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Slovakia lawmakers reject same-sex couples rights bill

Vote took place after fatal shooting at Bratislava LGBTQ bar

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Slovakian Parliament (Photo courtesy of the Slovakian government)

A proposal that would have codified the ability of same-sex couples in Slovakia to register their partnership; which would have granted inheritance rights, decisions regarding medical care, treatments and compensation in the event of death or injury at work, was rejected by the country’s Parliament this past week.

The legislation did not give equal protections and rights, such as marriage or civil unions, and needed 76 votes to be passed. The bill saw 50 MPs vote in favor, 37 politicians vote against, 15 submitted a blank vote, and 31 did not vote at all.

President Zuzana Čaputová was critical of the outcome, telling various media outlets the legislation was necessary to protect the “safety and acceptance of [our] fellow citizens.”

“We need to act,” she tweeted. “Our society is not threatened by the love of two people of the same sex or their partnership.”

The vote on the legislation occurred a few days after a vigil was held in the Slovakian capital city to honor the two victims killed and a third who was badly wounded in a shooting outside of the Tepláreň bar, a popular LGBTQ establishment in the old city, which was also attended by the nation’s president and the European Parliament’s vice president.

Čaputová noted regarding the vote, “Our society is paying for indifference and insensitivity when even such a tragedy does not move a sufficient number of deputies to take the necessary and correct step.”

Opposition to granting rights to same-sex couples as well as opposition to LGBTQ equity in rights in the country is led by the far-right political groups including the Kresťanská únia (Christian Union). 

Richard Vašečka, an MP who is a member of the Christian Union, told the Standard his party promised before the last elections to protect marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

He added he is afraid that this law is only the start of an “avalanche” that ends with allowing the adoption of children by same-sex couples and punishing people for disagreeing with the LGBTQ agenda.

Vašečka stressed that he respects every person but is convinced that “every child deserves a father and a mother, and it is the best family space for raising children.”

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Gay Lithuania filmmaker uses work to advance LGBTQ, intersex rights

Romas Zabarauskas came out in 2011 at Vilnius Film Festival

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Romas Zabarauskas (Photo by Arcana Femina)

A gay filmmaker from Lithuania who describes himself as the “Baltic enfant terrible” uses his work to promote LGBTQ and intersex rights.

Romas Zabarauskas, 32, grew up in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital.

He told the Washington Blade during an interview in D.C. in August that he initially wanted to be an actor, but soon realized he wanted to direct films. 

Zabarauskas said the classic films — including John Waters’ “Pink Flamingos” and Douglas Sirk’s “All that Heaven Allows” —he watched in a local library exposed him to “the diversity of the world.” He also said Todd Haynes, Derek Jarman, Gregg Araki and other LGBTQ and intersex filmmakers “inspired” him.

“I enjoyed the diversity of the world,” he said. “It wasn’t just in terms of sexuality and gender identity, but also in terms of diversity of styles and ways of expression. It was amazing because it made me feel accepted.”

“It all sounds kind of trivial, but it’s true,” added Zabarauskas. “Cinema captures stories from all across the world in such different ways. That’s kind of amazing. I was definitely inspired by that.”

Zabarauskas studied at Paris 8 Vincennes Saint-Denis University from 2009-2011 and at City College of New York: Hunter College from 2011-2012.

Romas Zabarauskas (Photo by Arcana Femina)

Zabarauskas’ first film, “Porno Melodrama,” which details a gay man’s decision to make a pornographic movie with his ex-girlfriend in order to make enough money for him and his boyfriend to leave Lithuania, premiered at Berlin Film Festival in 2011.

“There are many other films that have this kind of paranoia about gay villains, queer villains. I almost wanted to do something opposite,” Zabarauskas told the Blade while discussing the film. “It’s as though heterosexuality becomes this villain through the character of this villain, this ex-girlfriend. I wanted to play with that, allow myself that freedom to go very far. The title really hints more so, not to the erotic aspect of the film, because it’s not as explicit reality, but it’s more about the style of the film because it’s so out there.”

“Porno Melodrama” (Poster courtesy of Romas Zabarauskas)

Zabarauskas came out as gay during “Porno Melodrama”‘s premiere at the Vilnius Film Festival.

“Very few people were out (in Lithuania) then in 2011,” he noted. “I got a lot of media attention … I talked about what it means to be gay on TV, print and all kinds of media.”

“It was a double-edged sword,” added Zabarauskas. “I was happy to contribute with my openness and I continue to do so today. On the other hand, I got so much pressure … the direct homophobia is understandable and easy to dissect. You know what it is, but then there was a lot of gray zone. I feel like I was trapped. I went under this huge scrutiny.”

