RIGA - Peter, a devout Chinese christian living in Riga, was made aware of the forthcoming EuroPride in Riga on June 15-21 through the Lutheran church he had attended, where interspersed throughout the sermon, comments were made, which echoed the stance on homosexuality of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia. For the church, the EuroPride event is not an issue of human rights but one of ‘’sin and damnation’’, said Rita Bruver, Head of International Relations Department at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia.
In the Bible, homosexual acts are mentioned in seven various passages: 2 refer to rape (Genesis 19:5, Judges 19:22), 3 refer to intercourse between men (Leviticus 18:21-22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:27),1 refers to intercourse between women (Romans 1:26),1 refers to prostitution and pederasty (1 Corinthians 6:9-10), 1 is general in nature (1 Timothy 1:8-10).
If one delves deep into the Bible, one sees that Jesus, in fact never brought up homosexuality, though Jesus, religious leaders may state did condemn all forms of sexual immorality.
The Baltic Times spoke to The Rt Rev’d Jana Jeruma-Grinberga one of Latvia’s few female Chaplains and who currently serves as Chaplain at the St. Savior Anglican Church in Riga, whether the Bible speaks of sexual matters in euphemistic and vague terms, and if there is a lack of understanding of how Biblical-era people used and understood those terms.
Jeruma-Grinberga believes that the question of biblical views on homosexuality is a very complex one, not an issue which can be dealt with in a few words. ‘’However, it is clear that Christians on all sides of the debate are passionate about it, and the main discourse within many churches, including the Church of England, is how to talk about this in a caring and faithful way, even when those opposing each other hold incompatible views,’’ said Jeruma-Grinberga.
In Jeruma-Grinberga’s opinion, she also doesn’t think it’s right to say that the Bible speaks in euphemistic and vague terms, or not necessarily so. ‘’However, it is true that often the expressions that are used (in a collection of books that were written over hundreds of years, after all) are ones that are difficult to interpret in 21st century terms. So, for instance, what does “A man shall not take his father’s wife, nor discover his father’s skirt” (Deuteronomy 22.30) actually mean? Or the word ‘porneia’, which occurs 25 times in the New Testament, and can mean fornication, unchastity, immortality or idolatry - how do we understand preicsely what was meant by this 2000 years ago?’’ said Jeruma-Grinberga.
A Rainbow Celebration Sunday service, organised by a pastor of the Protestant Church of the Netherlands, will take place at St Saviour’s on 21 June.
Organisers of this year’s event are not expecting a repeat of the events which took place outside the church in 2006, where members of the New Generation congregation, founded by pastor Alexey Ledyaev, as well as other groups, including the ultra-right National Force Union, all confirmed in the report released by the Latvian Interior Ministry after the numerous violent events had been investigated, proceeded to throw human excrement at leaving parishioners.
At the time, Juris Calitis,, the Anglican minister of St Savior’s who oversaw the service, told The Baltic Times: “I don’t know where the shit-throwing comes from. I don’t know where that fits into their theology. Russians were also robbed of having a church tradition for a much longer time. They may be more naive about religion” said Calitis,.
Security will be an important issue for all during the entire EuroPride event. For the Rainbow service, security will be provided by EuroPride, though human excrement is not expected to be thrown at parishioners this time.
“Security was one of the prime considerations when St Saviour’s Council discussed whether we should permit the service to take place on our premises” said Jeruma-Grinberga
Jana Jeruma-Grinberga, who took over from Juris Calitis upon his retirement from the St Savior Anglican Church, stressed that the decision to host the service centred around her mission. “St. Saviour’s creates a space and time for everyone – without discrimination on any level, on grounds of economic power, gender, mental health, physical ability, race or sexuality, belonging to all denominations and none, confident believers and those full of doubt - to practise Christianity in true friendship, charity, prayer and service to others so that we may seek inner peace, find reassurance and lead our lives ever closer to God” said Jeruma-Grinberga.
So what has changed in 9 years in Latvia since the 2006 gay pride day event for the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender), the Q applies to those, in particular youths, questioning their sexuality, which saw open hostility, violence, tense confrontation between irate crowds shouting things like “No to sodomy!”, directed at them.
The American-Latvian intellectual, journalist and prominent Latvian television presenter Karlis Streips, one of the highest profile gay men in Latvia, along with Latvia’s Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, believes that what has changed “is that in 2006, the interior minister, Dzintars Jaundzeikars, was a radical homophobe, and so the police did nothing to protect the marchers. Ever since then we have had interior ministers who actually have brains, and the police have kept the protesters and the marchers far apart.”
“As far as I know,” Streips Continued. “This year the neo-Nazis are gearing up again, but I’m sure the police will know how to deal with them.’’
Are prejudices, fears and misconceptions about homosexuality still deeply rooted in Latvian culture? “On the face of it, tolerance has increased in Latvia, but some sections of society seem to have become more polarised. In particular, churches in Latvia are very conservative in their views, while at the same time there are more people who are openly gay, and who live and work without others continually remarking on their sexuality,” said Jeruma-Grinberga
One has only to look at the statistics to reflect on the deep mistrust of the country’s conservative religious heritage, a heritage which encompasses both Western and Orthodox variants of Christianity, as well as its historic past of being a satellite of neighbouring Russia.
