Eastern Europe Project: LGBT+ Lives in Poland (part 2)

Svaja (right) at Baltic Pride

Our choir project for 2021 is focussed on LGBT+ lives in Eastern Europe and throughout the year we will be collaborating with two other LGBT+ choirs: Voces Gaudii based in Warsaw, Poland, and Obochina, based in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Following our second event looking at Lives in Poland. Svaja, one of our lovely Altos, talks about how the event resonated with her and reminded her of what it’s like to be LGBT+ in Lithuania.

Hi, I’m Svaja and I’m a recent member of LGBT+ choir, The Pink Singers. It’s been a great joy and honour to be a part of this friendly and creative community where I feel safe and welcomed for who I am. Being part of the choir has taught me a lot about diversity within the LGBT+ community, and it’s been a pleasure to see that every individual is celebrated and accepted for their differences. 

I had a chance to attend the second event for our Eastern Europe Project and hear speakers from Voces Gaudii talk about life in Poland. I was deeply touched and overwhelmed hearing all the stories of how the government is depriving LGBT+ people from their basic rights and absolutely ignoring their existence. Seeing all those scary videos of the way people where treated when attending a pride parade reminded me of the first gay pride march in Lithuania in 2010. Although I didn’t have a chance to attend that pride, the parade was recorded and published over the news and it will always stay in my mind. I couldn’t believe what I saw, 350 participants from the Lithuanian LGBT community had to be protected by 800 policemen and were told to  march in the least public street in Vilnius. Barricades had been built to protect from homophobic people; among them quite a few politicians, who were shouting and expressing their discontent and disgust to what was happening. People were holding offensive banners and trying to jump over the barricades. I could see so much hatred and anger in people’s faces that it shocked me. Some of the politicians were walking with speakers and shouting offensive slogans and were inciting angry gangs to fight the ‘’gay agenda’’. 

Seeing such a hostile environment for LGBT+ people left a trace for many people and sent the message that this must be changed. Thankfully Baltic countries established the international Baltic Gay Pride, which will commence annually in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. In 2013 Lithuania had a second gay pride and this time I was able to participate in it.

Over 1000 people came, including some guests from Sweden and American LGBT activists. This time we were able to march on the main street of Vilnius, protected by over 2000 policemen. Most of the crowd were very hostile: shouting slurs, holding offensive banners and throwing eggs to the participants.  The same politicians from 2010 gay pride came and expressed their negative feelings. One of them was arrested by the police for violent behaviour. It was an amazing feeling to be a part of the march and see quite a lot of supportive people, waving rainbow flags, which indicated that things are getting better in Lithuania. However, once the event was over me and my girlfriend threw away everything that could disclose our participation in the pride and ran as fast as we could, so that no homophobe would be able to attack us.

Here is a little bit about me… I was born in Lithuania and my first years of childhood were happy as I was surrounded by love and affection. Things started changing growing up as I started developing feelings for the same sex. At first, I was trying to deny them and decided to date men. Obviously, things didn’t work out and I had a hard time understanding what was wrong with me. I could not face the fact that I might be gay and was terrified by anyone finding out who I really am. There was very little information about homosexuality and most of it was translated from Russian, which was very bias and incorrect. Finally, I came to terms that I am a lesbian, and it was a very traumatising experience knowing how badly people were perceiving homosexuality in Lithuania. We lived under Soviet Union oppression for 40 years and homosexuals were sent to prison.  We were compared to pedophiles and our perverted ways were condemned by society.

My personal life was a big secret and I had to lie to my mum and my friends about it, which made me feel very lonely and dishonest. Finely, I decided to come out to my friends, my brother and my mum. Some of my friends said they already knew about it, and so did my brother. They were okay about it, but unfortunately my mum didn’t take it so well. It’s been a long journey for my mum to come with the terms of my sexuality, but I’m happy to say, that despite all the negative media information, she finely was able to accept that and came to see me in the next Lithuanian gay pride. 

Living in Lithuania became very awkward once I found a girlfriend and started living with her. I was not able to hold her hand in public or to declare my love for her to any living soul (apart from the LGBT community), not mentioning that there are no legal rights to marry or be in a civil partnership. Although Lithuania became a part of the EU in 2004, the situation with human rights was not improving. There was a scandal with one of lecturers from the University of Kaunas who was dismissed once he came out as gay. Seeing this situation unfold, me and my girlfriend decided to emigrate to the UK. It was a massive change for us and liberation for not having to hide our identity. Although the relationship didn’t work out, I decided to stay in the UK and attend every gay pride in Lithuania. I was pleasantly surprised with the last pride in 2019 seeing how Lithuania improved, as I could see rainbow flags in the centre of Vilnius and we were marching through the centre of the city, surrounded by friendly, smiley faces. There was no great need for as much security as before and there were very few people who expressed their anger. 

I am glad to acknowledge that a left-wing government was elected in 2020 and are considering to pass civil partnership law in Spring. I am very happy how Lithuania is becoming more tolerant and a modern country. And I know it’s going to be a long process, but we are definitely taking the right steps towards a happy and diverse society. 

Svaja, Alto

Check out our Eastern Europe Project page for more details on our project mission and our past blogs on LGBT+ lives in Russia.