against discrimination. The Court ordered the Parliament to amend the law within six months to guarantee that all marriages and adoptions would be equal in the eyes of the law.

At the time of the high court’s ruling, Luka Mesec, the minister of labor, family, social affairs and equal opportunities, said: “The Constitutional Court has ordered us to do it, and we will do it with the greatest pleasure.”

Euronews reported that most of Slovenia’s Eastern European neighbors do not allow civil unions or same-sex marriages.

The government of Estonia came the closest in 2016 by agreeing to recognize same-sex unions created in other countries. Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Montenegro have laws establishing same-sex civil partnerships – and in Hungary, even talking about homosexuality in front of minors has been punishable by a fine since summer 2021, euronews noted.

“With these changes, we are recognising the rights of same-sex couples that they should have had for a long time,” State Secretary Simon Maljevac told MPs when presenting the amendment.

The main opposition party, the Slovenian Democratic Party, criticised the court’s decision and organised several rallies against the new law.

“The best father will never replace a mother and vice versa,” said SDS parliamentary group chairman Alenka Jeraj prior to the debate and vote.

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Eastern Europe

Activists in Ukraine to celebrate Pride

March scheduled to take place in Kharkiv on Sept. 25

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Kharkiv Pride (Photo courtesy of Kharkiv Pride)

KHARKIV, Ukraine — Activists in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv will hold a series of Pride events in the coming days.

A press release that Kharkiv Pride released notes events that will take place from Saturday through Sept. 25 include a march, a performance that highlights efforts to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Ukraine and a “Memorial Day” for “LGBTQI+ people killed by the Russian Federation.”

Kharkiv Pride and Kharkiv with You Charitable Foundation, a local NGO, will also hold “a crowdfunding campaign to collect money for the needs of women serving near Kharkiv.” 

“Just as Kharkiv stands at the forefront of Ukraine’s struggle for freedom and democracy, Kharkiv Pride actively resists at the forefront of the battle for human rights,” said Kharkiv Pride. ” Because this is our principal position, and this is the difference between Ukraine and the totalitarian regime of the Russian Federation.”

Kharkiv, which is Ukraine’s second-largest city, is less than 30 miles from the Russian border in the eastern part of the country.

A Russian airstrike on March 1 killed Elvira Schemur, an LGBTQ+ and intersex activist who was a volunteer for Kharkiv Pride and Kyiv Pride.

Ukrainian forces in recent weeks have recaptured large swaths of territory east of Kharkiv that had been under Russian control. Kharkiv Pride will also take place less than two months after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky announced his support for a civil partnership law for same-sex couples.

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Eastern Europe

Ukraine president backs civil partnerships law

Volodymyr Zelenskky responded to Kyiv Pride petition

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A participant in the Christopher Street Day parade in Berlin on July 23, 2022, indicates her support for LGBTQ and intersex Ukrainians. The country's president, Volodymyr Zelenskky, has publicly endorsed a civil partnership law for same-sex couples. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky on Tuesday said he supports a civil partnership law for same-sex couples.

Kyiv Pride backed a marriage equality petition that was submitted to Volodymyr Zelenskky on July 12 with more than 28,000 signatures, which is higher than the legal threshold that requires him to consider it. 

Zelenskky in his response to the petition notes his support for marriage equality, but acknowledges the Ukrainian constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman and it cannot be amended while the country is under martial law. Zelenskky on Tuesday nevertheless directed his government to submit a report on whether same-sex couples can enter into civil partnerships through the country’s existing legal framework or a bill that would go through Parliament.

“I appealed to the prime minister of Ukraine with a request to consider the issue raised in the electronic petition and report about the relevant results,” said Zelenskky.

Zelenskyy last year pledged his country would continue to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity after he met with President Joe Biden at the White House. 

Anastasiia Baraniuk and Yulia Mulyukina, a lesbian couple who once lived in the Ukrainian city of Dniper, are among the millions of people who have fled the country since Russia began its war on Feb. 24. Baraniuk and Mulyukina last month told the Washington Blade in Berlin the fact that they are unable to legally prove they are in a relationship has prevented them from asking for asylum in the U.S. and Canada because the countries’ immigration systems are based on whether they are married or “common-law partners” respectively.

“Right now we are looking for a way to get the proof that we are a couple,” said Baraniuk. “We don’t want to stay in Berlin.”

From left: Yulia Mulyukina and Anastasiia Baraniuk fled their home in Dniper, Ukraine, in April. They now live in Berlin. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Kyiv Pride on Tuesday welcomed Zelenskyy’s announcement.

“Congratulations to the community, the Pride movement,” tweeted Kyiv Pride. “Thank you to the authorities.”

Maksym Eristavi, who chairs Kyiv Pride’s board of directors, desribed Zelenskyy’s announcement as “historic.”

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Eastern Europe

LGBTQ+ pride parade in Bucharest draws ten thousand plus people

Dancing & waving rainbow, trans, and progress flags, participants protested proposed legislation that would ban future Pride gatherings

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Screenshot/YouTube Euronews

BUCHAREST, Romania – Supporters and activists of the LGBTQ+ movement numbering an estimated ten thousand people took part in Bucharest Pride 2022, marching along Calea Victoriei to Izvor Park in the city’s center Saturday afternoon into evening.

Pride was organised by ACCEPT, the non-governmental human rights organization in Romania that defends and promotes LGBTQ+ rights.

Dancing and waving rainbow, trans, and LGBTQ+ progress flags, participants protested proposed legislation in the Parliament of Romania that could potentially endanger future LGBTQ+ Pride parades and foster further anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination.

A bill already approved by one body of lawmakers in Parliament would bans so-called “gay propaganda” in schools, mirroring similar legislation in Hungary and Russia.

EURONEWS Romania: Bucureștiul, scena a două marșuri, Bucharest Pride și „Marșul pentru normalitate”:

(Romanian language broadcast)
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