Latvian market researchers SKDS, have reported that one in four locals have a position and view that is critical of homosexuality, and a mere one in 25 backed the decision for Riga to host EuroPride, according to a compiled survey.
EuroPride organisers have faced esistance from the “Anti-Globalists” group, which endeavoured to block EuroPride from taking place, the Association “No Pride” CEO, Riga City Council member Janis Smits, who tried to turn to courts demanding “Europride” be banned in Riga, as it does not represent the entire community’s opinion. Even Latvian President Berzins warned of the
However, the position of prominent religious denominations of traditional churches in Latvia remains opposed to EuroPride - namely churches that view any form of homosexuality, and gay events such as EuroPride, as an issue revolving around sin, salvation and damnation, and see such behaviour as being a negative influence on the traditional view of marriage, and to the family.
Commenting on the general public’s stance EuroPride, LGBT association “Mozaika” (which was awarded the rights to stage EuroPride) board member Kristine Garina has stated that the attitude toward EuroPride has being more tolerant than six years ago. “Of course, public opinion change is a very long process, but it is obvious that people are now much more open and forthcoming’’ said Garina.
Kaspars Zalitis, co-chair of EuroPride 2015, has stated that Riga’s welcome may be less warm than that offered by some previous EuroPride host cities.
Riga’s EuroPride plans to emphasize EU affairs, human rights, health, support for LGBT activists, culture and sports, and entertainment. With the main pride march talking part on the 20 June commencing at 1 pm at Virmanes Park. According to the EuroPride website the EuroPride Pride Parade. represents the central and most visible event during the EuroPride 2015, which will symbolise the visibility of LGBTQ people and their rights to freedom of assembly. The Pride Parade also intends to draw attention to problems of LGBTQ people not only in Latvia and in the Baltic’s but also in Eastern Europe and beyond – in post-Soviet countries and other places in the world where LGBT rights are at critical risk.
One of the main themes of the EuroPride 2015 Riga march according to the event organiser is solidarity. This is a historic occasion when EuroPride takes place in a post-Soviet space for the first time therefore a special spotlight will be given to LGBTQ organisations and activists from post-Soviet countries.
In a recent panel discussion at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the Harvey Milk Foundation, the Human Rights Campaign, and Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, and moderated by Stuart Milk, the gay nephew of gay assassinated San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk and president of the Harvey Milk Foundation, challenges and changes that needed to be made as well as progress of the LGBT community globally were discussed by a group of highly prominent gay men.
“It’s very important to have out and open and visible service ... We have to have LGBT people visible, even in difficult places,” said Milk.
The EuroPride organisers of the Riga event, intend to make LGBTQ people visible and ‘’draw global attention to this region, and stand in solidarity with those struggling to fight oppression of LGBT rights just across the [Russian] border’’.
EuroPride will also host the two day international on the 17 and 18 June ‘’The LGBTQ movements in Central and Eastern Europe – successes, challenges, perspective’’
The conference endeavours to reflect on changed significant progress made during the last 25 years for LGBTQ individuals across Central and Eastern Europe.
‘’Many of the changes were the result of wider social and political processes that took place in this part of Europe, connected with the transformation of the political system and European integration. Much has been achieved thanks to the hard and brave work of social and political activists, NGOs, scholars, journalists and writers who pushed the LGBTQ agenda forward and forward, despite strong opposition and setbacks. That being said it seems that much has yet to be done. Only a selected few countries of Central and Eastern Europe adopted laws on gay civil partnerships. The dynamics of implementing antidiscrimination standards seems to have fallen significantly. In the public discourse, education and cultural life there is a strong conservative offensive, that sometimes takes form for legal initiatives to block or even set back the LGBTQ agenda’’ said Kaspars Zalitis.
‘’All these issues should constantly be topics of discussion on reflection for the LGBTQ movement and its allies. And it seems that there is no better time to have these kinds of discussions during the EuroPride, which in 2015 takes place in Riga. The conference will center around three mayor issues: (1) the LGBTQ question in education; (2) anti-gay laws and legal initiatives; (3) sexual minorities rights and the EU. The list of conference speakers will include NGO activists, campaign leaders and scholars from all over the region, so as to confront many different experiences and ideas. The aim of the conference is not only to discuss relevant issues and exchange experiences, both also to strengthen cooperation between organizations and their experts in the region’’ said Kaspars Zalitis
This international EuroPride conference is being supported by the transnational alternative policy group and educational institution, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, which is centred in Germany and affiliated to the democratic socialist Left Party.
The colours of rainbow flag or the more commonly referred gay pride flag of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet, and representing tolerance, will fly high over the Pride House, which will be located in the Kanepes Kulturas centrs on Skolas iela 15, in Riga during EuroPride .
‘’The Association of LGBT, their friends MOZAIKA, and EuroPride 2015 team, are very grateful to Kanepes Kulturas centrs for their support. We are happy that such a popular, cultural place in Riga is ready to stand up for the rights of the LGBTQ community! We are delighted that the Pride house has found home in such a great place!’’ said Kaspars Zalitis.