In July 2005, I happened to be in Latvia when two brave young activists organized the newly independent nation's first-ever LGBT Pride march. I knew the event would attract protests, since homosexuality was criminalized, and gay people were extremely closeted, under Soviet rule. But the scale of the backlash and the level of hostility directed at the 100 or so marchers that day far surpassed expectations.

 


 

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"Don't repeat the sins of Gomorrah"

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The march ended with an ecumenical service at the Anglican Church.

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As we wove our way through the narrow cobble-stone streets of Riga's Old Town, police in riot gear flanked the entire route, forming a "thin blue line" between the marchers and some 500 protesters, who shouted and held signs with homophobic slogans in English, Russian, and Latvian.

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"Lesbian and gay rights are human rights"

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Throughout the service, we heard shouting from protesters massed in front of the church. Afterwards, the police had to send in vans to evacuate us.

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The protesters were emboldened by the recent establishment of Latvia's first "Christian right" political party, whose campaign against LGBT rights managed to unite two hostile camps – radical Latvian nationalists and (mostly Russian-speaking) evangelical crusaders – in a bilingual front against Western liberal values and institutions.
 

Learn more in my short magazine piece: "United in Hostility"

Similar events were occurring in Poland, spurring me and my colleague Conor O'Dwyer to write two articles comparing the cases.

I also published two op-ed essays in Latvia's leading daily newspaper Diena. (Translations are available.)

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On a happier note - here I am marshalling the throngs in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on April 28, 2015. when oral arguments were heard in Obergefell v. Hodges. The Court ruled on July 26, establishing the right to marriage equality under the 14th Amendment. What a gift it was to witness another historic moment of emancipation!