The Berlin Film Festival then screened “Porno Melodrama.” 

“I traveled the world, but then because I got so much media attention in Lithuania I was scrutinized by the critics and by film lovers and a lot of people (said) that I’m more of an activist,” said Zabarauskas. “I’m more of a public speaker than a filmmaker. The way I see it: Artists should be engaged or can be engaged, and it doesn’t contradict the art.”

The Lithuanian Film Center funded Zabarauskas’ third feature film, “The Lawyer,” which debuted in 2020.

“The Lawyer” highlights Marius, a gay corporate lawyer who forms what Zabarauskas describes as “an unexpected, human relationship” with Ali, Syrian refugee who is unable to leave Belgrade, Serbia, after his estranged father dies. Zabarauskas noted to the Blade that “The Lawyer” is the first Lithuanian film that portrays a male same-sex relationships and is one of the few made in Eastern Europe that shows LGBTQ and intersex refugees.

“I’m always interested in delving into very complicated political situations, but rather than to educate or send a direct message, I’m looking to find nuance and I’m looking to find interesting human drama,” he said. “I also don’t shy away from the kind of dialogue that they [Marius and Ali] have, in which they criticize [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad. It’s so important not to forget that that was still ongoing and actually its fueled by Russia and by Putin.”

Lithuanian television showed “The Lawyer” for the first time on Nov. 11.

Lithuanian Shorts, in 2021 screened “Porno Melodrama,” which coincided with the film’s revival. Zabarauskas’ films have also been screened at the Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival and at New York City Pride’s human rights conference.

“The Lawyer” (Flyer courtesy of Romas Zabarauskas)

Zabarauskas spoke with the Blade nearly six months after Russia began its war against Ukraine.

Lithuania borders the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and Belarus, whose president, Alexander Lukashenko, is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Lithuania declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, a year before it dissolved.

Zabarauskas noted then-Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė in 2014 labeled Russia a “terrorist state” after it annexed Crimea. Lithuanian MPs in May unanimously approved a resolution that described Russia’s war against Ukraine as an “act of genocide.”

“It’s the first time that I can be so proud of my country,” Zabarauskas told the Blade, referring to Lithuania’s posture towards Russia. “I’m actually very proud that Lithuania is right in terms of its foreign policy towards Russia and has been for a while.”

Zabarauskas acknowledged there is “fear” among Lithuanians about whether Russia will target their country, but he said, “that primal fear isn’t there anymore.” Zabarauskas also noted Lithuanians have welcomed Ukrainians into their homes.

“That’s been inspiring,” he said.

Gay U.S. ambassador ‘setting a personal example’

Lithuania bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and has lifted restrictions for male blood donors who have sex with men. Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for LGBTQ and intersex rights, is among the more than 15,000 people who attended Baltic Pride 2022 in Vilnius in June. 

Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius, the country’s second openly gay MP, is running to become Vilnius’ next mayor in 2023. Lithuanian Ambassador to the U.S. Audra Plepytė met with Zabarauskas when he was in D.C. 

“Us artists, we have this opportunity to build bridges, to make pressure,” said Zabarauskas. “We sometimes have more freedom than politicians in what we can say and what we can do. I always try to use that in meeting diplomats and politicians and reminding them that the Lithuania LGBT+ is a part of Lithuanian society and we should celebrate our rights and our lives and that’s important.”

Baltic Pride 2022 took place in Vilnius, Lithuania, on June 4, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius)

The Harvey Milk Foundation in 2021 honored Zabarauskas for his work. Zabarauskas noted this recognition to the Blade and applauded openly gay U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania Bob Gilchrist’s “personal leadership” on LGBTQ and intersex rights.

“I appreciate his leadership and I appreciate that he’s setting a personal example,” said Zabarauskas. “He’s making some impactful speeches at different events.”

Lithuania is one of only six European Union member states that do not legally recognize same-sex couples.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky in August announced his support for a civil partnership law for same-sex couples. Zabarauskas told the Blade he hopes Lithuanian lawmakers will follow the Ukrainian president’s lead and back an identical measure that has been introduced in Parliament.

“It’s so huge and a lot of people are inspired by those words, including in Lithuania,” said Zabarauskas. “I think it will be impactful in terms of our chances to get the civil unions law passed because it’s going to be very difficult to twist those words.”

Zabarauskas also said he and his fiancé want to get married in Lithuania.

