Gay pride parade evokes right-wing fire

  • 2005-07-20
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - The first gay, lesbian and bi-sexual pride parade in Latvia, set to take place in the capital on July 23, has drawn fierce criticism from right-wing and centrist politicians and even threats of a blockade by nationalist groups. In fact, as The Baltic Times went to press, the Riga city executive director promised to revoke the participants' permit to walk.

If it continues, the march, Rigas Praids, is expected to attract international participants, including from the three Baltic states, Finland, Russia and Sweden. In addition, the local Anglican Church, run by a British Latvian, will hold an open service, while the Minority Cultural Center will host a conference on homosexual themes.

However, a cluster of right-wing politicians and youth organizations have threatened to block the event. The radical National Power Union, based in Liepaja, said it would physically obstruct the march, while another radical group, Klubs 415, also said it would oppose any such parade.

Politicians have been quick to join in the controversy. Leopolds Ozolins from the Greens and Farmers Union said he would support any effort to prevent the parade from taking place, and musician Kaspars Dimiters said he might organize an anti-homosexual rally.

Latvia's First Party, a ruling coalition party that includes a number of Lutheran ministers, called for a prayer session on the day of the parade and asked the city council to revoke participants' right to walk through the streets.

"[The fact that] these activites are possible also in Latvia shows that we are too tolerant, and taking an inactive role against the rapid spread of this perverse cult," Ozolins said in a press release.

Meanwhile, Integration Minister Ainars Latkovskis called opposition from Latvia's First Party "two faced" and "hypocritical."

Sociological surveys in the country have shown that many Latvians and noncitizens alike harbor homophobic views. Homophobic comments are easy to find on Latvian Web sites and fringe nationalist publications.

"There has always been a thread of homophobia within the Latvian ultra-nationalist movement," said Karlis Streips, a well-known writer and television journalist.

Streips, the most well-known openly gay person in the nation, compared the situation in Latvia with Europe and America in the early 1970s. In recent years, however, other gay and bisexual people have joined Streips in their openness.

Maris Sants, a defrocked priest, successfully sued a Riga school in a landmark case this year after the institution refused to hire him based on his sexual orientation. When Sants came out, and was consequently thrown out of the church, Streips said "now there are two gay people in Latvia." The journalist later mentioned that this was an exaggeration, but only a slight one.

Motivated by the EU, the government is finally taking a stand. On July 19, the Cabinet accepted anti-discrimination legislation that, if passed, would forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation in the work place.

The Minority Cultural Center, a part of the Integration Ministry, will discuss homophobia, human rights, discrimination and religion. The forum will be lead by Maris Sants, Karlis Streips and psychologist Jolanta Cihanovica. The day will commence in Riga's two gay clubs, where participants will celebrate into the night.