Following threats of violence from ultra-right political and religious groups, Latvia’s second Gay Pride March, scheduled for this coming Saturday, July 22, was banned this week by the City Council in Riga, the nation’s capital, in a vote taken as an anti-gay demonstration of some 100 people gathered outside chanting homophobic slogans.
The ban on this year’s Pride demonstration comes on the heels of rising political homophobia in the country, including the Latvian Parliament’s decision last month to defy a European Union directive by removing sexual orientation protections from an Anti-Discrimination Law it passed. In June, members of Latvia’s ruling Christian Democratic Party, which leads a minority coalition government, had demanded the deletion of the sexual orientation clause, calling homosexuality “sinful” and “degenerate”. Latvia is the only EU member state without legislation specifically outlawing discrimination at work and in housing on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Latvia has been awash in anti-gay hate-mongering of late, including threats of violence against the planned Pride March. An ultra-right nationalist organization, National Power Unity, declared recently on its Web site that its members and supporters “are prepared to use not just nonviolent forms of protest to protect our children and fellow human beings from the amoral forced sexualization of society.”
On July 7, the popular folk singer Kaspars Dimiters, who was one of the main anti-Pride activists last year and who led efforts to use civil disobedience to disrupt that march, published an advertisement in several Latvian newspapers with the headline “Don’t sleep at home—lie down in the streets!”
“We don’t have to tolerate the deceit, lies, psychological violence and aggression with which the sodomites want to achieve their goals,” said Dimiters in the ad. “Pride is a provocation of intolerance” and permitting it to take place would “psychologically facilitate local terrorism in the future,” the singer’s ad proclaimed.
A united front of extreme-right organizations, including Against the Current, Klubs 415, and NoPride, supported Dimiters’ efforts and collected over 17,000 signatures on a petition demanding suppression of the Pride March.
Even more disquieting, a member of the ruling coalition government—Latvia’s hard-right, nationalist First Party—had been leading the charge to ban the Pride March. Last week, Dzintars Jaundbeikars, the interior minister from the First Party who was the lead campaigner against the Pride March last year, declared that his Interior Ministry would not be able to provide adequate security during this year’s Pride March, calling it the “largest security risk” since Latvia gained independence.
The Riga City Council justified its decision to ban the Pride March by invoking threats of violence received from extremist groups and the police’s inability to guarantee security and order during the event. But, according to city officials, the information about these threats is classified as a state secret, and will not be made public for five years.
Last Friday saw the conclusion of an international evangelical Christian conference in Riga that fanned the flames of anti-gay hate. Called “Let Your Kingdom Come,” the conference was attended by homo-hating pastors and missionaries from the United States—more evidence of increasing attempts by the U.S. Christian right to globalize Christian fundamentalist homophobia. American speakers at the conference focused on the struggle against the “oppressive power” of the gay rights movement. Scott Lively, president of the California-based Abiding Truth Ministries, said, “A war has begun between Christians and homosexuals.” Lively is co-author of the anti-gay book “The Pink Swastika.” The mission of Abiding Truth Ministries and its affiliated Pro-Family Law Center is to “oppose the ‘gay’ movement and its destructive agenda by providing essential pro-family information and resources,” according to Lively, who also leads the American Family Association of California. In 2004, Lively’s Pro-Family Law Center brought suit to have San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome removed from office for performing “illegal” gay marriages.
The fundamentalists’ international conclave in Riga was organized by the New Generation megachurch, whose pastor, Aleksey Ledaev, has been a leading voice in Latvia’s anti-gay backlash. During the conference Ledaev, who has previously declared “war” against gay rights in Latvia, described homosexuality as “parasitical” and the “death of civilization.”
“Homosexually oriented people want children, but they plan to take them away from normal families,” said Ledaev. Christian right TV programs spewing such homophobia are popular in Latvia.
The permit for the banned Pride March had been requested by Mozaïka (translation: Mosaic), the Latvian LGBT association, and by the gay rights organizations International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) Latvija and Rïgas Praids (Riga Pride).
“We are shocked by the City Council’s decision [to ban the march], which we view as not only an unacceptable restriction of the freedom of assembly, but a major blow to democracy in the face of terrorist threats,” said Mozaïka board member Linda Freimane.
In a press release, Mozaïka said the City Council’s decision set a precedent that was “extremely dangerous, because it demonstrates that the use or threat of force against a particular group is effective in winning the support of state organs in restricting the rights of this group. No resident of Latvia will be able to feel confident that at some point similarly undemocratic methods will not be used against him or her.”
The gay group said it expected at least 20 foreign officials to arrive in Riga this week to participate in the march, including members of the Swedish, Danish, Austrian, and European Parliaments. Mozaïka also said it would challenge the ban in court.
Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at http://dir