“We got engaged earlier this year and we don’t want to get married abroad because it wouldn’t change anything in Lithuania,” he said.

Romas Zabarauskas (Photo by Arcana Femina)
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Poland’s highest court rules same-sex marriages are not banned

Ruling issued on Nov. 3

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Warsaw Pride 2022 (Screenshot from video by Krystian Dobuszyński)

The Supreme Administrative Court of the Republic of Poland (Naczelny Sąd Administracyjny, NSA) issued a ruling on Nov. 3 that same-sex marriages of Polish citizens legally married in other countries were not expressly forbidden under the country’s constitution.

Article 18 of the constitution states: “marriage as a union of a man and a woman, family, motherhood and parenthood are under the protection and care of the republic of Poland.”

“Article 18 of the constitution cannot in itself constitute an obstacle to transcribing a foreign marriage certificate if the institution of marriage as a union of persons of the same sex was provided for in the domestic [legal] order,” the court ruled.

“The provision of the constitution in question does not prohibit the statutory regulation of same-sex unions,” said the court, adding that it was simply the case that “at present the Polish legislature has not decided to introduce such solutions” into Polish law.

The suit had been brought by Jakub Kwieciński and Dawid Mycek, a gay couple who are popular vloggers and social media celebrities who had legally married in Portugal. The case was litigated in the lower courts after the governor of the Polish province of Mazovia refused to acknowledge that their nuptials were legal.

Ordo Iuris, a Polish ultraconservative legal group that has campaigned against what it labels “LGBT ideology,” tweeted that the decision was “fake news.”

LGBTQ rights have become a hotly contested issue in Poland in recent years that has been met by a conservative backlash in this heavily Catholic nation.

The majority of Polish people support LGBTQ rights surrounding marriage and family, according to research by Miłość Nie Wyklucza (Love Does Not Exclude.) 

The survey found 56 percent of respondents believe same-sex marriage should be legal to ensure the safety of their children. Even more, 65 percent, said they felt “a biological parent raising a child with a same-sex partner” fits the definition of family. And 58 percent of people said a same-sex couple is a family even without children. 

According to Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland is one of only six EU member states where same-sex couples cannot marry or register a civil partnership. 

The survey reveals a stark difference between the Polish government and public opinion on LGBTQ rights. 

As a result of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, and the continued limits on LGBTQ rights in Poland, the country has for the last three years been ranked as the worst in the EU for LGBTQ people by ILGA-Europe, a Brussels-based NGO.

Poland has also drawn condemnations from the EU for its discriminatory laws surrounding LGBTQ people. 

In September, the European Commission threatened to withhold pandemic relief funds, totaling over 126 million euros ($150 million,) in Polish jurisdictions that passed measures forming “LGBTQ Free Zones.” 

Some regions have since repealed the anti-LGBTQ resolution. 

In 2020, Poland narrowly re-elected President Andrzej Duda, who ran a campaign that regularly attacked the LGBTQ community, according to Pink News

Polish LGBTQ advocates are also pushing back against a proposed law that would ban the so-called “promotion” of LGBTQ lifestyles. It would also make Pride parades illegal.

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European Union

Ireland to criminalize incitement to hatred against transgender people

Justice Minister Helen McEntee has endorsed legislation

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(Photo courtesy of the Transgender Equality Network Ireland/Facebook)

Ireland Justice Minister Helen McEntee presented the Irish government with her approval of legislation that will criminalize incitement to commit acts of hate against transgender people and people with disabilities and acts condoning, denial or gross trivialization of genocide such as the Nazi holocaust and war crimes.

The Irish Times reported that the new legislation will repeal the previous incitement to hatred laws and is intended to make prosecutions easier. However, the bar for a prosecution remains high. A defendant must have deliberately intended to incite hatred or violence against a person on account of their protected characteristic and there are defense’s for a reasonable and genuine contribution to literary, artistic, political, scientific or academic debates.

A person who seeks to incite hatred against a person or group with one of these characteristics may be guilty of an offense which could carry a penalty of up to five years in prison, the Times noted.

The Times also reported that McEntee intends to include a “demonstration test” in the bill, where guilt can be established if the perpetrator uses, for example, racial language or other evidence of hate against the victim. A demonstration test hinges on a perpetrator showing hostility towards someone with a “protected characteristic” at the time of an offence being committed.

The Cabinet was told this could include the use of hostile or prejudiced slurs, gestures, other symbols or graffiti.

The public comment period for the legislation received around 4,000 responses and the Justice Department’s staff also consulted with outside leading experts with backgrounds in hate crimes, discrimination and the LGBTQ and intersex community.

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