Kaunas Pride organizers: we do not want to hide, live in fear or conform to standards imposed on us

At the end of next week, 2nd to 5th of September Kaunas Pride, an independent grassroots-organised pride event will take place in Kaunas, Lithuania. The event is run by a group of volunteers and is not supported or funded by any official organization or company. In addition to the march, Kaunas Pride week will also feature queer festival Kreivės with a discussion evening on the history of LGBT+ in the Baltics, a DIY zine workshop, screenings and discussions of films on burning topics, parties and performances.

Part of Feministeerium will also travel to Kaunas in connection with the initiative of activists and artists “Black Rose. Black Carnation”, whose members will perform at Kaunas.

Feministeerium asked the organizers of Kaunas Pride how, despite the city’s opposition and tense political environment in Lithuania, are they feeling about the coming event, what they are seeking with it and what their organizational principles are based on.

As I understand, pride events in Lithuania have taken place so far in Vilnius. Why did you decide to organise Kaunas pride? And why is the format of pride important to you?

It makes sense here to start by addressing the second question. Historically speaking, Pride began as a protest, a demand by the LGBTQ+ community to be recognised and an objection to the injustices we are subjected to. However, such a history of Pride does not really exist in Lithuania, where Baltic Pride takes place only every three years in Vilnius and presents itself more as a festival or a parade.

We wanted to create an alternative to this brand of commercialised Pride that would be organised by members of the local LGBTQ+ community independently from any formal organisations or political parties. This way we could speak our minds, draw attention to our struggles and present our demands without the need for any intermediaries and any obligations to capital-motivated sponsors.

In short, it was important for us to have a more radical Pride with actual demands – a return to form, if you will. To this end, last year on July 11th we organised an independent Vilnius Pride, which was attended by several hundreds of people.

As for why we decided to organise Kaunas Pride, it was something that we had hoped would happen for quite some time. After all, many LGBTQ+ people live outside of Vilnius, and every time they want to participate in Pride and represent themselves, they have to leave their hometowns and go to the capital. Vilnius Pride showed us that Pride could be organised independently every year, and with a lot of initiative from LGBTQ+ community members from Kaunas, the city quite naturally became the location for our next Pride

I’ve seen online the struggles of organising the event. You had to go to court against the city of Kaunas for having the march. Why, and how did it go? Why do you think the march part is so irritating that the city government wants to ban it? 

We submitted three different requests detailing the possible routes of the Kaunas Pride march to the Kaunas municipality. We adjusted these routes based on comments we received from the municipality, yet all three were denied. We submitted an appeal to the Lithuanian administrative dispute commission, and it was ruled that the municipality was infringing on our right to assemble. The court ordered the Kaunas municipality to agree on a route for the march by September. We have yet to hear from them on the matter.

Kaunas Pride march is on September 4th 2021. Illustration: Kaunas Pride

We can only speculate what aspects of Kaunas Pride are so irritating to Kaunas authorities. However, this is not the first Pride event to receive pushback in Lithuania, and not the first LGBTQ+ event to receive pushback in Kaunas.

Another important thing to mention is that Kaunas pride is happening during a very tense political climate. During the pandemic, a lot of “moral” questions became important to society. Because of a very anxious and insecure period, after another failure to ratify the Istanbul convention and parliamentary decision not to vote on partnership law, a new political movement called “Family march” (now they call themselves “Family uprising”, became very vocal. Recently, they mobilized themselves near the border with Belarus to protest against refugees coming through the border. Also, they are active in the anti-vaccination movement and are protesting against governments decisions to restrict access to public (also private) services for people without a “Possibility passport”. On August 10th this movement unfolded into riots in front of the parliament. These movements generated a lot of anger in society, so for Kaunas pride, it is unimagined circumstances to vocalize our demands. We are very concerned about security issues but we also believe that mobilization around Kaunas pride can also become an opposition to the far-right movement which is fueling peoples uncertainties.

What is the background of your slogan “We are everywhere”?. What are you asking or demanding with this event?

In part, it definitely has to do with the fact that Kaunas Pride is the first Lithuanian Pride event that is not held in Vilnius. LGBTQ+ people have existed and continue to exist all across Lithuania, and their various perspectives must be acknowledged. The slogan We Are Everywhere is a declaration of this, an affirmation of our diverse lives, our desire to not live them in hiding, to not live in fear or in a constant state of trying to appeal to the standards imposed onto us.

We demand the equality of marriage, civil partnership and adoption that is neutral to gender identity. We demand access to healthcare for LGBTQ+ individuals, especially with regards to gender-affirming care for trans people. We demand an accessible administrative procedure for legal gender recognition. We demand sexual education that is rooted in science and does not erase or pathologize us. Broadly speaking, we demand what we need to live our lives in safety and dignity.

The Kaunas group seems so vital and energetic looking from Estonia. Who are the organisers and what is your aim with this organising? People seem to be willing to contribute to Sapfofest, festival Kombinatas and now Kaunas Pride. How do you work and what is your leading force?

Kaunas Pride slogan is “We are everywhere”. Illustration: Kaunas Pride

Kaunas Pride is organised by an informal group of members of the local LGBTQ+ community. We follow nonhierarchical principles for our organising tactics and reject any affiliation with political parties or non-government organisations. At any time, there are approximately thirty people in the organisational group; we’re not a formal organisation that keeps track of its member count, so we can only estimate. People can join and leave various efforts at will, as everything is done voluntarily.

By organising ourselves in this manner, we aim to create spaces where members of the LGBTQ+ community can represent themselves without having to appeal to any sort of higher-ups. Perhaps that is why people are willing to contribute – these sorts of grassroots alternatives are resonant and appealing.

We are motivated by our desire for safety and dignity for all, regardless of their identities. We want to talk about our experiences and demand the necessary legal and social protections; we are not content with simply participating in the spectacle of Baltic Pride while the status of LGBTQ+ people remains stagnant and alarming.

Do you welcome guests or is the aim mostly to support and work with local people?

So far our organisational group has been composed of mostly people from local LGBTQ+ communities. Many of us have known each other and organised around other initiatives for quite some time, so this was the most simple way for us to begin organising Kaunas Pride. That said, we welcome anyone who wants to get involved, as long as they share our goals of LGBTQ+ liberation, solidarity and nonhierarchical means of organising ourselves.