March 31, 2016

How the lack of sexual education is at the core of anti-LGBT behavior in Lithuania

It is around eight o’clock when a group of women gathers to play their weekly basketball game. This is not so strange in a country where it is more likely to be able to score a three-pointer than to ride a bicycle. Yet, 50% of all Lithuanians think that these women should not necessarily have the same rights as other citizens.

Meike de Roest

Because these women are lesbian, bisexual or transgender they will face far more difficulties their daily lives than their heterosexual fellow citizens. The Eurobarometer survey ‘’Discrimination in the EU in 2015’’ shows that 71% of the Lithuanians do not support same-sex marriage. This is more than two times the European average of 33%.

Misleading information

According to psychologist and sexologist Kamila Gasinska, the cause of the intolerance against LGBT persons lays within the sexual education in Lithuania: ‘Sexual education practically does not exist in the country.’

‘On a parliamentary level, there are no projects at the moment that could change the situation. From time to time there are some laws proposed that should improve the situation, but most of the parliamentarians do not support sexual education, so there is a very little chance for them to be adopted’, explains Gasinska.

‘When I was following the course of sexology in Vilnius University, one of my lecturers explained homosexuality as a disease’, continues Gasinska, ‘there still is a lot of misleading information going around within the educational system of Lithuania.’

Power of the parents

For teachers it can be difficult to start a discussion about sexuality with their students. When the parents of the children have a conservative view on sexual education, and especially against a more diverse approach of sexual education, the teacher is limited in his or her possibilities.

‘Sometimes parents get in contact with the school’s principal to complain about a teacher for being ‘too open-minded’. Out of fear the teachers adapt to the parents’ demand. Often the situation remains unchanged’, tells Vilma Gabrieliūtė, founder of the House for Diversity and Education. As a trainer she creates a space for teachers and parents where they can learn, discuss and share their experiences around sexual education.

‘Contraceptives are expensive and young people do not know enough about them’, continues Gabrieliūtė, ‘the information they receive is often based on myths and misconceptions.’ 

Every year there are 13,7 girls out of a group of thousand girls, who give birth while they are only 15-19 years old. This number increases in rural areas to 18,4 girls per thousand. ‘One of the main reasons for this is the lack of sexual education’, explains Gabrieliūtė. In comparison to Europe, Lithuania is at the 8th place of all European member states.

‘Lacking sexual education we not only increase sexism and homophobia in schools, but we also fail to ensure rights of health and well being of our children’, explains Gabrieliūtė.

We are people, not propaganda

According to the Eurobarometer survey ‘’Discrimination in the EU in 2015’’, 71% of the Lithuanian respondents is never open about being LGBT and 81% of the respondents answered to have hidden ‘always or often’ being LGBT during schooling before the age of 18. This is the highest rate of Europe. Only 1% of the respondents explained always being open about being LGBT (this is the lowest rate of Europe).

This summer the third Baltic Pride of Lithuania will take place. On June 18 the streets of Vilnius will make space for a big parade. Every year another Baltic country is host of the pride. The theme of this year’s the Pride is ‘We are people, not propaganda!’.

The title refers to the  statement of Mr. Bernatonis, the Minister of Justice who said live on television that the number of homosexual couples living together in Lithuania would be ‘too low’ to legislate on same-sex partnerships. He claimed that propaganda would be more widespread than the actual number of homosexual people in Lithuania.

Connecting through sports

While on the background the basketball team of Vilnius keeps on practising, the LGBT-community will have to continuously fight for their rights. Since six years the group has found a way to spend time together, which is for them their basic need. Right now, the group is already welcoming the first LGBT-supportive team members, who are not necessarily lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender themselves.

Until the day comes that most of the Lithuanians will think that the members of this team have the same rights as all other (heterosexual) citizens of the country, these strong women will keep on scoring three-pointers while no one is watching.



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