VILNIUS - After years of repression by former Vilnius mayor Juozas Imbrasas, who was thrown out of office in February, new Mayor Vilius Navickas has shown little improvement in the eyes of the gay community after he said he wouldn't condone a Gay Pride parade in the center of town.
Navickas, the new conservative Mayor of Vilnius, said he would allow sexual minorities to have demonstrations and pride parades, but would only agree to have it held in a more remote location of the city.
"I respect everyone under the sun, and their personal lives, but I don't think that this personal life needs to be put on display on Gedimino Avenue. Should there be a request to do this on Gedimino Avenue, we wouldn't allow it, but it would be welcomed on, say, Savanoriu Avenue," the mayor told the press.
Savanoriu Avenue is far away from the downtown area, has heavy traffic and has a poor reputation.
The ban comes as another hit to the gay community of Lithuania, which last year had its anti-discrimination truck banned from City Hall Square. It was instead relegated to the parking lot of the Maxima shopping center on Mindaugo Street.
Imbrasas last August refused to issue permission to the European Commission sponsored anti-discrimination truck tour to make its planned stop in the city, saying "there will be no advertising of sexual minorities."
The city justified the ban based on the security risks posed by possible opponents of the event. The event, which included unfurling the rainbow flag, was planned by the Lithuanian Gay League (LGL), the country's main lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender organization.
"I can't see how our procession is worse than the skinheads and nationalists marching on Gedimino Avenue," Viktoras Simonko, the Chairman of LGL, told The Baltic Times.
A nationalist movement widely criticized for its association with skinheads and neo-Nazis had received permission from the municipality for a procession on March 11, the country's Independence Day.
According to Simonko, Mayor Navickas' speech came in response to a court case LGL has launched against the Office of Equal Opportunity Ombudsman.
"Navickas' comment coincides with the court case we are having against the Equal Rights Ombudsman Institution, which refused to investigate the previous mayor's actions, which crowned the previous municipality administration work," said Simonko.
The Vilnius District Administrative Court has started hearings in a case where representatives of the LGL asked to overrule the Equal Opportunity Ombudsman Institution's decision against investigating the organization's claim against Imbrasas, the Vilnius municipality administration and the City Council. The Equal Opportunities Law specifies that actions taken by public and municipality or state officials are outside of the ombudsperson's jurisdiction.
"The law doesn't include public statements. The case to be investigated has to be related to work, service, science and education, also decisions of governmental institutions. New points are added once in a while, and our institution thinks that public statements should also be added," Valdas Dambrava, a public relations specialist in the Office of Equal Opportunity Ombudsman, told The Baltic Times.
Despite being criticized for his homophobic position, Navickas is seen as liberal compared with Imbrasas' "ludicrous" approach to the issue, the LBL head said.
"The current mayor has changed the position, he's not that categorical. However, I can see discrimination [in his comments]. Making different conditions for different groups is discrimination. However, he will be challenged next year. We've just had a meeting in Vilnius of the leaders of gay and lesbian organizations in all Baltic States and have decided that Baltic Pride will take place in Vilnius next year. This year it's in Riga," said Simonko.
The amount of sexual orientation discrimination complaints declined in 2008, but not because discrimination level declined, the Ombudsman office representative said.
"The amount of conducted sexual orientation related complaints have declined from 18 in 2007 to 8 to 2008. But the higher amount of reported discrimination cases was caused by many isolated complaints from Amnesty International," Dambrava said.