Friday, December 6, 2013

Sexual minorities in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland

Attitudes towards confessional and sexual minorities in the discourse of the media in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland from a historical perspective 

history of the LGBT movement

Putniņa 2007
Gruszczynska 2007
reports on homophobic speech
Tereškinas 2007
Mozaīka 2007
Czarnecki (ed.) 2009
discussion of gay pride parades
Davydova 2012
Kruks 2007
Gruszczynska 2007
reports on the situation of LGBT people
Platovas & Simonko 2002
Locmelis 2002
Abramowicz (ed.) 2007; Makuchowska, Pawlęga 2012
legal issues
Rukšėnaitė 2012

issues of policy

O’Dwyer & Schwartz 2010

What kinds of problems of sexual minorities in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland are tackled with, and how are they presented, in scientific literature?
In the previous post, I have already quoted some statistical studies conducted by the European Commission as well as more detailed accounts of the legal and social issues by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and ILGA. The table above contains also some references to discourse-based studies, i.e. on homophobic speech in the media (Tereškinas 2007) and political discourse (Mozaīka 2007). Most scientific accounts regarding sexual minorities do mention some statistical data. Below is a table summarizing results of a survey conducted among the LGBT communities in Lithuania and Latvia in 2002 (Platovas & Simonko 2002 and Locmelis 2002, respectively).

do parents know?
yes - 33%
yes - 49%
do siblings know?
yes - 38%
yes - 38.1%
do other relatives know?
yes - 15%
yes - 27.3%
do friends know?
all - 20%,
some - 58%
all - 32.5%, some - 55.7%
have experienced violent attacks on the basis of sexual orientation
yes - 27%
yes - 19%
have experienced harassment on the basis of sexual orientation
yes - 52%
yes - 40.2%
avoid kissing/holding hands in public
yes - 63%
yes - 56.2%
avoid telling people about their orientation
yes - 64%
yes - 72.7%
hide their orientation at work (from boss, colleagues)
from all - 53%, some - 32%
from all - 28.7%, some - 50.3%
experience discrimination at home
yes - 25%
yes -27.8%
are respondents religious?
yes - 30%,
no - 70%
yes - 37.6%,
no - 62.4%
emigration considered
yes - 73%
yes - 52.1%
sexual orientation as a key factor in decision to emigrate
yes - 63%
yes - 75.2%

As the table indicates, most LGBT people in both countries lead secret lives both in the family and in the workplace. If they do come out, they may face harassment and discrimination even in their own families. 
The quotes below draw a rather grim picture: in all three countries the social acceptance of homosexuality is alarmingly low.

In 1991, Lithuania had the lowest acceptance of homosexuality in Europe: 87% Lithuanians did not want to live in the same neighbourhood with homosexual persons. In 2002, 47% of heterosexual persons would still try to make their homosexual son/daughter change their sexual orientation and only 28% would accept it. Only 1.2% respondents said that rights of homosexual persons should be better protected (Platovas & Simonko 2002). 68.9 % of Lithuanians would not want homosexuals to work in schools and 50 % objected to their working on the police force. In this survey, 46.6 % of the Lithuanian population agreed with the statement “Homosexuals should be treated medically” and 61.5 %, with the statement “I would not want to belong to any organization that accepted homosexual members” (Tereškinas 2007: 3). In January, a survey by research company RAIT found that only 4% of Lithuanians support same-sex civil partnerships (ILGA 2013: 143).

In Latvia in 1999, 63% respondents said that homosexual persons deserved to have equal rights as heterosexuals; and 53% said that they deserved their relationships to be officially recognized (Locmelis 2002). However, according to the findings of another survey (Makarovs 2006), the majority of the Latvian population has negative attitudes towards homosexuality and homosexuals. 26% of respondents condemned both homosexuals and their lifestyle, 37% condemned the homosexual lifestyle but did not despise homosexual people, while only 25% condemned neither homosexual people nor their lifestyle (Putniņa 2007: 317). Latvia does show signs of progress towards greater LGBTI equality, but the recognition of same-sex couples continues to be regarded as “unacceptable” by a majority of people in the country while the Eurobarometer poll revealed that the Latvians are the least comfortable in the European Union with openly LGBT person elected to high political position (ILGA 2013: 135).

