Planned pride parade evokes heated response

  • 2006-06-07
  • By Elizabeth Celms
RIGA - Gay and lesbian organizations have applied to the Riga City Council to hold the second annual pride parade despite a concerted effort by politicians and religious leaders to ban the march. On June 2, the organizations Riga Pride and Ilga applied for a permit to march in Riga's Old Town in July, while politicians across the spectrum debated not only the parade, but homosexuality in general, which remains a controversial issue in Latvia. In an interview with LNT on May 31, Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis said that security concerns might override the organizers' right to publicly assemble.

"I do not think that the center of Riga is the best place to allow such marches," Kalvitis said on the program 900 Sekundes (900 Seconds).
Last year's gay pride parade, the first of its kind in Latvia, was marred by widespread political and public protests. Thousands came to watch the spectacle, while only some 100 participated. Several protestors tried to physically obstruct the march. Others hurled vicious and derogatory remarks.
The parade culminated with a ceremony in the Anglican Church, after which security police had to rush the participants to safety since a large and hostile crowd had assembled outside the church.
Although public aggression surrounding last year's parade drew a wave of international criticism, it seems the event will stoke up just as much, if not more controversy this summer.

Politicians have already expressed vehemence against the planned march, most notably Latvia's First Party member Dainis Turlais, who was quoted by the daily Diena as saying, "Then what do we have to do? Come to a compromise?
So that all of these scoundrels, junkies and f**g**s can walk through our streets while we hide in the bushes? To the contrary 's we will walk the streets, because we are in the right."
His offensive outburst during the Christian-oriented Latvia's First party congress on May 27 alarmed several prominent leaders, who fear that this summer's parade may draw an uglier response than last year.
Yet event organizers continue to emphasize the importance of their aim, which is "to promote tolerant and understanding attitude toward sexual and other minorities."

Political commentator Karlis Streips, Latvia's first openly gay journalist, echoed this message. "I think it's important for the gay community to communicate with the public at large," he told The Baltic Times. "Discussion needs to continue, and there should be no attempt to block the events. This is a European country, and there are precedents in the EU."
Streips is confident that, despite the hostility surrounding last year's parade, this year Latvia's gays and lesbians will see a much stronger show of support.
In his words, what happened in 2005 "may scare off some participants from Latvia, but it will bring in a whole lot of people from abroad."

"Gay organizations are coming to state their support, including several members from the European Parliament," he said. "The event will unquestionably be bigger than last year."
According to the Web site of Mozaika, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights organization, a number of prominent officials from across Europe - including Austrian MP Ulrike Lunacek, Swedish MP Martin Andreasson, alongside 10 representatives of the Swedish Liberal Party, and Danish MP Simon Emil Ammitzboll - have already promised to attend the gay pride events in Riga.

Yet on the municipal level, Streips doubts that the organizers' request for a permit to parade will be easily approved. "It may be a question of first going to court and what not," he said. "The politics [behind the pride parade] is that the government is trying to push it aside someplace. You can never tell with the Latvian system."
In response to Kalvitis' attention to security concerns, organizers claim this carries little weight as an excuse.
Worry over the possibility of public disruption, members of Ilga and Riga Pride stated in a press release, does not constitute sufficient grounds for banning the event. Security services have proven they can maintain public order with high-profile events such as U.S. President George Bush's state visit last year and the recent Ice Hockey World Championships, they pointed out.
Yet the issue goes much deeper than political banter 's it's a question of Latvia's intolerance.
"The government hasn't done anything. On the contrary, the government has done negative things, like pass a constitutional amendment against gay marriage," Streips said, alluding to Parliament's decision last year to define marriage under the constitution as "the union between a man and a woman."

The draft legislation, which was passed by an overwhelming majority on Dec. 1, 2005 was effectively a replication of Latvia's civil code that prohibits same sex marriage.
"The amendment was passed the same day that Elton John got married in London 's adding irony to the foolishness," Streips added.
Although there has been much effort by nongovernmental organizations to raise public awareness over the issue of intolerance, in Streips' opinion, Latvia still has a long and difficult road ahead.
"There are NGOs that are very positive and have helped [bring awareness to intolerance], but the attention they have attracted is pretty minimal. Meanwhile, the government continues to openly make homophobic decisions," he said.