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Same sex doesn't equal same rights

  • 2009-03-25
  • By Kate McIntosh
RIGA - Prejudice towards homosexuality remains so entrenched in Latvian society there is even a euphemism to describe same sex partnerships.

According to Mozaika board member Evita Gosa, "we rent an apartment together" is the innocuous expression typically used by same sex couples to dodge delicate questions about the nature of their relationship,
In Latvia many same sex couples live double lives, hiding their sexuality for fear of losing their job or being ostracized by friends and family.

Gosa said the situation was a sad indication of the country's ongoing intolerance toward homosexuality.
A human rights report by the U.S. Department of State released earlier this month recognized some improvements in the continued problems suffered by the gay communities of Latvia and Poland.
However, Gosa said Latvia still had a long way to go when it came to recognizing fundamental rights of gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

"This spreading of prejudice and hate creates a type of situation where actually there are very few openly gay people in Latvia. They hide this fact from colleagues, from parents and their friends. I find it a very sad and very ridiculous situation," she said.
Gosa said the gay advocacy group planned to step up a campaign for the development of legislation recognizing the rights of defacto couples, including unions between LGBT people.

SYSTEMIC PROBLEMS

According to the director of the Latvian Center for Human Rights, Ilze Brands Kehris, current laws are also inadequate in addressing violence and discrimination motivated by sexual orientation.
"Considering the level of intolerance that has developed on the Latvian scene and the general aggressive attitude, even in political circles, we would like to see the development of clearer legislation for the protection of LGBT people in Latvia," she said.

She said hate crimes remain underreported due largely to fear and mistrust of police authorities.
Lax legislation and political malaise on the issue was continuing to foster discriminatory attitudes and practices toward LGBT people in Latvia, said Kehris. There also remained systemic institutional problems in effectively prosecuting hate crimes or the incitement of hate through speech.
Although there is no official data available on the prevalence of hate crimes in Latvia, Kehris said there was anecdotal evidence to suggest that it was occurring.

"The few actual recorded incidences of violence is very low because there is also an issue of police trust. We have actually developed good cooperation on this with police, but there remain many problems in terms of legislation and and in identifying and investigating these crimes," said Kehris.
Gosa believes current attitudes are a remnant of Eastern Europe's socialist and Soviet past and stem from a fundamental lack of understanding about the principles of democracy.
"During Soviet times, everything to do with sexuality was taboo and this was a very good climate to disseminate these sorts of misconceptions," said Gosa.

Lithuania's new conservative mayor of Vilnius Vilius Navickas recently banned a Gay Pride in the center of town.
Gay rights groups in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania are currently collaborating for the first time to organize a joint Baltic Pride event, to be held this May in Riga.
Activists from Mozaika, which has been organizing a march in Riga since 2006, have also been the target of harassment and threats.

"The more visible you are, the more dangerous it is," said Gosa.