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LGBT rights in Latvia

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The democratization process in Latvia has allowed lesbians and gays to establish organizations and infrastructural elements such as bars, clubs, stores, libraries, etc. Cultural, educational and other events can be held, and lifestyles can be freely developed. However society has not reached a high level of tolerance.[1]

Laws against homosexualityEdit

Male homosexuality was considered a criminal offence and a mental illness in Latvia during the Soviet period. In 1992, soon after Latvia regained independence from the USSR, homosexuality was decriminalised.[2] The age of consent is 14 for those under 18, 16 for those over 18 regardless of gender and/or sexuality.

Military lawsEdit

Homosexuals are not officially banned from military service.

Laws against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientationEdit

Lesbians and gays are often attacked in the streets or in the meeting places. Lesbians and gays can make no criminal charge against their attackers other than "hooliganism".[3]

In 2002, Māris Sants, an openly gay minister, was defrocked and excommunicated from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia.[4][5] Archbishop Jānis Vanags later declared in a public statement, "Why Māris Sants was fired", that Sants was not removed from office because he was gay, but because he in his sermons publicly promoted, instead of condemning, the "sinful" homosexual "lifestyle". When pastor Juris Cālītis, then also dean of the University of Latvia's Faculty of Theology, not only publicly criticised the improper way in which Sants's case was handled by the Church Synod, but also allowed Sants to co-officiate in a church service, Cālītis, too, was removed from office and expelled from the church by Vanags.[6] This case helped to create a public debate in Latvia regarding the need for legislation to protect LGBT persons from discrimination by employers.

In September 2006, Latvia's parliament, the Saeima, passed amendments to the Labour Code prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in workplace. The Saemia had initially omitted such protection, but President Vaira Vike-Freiberga refused to sign the bill until it was added.[7] At the time, Latvia was the last country in the European Union to introduce anti-discrimination laws dealing with sexual orientation.[citation needed]

Recognition of same-sex relationshipsEdit

Latvia recently made constitutional changes to ban same-sex marriages.[8]

Gay life in LatviaEdit

Only in the capital, Riga, is there a small gay scene. Elsewhere in Latvia, however, the sparse population means there is no gay scene. There are only few people who openly recognize themselfes being gay or lesbian, for example journalist Kārlis Streips, and former deputy rector of the Riga Graduate School of Law Linda Freimane.

Most people in Latvia are have prejudices against homosexuality, usually rooted in social conservatism and lingering preconceptions dating from the Soviet period. An example of this is the belief that homosexuality and pedophilia are linked phenomena.[9][10] Such popularly-held anti-gay sentiments have recently been increasingly exploited by various religious groups[11][12] and politicians.[8]

Over the last three years, there have been violent attacks against individuals in lesbian and gay bars and cafes, police representatives have conducted unauthorized raids against such establishments to check documents and search for weapons, during the course of which establishments are often closed down and patrons are humiliated.[citation needed]

Following public manifestations of homophobia surrounding the Riga Pride event in 2005,[13] some members of the LGBT community, their friends, and family members united to found the organisation Mozaīka[14] in order to promote tolerance towards sexual minorities and LGBT rights in Latvia's society.

In response, an umbrella organisation for co-ordinating anti-LGBT rights activism in Latvia, NoPride, was formed in the run-up to Riga Pride and Friendship Days 2006.

A Eurobarometer survey published on December 2006 showed that 12% of Latvians surveyed support same-sex marriage and 8% recognise same-sex couples' right to adopt (EU-wide average 44% and 32%).[15]

Due to prevailing negative attitudes in society, and particularly the violent actions of a vocal anti-LGBT minority (e.g. National Power Unity), there is a fear that further lobbying for the rights of sexual minorities will provoke an even stronger backlash. In a February 2007 survey of 537 LGBT persons in Latvia, 82% of respondents said they were not in favour of holding the planned Riga Pride and Friendship Days 2007, while only 7% felt that these events would help promote tolerance against sexual minorities.[16] Nevertheless, Pride took place in 2007; in contrast with the counterprotestors who greatly outnumbered Pride attendees in 2005, and the banning of Pride ceremonies in 2006, the 2007 Pride was peaceable and the 500 pridegoers outnumbered around 100 counterprotestors. However, a simultaneous anti-Pride event attracted around 1000 attendees.[17]

ReferencesEdit

  1. Tapinsh, Aleks (2007-06-04). Homophobic Attitudes Remain Entrenched. Transitions Online. Retrieved on 2008-02-20.
  2. ILGA-Europe, country page for Latvia (accessed 13 May 2007).
  3. ILGA-Europe, Euro-Letter 41, May 1996.
  4. GayRussia.ru, "Latvian Priest strongly supports the Riga Gay Pride", interview with M. Sants, 17 July 2006 (accessed 13 May 2007).
  5. Barbara Oertel, "Der lange Marsch zum Coming-out" Template:De icon, interview with M. Sants, Die Tageszeitung, 23 July 2005 (accessed 13 May 2007).
  6. Juris Lavrikovs, "Leading Latvian pastor excommunicated from the church for supporting gays", ILGA-Europe website, 17 November 2005 (accessed 13 May 2007).
  7. The text of these amendments is available online from the official website of the Saeima and the portal POLITIKA.LV.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Laura Sheeter, "Latvia defies EU over gay rights", BBC News website, 16 June 2006.
  9. nopride.lv, "The Homosexual Movement And Pedophilia" (accessed 13 May 2007).
  10. Gunta Briede, fragments of an interview with psychologist and LGBT rights activist Jolanta Cihanoviča Template:Lv icon, DELFI.lv, 2 September 2005 (accessed 13 May 2007).
  11. High Profile Meeting. New Generation Church (2007-03-10). Retrieved on 2008-03-18.
  12. Tony Grew, Cardinal: homosexuality a form of prostitution, Pink News, 9 May 2007 (accessed 6 June 2007)
  13. "Protests disrupt Latvia gay march", bbc.co.uk, 23 July 2005.
  14. Mozaīka English-language homepage
  15. European Commission, Eurobarometer 66: First Results, December 2006.
  16. ILGA-Latvia Survey Working Group, poll conducted 1-28 February 2007. From ILGA-Latvia website Template:Lv icon (accessed 13 May 2007).
  17. 365gay.com

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