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Gay education ban voted in

  • 2009-06-17
  • Adam Mullett

The Baltics have developed a reputation for homophonia

VILNIUS - The Seimas (Lithuanian parliament) has voted to pass theamended Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect ofPublic Information, which would see information about homosexuality banned fromschools and other places that can be accessed by youths.

"The subject of homosexuality isnot welcome in our schools," a Seimas worker who asked to remain anonymous toldTBT after the June 16 vote.

A vote on June 11 saw a relatedlaw narrowly voted down. The law would have seen proponents of homosexualityfined or imprisoned for up to three years.

The law was strongly backed by theconservative ruling coalition, which favors a "traditional family model" that excludespeople of different sexual orientation and single parent families, amongothers.

"The Seimas voted well. Oneaspect of propaganda of homosexuality for children is forbidden. It is alsoforbidden to discuss bad feelings about homosexuality 's this is a goodbalance," conservative coalition member Vilija Aleknaite-Abramikiene, who votedfor the law, told TBT.

She said Lithuanians tolerated homosexuality, but didn'twant their children exposed to it in schools, adding that she also agrees withthe ban against hate speech against homosexuals.

"We prefer a family model, the traditional family model, butof course if parents want to teach such propaganda they can, but according toour constitution, children are under protection," she said.

Human rights workers and gay community representatives haveslammed the bill, saying that on top of being discriminatory it is not welldefined and leaves open many possibilities for abuse of the law.

"Everybody could be a victim of this law," said HenrikasMickevicius, director of the Vilnius-based Human Rights Monitoring Institute.

"There is no definition of this propaganda and how it worksand what is punishable. Then there are 'family values.' We need to know whatthat is 's it is open for interpretation and misinterpretation: these terms arevalue laden."

"Whoever looks at this could see it differently and it couldbe propaganda or not 's we are opening possibilities for abuses and misuses andpunishments for people. This means [there are] restrictions on freedom ofspeech 's it is a fundamental human right," Mickevicius added.

Arturas Rudomanskis, chairman of the Tolerant YouthAssociation, told TBT that the gaycommunity will suffer and homophobic tendencies will flourish, but that thosewho seek to protect gays would suffer also.

"Young people will not get information about homosexuals. Ifthe teacher tried to help a homosexual pupil 's if they were being bullied orridiculed by their peers 's if they told them that this child is okay and doesnot have a disease and it isn't a problem, then they could get in trouble," hesaid.

"This will make Lithuanians more homophobic because no onewill want to talk about homosexuality."

Rudomanskis said this law would be further reaching than theclassroom. Gay Web sites are the gay community's main medium of communication,and he said these could be shut down.

"Stopping the gay and lesbian Web sites is the best way tofight the LGBT," he said, adding that films such as "Brokeback Mountain" or "Milk"would be restricted to adult-only viewing. 

Aleknaite-Abramkiene said the law would not discriminate,but ensure peace in the community.

"The public opinion is quite clear 's they don't want ademonstration of sexuality. People want to live under their rules and let oneanother be himself, but not to intervene in public life and influence youth."

"This law will create a democratic balance between themajority and the minority 's we want peace," she said.

Mickevicius said lawmakers would need to prove to theEuropean Court of Human Rights that there was a "pressing social need" to passthe law, or it would be deemed discriminatory and a violation of the right tofreedom of speech.

The new law makes it illegal todiscuss homosexuality in schools and bans any reference to it in publicinformation that can be viewed by children.

Controversially, the amendmentclasses homosexuality alongside "the portrayal of physical or psychologicalviolence, displaying a dead or mutilated body, [and] information that arousesfear or horror or that encourages self abuse or suicide."

The gay community and supportersof it are planning to petition the president, who has 10 days to veto the lawfollowing its signing in the parliament by Seimas Speaker Arunas Valinskas.

"We are going to get a petition from the gay community andhuman rights organizations and student union others and take it to the presidentand ask for a veto. There is a possibility for a veto, but we need action fromoutside and it needs to be strong," Rudomanskis said.

The Seimas adopted the law with 67 votes for and threeagainst. Four Seimas members abstained from voting.

Human rights campaigners acrossEurope spoke out against the law when it was first mentioned, saying Lithuaniahad no right to belong to the European community if it passed the law.

"This legislation ishomophobic discrimination. As such, it clearly violates the European Conventionon Human Rights and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. It also violates theequality and anti-discrimination clauses of the UN Universal Declaration ofHuman Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child," Human rightscampaigner Peter Tatchell told PinkNews.co.uk.

"Lithuania has signed up tothese international humanitarian declarations but it is now defying them. Itwants the rights of EU and UN membership, but not the responsibilities."

"I hope the EU will takeswift and tough action. It must make it clear to Lithuania and other renegadehomophobic member states that membership of the EU is conditional on adherenceto EU laws and values. Member states cannot be allowed to pick and choose."

The Lithuanian Gay League was not contactable at the timewhen TBT went to press.