“We Can Be Gay Today” celebrates the first-ever pride marches in Lithuania

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Lithuania is widely regarded as one of the most homophobic countries in all of Europe, with its capital city of Vilnius thought to be one of the worst European cities in that regard as well. So when the Lithuanian Gay League (LGL) organized Baltic Pride there in July 2013, supporters looked on with a mix of excitement and apprehension. We Can Be Gay Today – Baltic Pride 2013 details the work in the lead up to and during the event, as well as the key figures involved.

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Baltic Pride takes place in one of the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) on a rotating basis and in 2010 Lithuanians had their first crack at it. The march was in many ways a let down, as participants found themselves confined to an insignificant street and fenced in. There were certainly plenty of slurs thrown and demeaning signage used as well. Despite this, in 2013 there was an optimistic outlook about Pride.

That’s because that same year Lithuania was chairing the European Union and the last thing politicians wanted was for the country to look like some backwards nation. What’s more, Baltic Pride had attracted attention from international supporters and NGO’s, including the U.S. Embassy and Amnesty International. It’s the kind of support that cements the fact that you deserve more and that you should be pushing for more. And push they did.

This time around, the march would take place on Gediminas Avenue in the city’s center, despite the mayor’s protests. He wanted the march to happen in a more remote part of the city, near a riverbank. Fortunately two courts (yes, it got to that point) ruled he couldn’t get his way. But it was only on Tuesday that the LGL got word that they could go on with their Saturday march as planned. As you can imagine, there was a lot of last minute scrambling.

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In spite of the mayor’s efforts, the award for Biggest Dirtbag goes to Petras Gražulis, a member of the Lithuanian parliament. He believes the LGBT movement in Lithuania is a “spiritual genocide” and wears a black ribbon in protest. Put a mic before him and he’ll go on and on about perversions and the sort. Sadly, he does have supporters. But Lithuania’s LGBT community has its own champion in parliament, and one they can boast is actually intelligent–Marija Aušrinė Pavilionienė. Honestly, listening to her speak is reason enough to watch the film.

Another two names you’ll want to look out for, however brief their appearances, are American poet Eileen Myles and Betty (the movie calls them an LGBT activist band, which I guess fits, however odd that sounds). Betty’s song “Rise” also happens to open and close the movie.

Baltic Pride was largely a success, again thanks largely to international support and the work of the LGL’s chairman, staff, and volunteers. This was the feel-good moment of the movie. The pièce de résistance. however, is no doubt watching police lift and take away Petras during the Pride festivities. That’s what happens when you’re not being particularly festive. We have to credit the police though, as even the LGL says people felt safe and that there were only minor incidents. It has to be said that the LGBT community all over the world often doesn’t feel like police bother to protect them, so when they do step up, it’s a nice change.

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Lithuania still has a long way to go, but it would appear that it is on the right path, and that it has some solid LGBT activists to its name that deserve more credit. What’s more, We Can Be Gay Today shows that international partnerships are a worthy effort that can yield results.

I personally would’ve appreciated more historical context and statistics (as despite the subject matter we don’t get a full picture of what life is really like for LGBT people in the country), but perhaps the point was to focus on the positive as much as possible. You certainly won’t leave this one-hour film feeling somber. No, you’ll probably get the sense that yeah, it’s a tough and unfair world out there, but when we work at it, it does get better.

You can purchase the film on VHX here or, if you prefer a DVD copy, here.