Gay rights are human rights. It is a paradox that the same rights, that served as the moral basis of liberation from the communist yoke in Eastern Europe, are now denied a group most in need of them. Still, today this is the case in large tracts of our continent, remaining a stain on the very same shield of liberty set to protect the right of the individual.
During the last few weeks, events related to LGBT-rights have given rise to both concerns and hopes about the situation of homosexuals in Central and Eastern Europe. Developments have clearly shown that homophobia is still rampant in the region, but all the same there are promising tendencies in some countries that at least some authorities have started to respond to international critique against official homophobia. Reviewing recent events, gives a somewhat more hetereogeneous picture than was the case only a year ago.
A few weeks ago, a celebrity homosexual was beaten beyond recognition in Lithuanian capital Vilnius. The only reason was that he was openly gay. He might as well have had a pink triangle stitchted to his chest. Homosexuality is simply not socially accepted in this deeply Catholic country, and people and parliamentarians alike do not hesitate to openly condemn this "pariah to society."
Last week, Amnesty criticised Lithuania for not respecting gay rights, actively hindering an EU-sponsored campaign "For Diversity - Against Discrimination" - in celebration of the Europan Year for Equal Opportunities for All. Now, the campaign has had to be delayed in anticipation of permission from Lithuanian authorities. Last week, the Vilnius Rainbow festival was denied the right to assembly in the capital. In response to the exposed situation for the Lithuanian LGBT-community, the European section of the International Gay and Lesbian Association (ILGA) has decided to arrange its annual conference in Vilnius this autumn.
Turning East to Moscow, a group of LGBT-activists - including several western parliamentarians - were brutally beaten by anti-gay groups, when trying to hand over a petition to mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Their simple plea was to argue for the permission to march through central Moscow during the 2007 Moscow Pride festival. While being beaten by skinheads, Russian police stood idly by watching the "spectacle" afar, only to afterwards arrest some thirty gay rights' activists, including two members of the European Parliament.
However, what might be considered a slight improvement was yesterday's Pride march in Latvian capital Riga, organised by the Mozaika network. With the experiences from last year's violent anti-gay protests in fresh memory, authorities now allowed some 1,000 activists to march the streets under heavy police protection. Still, the march has created a deep rift in the Latvian LGBT-community, and ILGA-Latvia has publicly denounced organisers as provocateurs and profiteers, whose actions will only worsen the situation in the country.
Another partial success was the 19 May Warsaw Pride festival, where some 5,000 LGBT-activists were, for the first time, allowed to undertake the march. Despite massive anti-gay protests, the Pride parade went by without the extensive violence we have got used to see in other parts of Central and Eastern Europe. However, Poland remains a fundamentally homophobic country, and the Kaczyński twins, ruling Poland as President and Prime Minister, are among the country's foremost opponents of gay rights. Polish homophobia is, to be quite frank, on the edge of the ludicrous. Thus, last week, Poland's Children's Ombudsman considered banning the kids' show Teletubbies. Why? The reason is laughable: Apparently, one of the "male" characters in the show carries a handbag. Such a role model might prove a negative influence on Polish children, the Polish Ombudsman argued, as it might indicate the small blue figure was - GAY! Lo and behold! It was only after widespread ridicule in international media, that the Ombudsman decided to reconsider her position.
Gay Rights are Human Rights
Protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has gradually become a self-evident part of international law over the decades. The 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) has been judged applicable on sexual orientation, thus safeguarding the same political rights to the LGBT-community as any other social or political movement.
In a regional context, the Council of Europe's Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms nowadays covers protection against sexual orientation discrimination, and the European Social Charter safeguards the social and economic rights of homosexuals.
In the framework of the European Union, the Treaty of Amsterdam enables the EU to fight sexual orientation discrimination as does the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
The list is far from exhaustive, and serves only to illustrate how current international law protects the human rights of LGBT-individuals. Still, although many states of Central and Eastern Europe pride themselves with becoming part of Europe, prejudice prevails against homosexuals in large tracts of the region. It simply is not acceptable when politicians and people alike pursue a policy of public homophobia, as is the case in many of the abovementioned countries. Becoming part of Europe means becoming party to the humanistic social and cultural heritage of Europe. As long as this is not the case, the road to true integration remains long. The tragedy about sexual orientation discrimination in Central and Eastern Europe is however that it often is the same dissidents and democratisers who, during the soviet era, fought for human rights, that today deny one of the most exposed groups in society the very same rights they once held so dear. Obviously, the fruits of freedom are sown unequally.