In Poland, according to the most recent survey on discrimination based on the grounds of sexual orientation available, about 13% of gays and lesbian experience physical violence, about one third—psychological violence. 70% hide their sexual orientation at the job and in public sphere. About one third claim that if offered the possibility, they would consider moving abroad. 86% Poles don’t want their children to come in touch with gays or lesbians. 40% believe that homosexual acts between consenting adults should be illegal, about the same number would prefer not to have any contact with gays and lesbians at all. Finally, only 4% believe that homosexuality is normal, and a further 55% claim that it is a deviation from the norm that should be tolerated but not accepted (Gruszczynska 2007: 96). In July, a study, carried out by the Government’s Plenipotentiary for Equal Treatment, showed that 49% of Poles believe gay people are not treated as fairly as straight people. The same study also indicated that only 23% of Poles were in favour of registered partnerships for same-sex couples (ILGA 2013: 176).

There are some studies based upon the same or similar theoretical and methodological foundations as this project. I value as especially useful all contributions to the volume Beyond the Pink Curtain. Everyday Life of LGBT People in Eastern Europe (Kuhar & Takács (eds.) 2007) with four chapters on the countries that interest me here (Reingarde & Zdanevičius, Gruszczynska, Putniņa and Czarnecki), as well as the reports on homophobic speech, which offer a good starting point for a comparative study of argumentation strategies in the three languages (Tereškinas 2007, Mozaīka 2007, Czarnecki (ed.) 2009). 
I would like to devote some attention to two general issues that permeate the contributions to Beyond the Pink Curtain regarding Latvia (Putniņa), Lithuania (Reingarde & Zdanevičius) and Poland (Gruszczynska). First is the matter of visibility/invisibility and, stemming from that, the distinction between private and public sphere. Strongly inspired by Bourdieu (2001), Putniņa regards homophobia in terms of symbolic domination. A transformation of the existing configuration of symbolic power would require a deconstruction of sexuality and family, differentiating the sexual relation from the power relation (2007: 315). By organizing themselves into a "minority", gays and lesbians became visible and thus a threat to the established relations of power. "This gave rise to the homophobic movement that tried to reassert heteronormative values as if those had been lost under the pressure of homosexuals" (p. 318). This process seems to follow in the footsteps of the feminist movement: feminism causes similar resistance, as if postulating gender equality meant postulating female dominance. Heterosexuality and homosexuality cannot exist together, just as men and women cannot be equal: it is an either-or type of situation. In both cases, the dominated are accepted if they stay invisible: it is a common feature of heteronormative societies that members of sexual minorities are tolerated on the condition that they suppress their sexual identity (Reingarde & Zdanevičius 2007: 55, Gruszczynska 2007: 107). Following Martin (1992), Reingarde & Zdanevičius write: "just as men work with men and come to believe that they work in a gender-neutral world rather than in one where men dominate, heterosexuals also, by working with other heterosexuals, come to believe that they work in a sexually neutral world, rather than in one in which heterosexuals dominate. Because sexual minorities are socially invisible, sexual orientation is not perceived to be relevant, as if gay people have a sexual orientation, but straight people do not" (2007: 49). Here I see another correspondence to gender inequality whereby masculinity is the norm and femininity - deviation from the norm, as if women were "marked" for sex and men were not.
This prescription of invisibility sentences sexual minority identities to remain locked in the private sphere. However, following Goffman (1963), Reingarde & Zdanevičius argue that "sexual identities and orientations are part and parcel of our public persona" (2007: 58-59). It means that, first, there is a frustration which can never be resolved in a heteronormative society; second, these identities and orientations are recognizable from "appearances, artifacts and interactions", and thus homosexuals are always at risk of being condemned, no matter if they abide by the rules or not (p. 59, also Czarnecki 2007).
The second issue I would like to discuss is the fact that homosexuality is socially constructed using heteronormative categories, heteronormative language. The whole world is, after all, constructed on the basis of male-female difference (Putniņa 2007: 319, after Bourdieu 2001). As long as such categorization is in use, anything that does not follow the pattern of dominant male-dominated female will be perceived as perverse. With regard to this point, Putniņa writes: "according to Bourdieu the change in the order of symbolic domination can be brought about in two ways. First, the meaning of categories imposed by symbolic domination can be inverted: thus stigma can be turned into an emblem, an object of pride. Of course, the ultimate problem of such a transformation is that the dominated construct themselves within the categories of the dominant. These categories are constructed to make the dominated invisible and stigmatized. When the dominated articulate them, they simultaneously reaffirm the act of their symbolic domination. Second, the internalised categories (producing gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals along with other categories) can be changed themselves. The category of LGBT dissolves, for example, when we consider partnerships in terms of mutual love and recognition of equal relationships between the partners. Looking from this perspective, the sex of each partner does not play an important role" (2007: 315).

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