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“Save Our Children” Revisited: Lithuania Enacts Homophobic Censorship Law

July 21, 2009

Last week, the Lithuanian parliament passed the “Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information.” The law bans discussion of homosexuality in schools, and also prohibits references to homosexuality in any material that can be accessed by (or distributed to) children. According to Amnesty International, the law “classes homosexuality alongside issues such as the portrayal of physical or psychological violence, the display of a dead or cruelly mutilated body of a person, and information that arouses fear or horror, or encourages self-mutilation or suicide.”

The law, which will go into effect in March 2010, initially faced significant opposition. From IGLHRC:

Parliament first passed the new law on June 16, 2009. On June 26, the Lithuanian President rejected the legislation, referring it back to Parliament for reconsideration. However, the bill was finally approved by an 87-6 vote, with 25 abstentions.

I find it fascinating how often children are used as an excuse to limit the rights of LGBT people — almost as if none of those children in question could possibly be queer themselves. When reading about this law, I can’t help but notice the similarities between this legislation and Anita Bryant’s infamous “Save Our Children” campaign, which was responsible for overturning a gay rights ordinance in Miami-Dade County, Florida, in 1977. Much in the way that “Save Our Children” fought to deny queer people rights in the name of protecting children from danger, this new law in Lithuania censors the public discussion of homosexuality under the guise of helping and protecting young people. In reality, laws such as the “Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information” hurt young people far more than help them. This law will make comprehensive sexual health education completely obsolete. It will make LGBT children who are coming to terms with their identities feel alone and isolated, and it will take away whatever community they might have found. By protecting children from the perceived dangers of sexual minorities, the Lithuanian parliament has discriminated against the very people they claim they want to help.

I recently read a blog entry by Jennifer Levi, an attorney for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. Levi writes about how this same logic has been used recently in Massachusetts, during the debate over a a transgender rights bill. Levi writes:

I want to save the children. The difference is that I want to save all the children, ours and theirs. I know—because I have had to do it—that we can explain gender differences to our children and their children, too. Neither our children nor their children will be confused or harmed by acknowledging that there are transgender people in the world. Neither our children nor their children will be confused or harmed by going to school with transgender youth whose gender identities are respected. Neither our children nor their children will be confused or harmed by passing a law that enables all of us to live our lives as fully as possible and with the authenticity that allows us to be whole.

Levi’s statement is applicable in the discussion of Lithuania’s censorship law as well. To really save our children, we should trust that they will understand that LGBT people are just like everyone else, and that if they themselves are LGBT, their government will protect them as much as heterosexuals and cisgender people are protected. To really save our children, we need to demonstrate respect, and we need to be honest about the realities of sexual health. Teaching children about different sexual and gender identities is not what will have a “detrimental effect” on their lives. Hiding (or “protecting”) children from that reality, however, will.

  1. July 21, 2009 5:17 pm

    What is more, it seems that all western countries are so worried about the ban of homosexuality talks while this law includes more than that. I don’t want to sound too homophobic but is LGBT rights more important than free speech for example? It is giving me the idea that being gay or tolerating gays is more essential than speaking freely.

    The point is that this law is about suppresing freedom of speech. Homophobic ban is just a small part of it. LGBT folks must understand that.

    • Carrie permalink
      July 21, 2009 7:04 pm

      I’m not sure I understand your point, noTime. You’re absolutely right in saying that this law is about suppressing freedom of speech. Freedom of speech includes speech about LGBT people and issues, so talking about this law in terms of how it affects LGBT people doesn’t diminish the importance of free speech. LGBT speech is important because free speech in general is important. This post was meant to address this specific part of the law, and I’m not sure why you think talking about the concerns of queer people takes away from the overall discussion of free speech.

      • thomasmurphymusic permalink
        July 21, 2009 7:56 pm

        I think–think that NoTime was referencing the argument for complete egalitarianism as more desireable than the securing of individual rights bit by bit. I have heard this applied to feminism, LGBT, race, you name it. To me, this argument is flawed for three reasons.

        • It seems naïve, as an egalitarian world seems impossible to achieve.

        • It is often presented in a disparaging light towards an activist of a particular cause, which seems at cross-purposes with the argument itself.

        • Egalitarianism can often live on a slippery slope that prefers equal rights without interaction to a vibrant interaction and acknowledgment of difference. See Naeem Inayatullah, International Relations and the Problem of Difference.

      • Carrie permalink
        July 22, 2009 11:48 am

        @Thomas: I generally agree with your reasoning. Securing rights for all people, all at once, is always what we should strive for, but due to institutionalized oppressions, marginalized groups will, more often than not, get the shaft. And a law that is unfair to everyone will still affect marginalized groups the most, because of all of the other societal strikes against them. That’s why I think it’s crucial to talk about this censorship law as it affects LGBT people. Even if this is a law that, on paper, affects everyone equally, it’s likely that the implementation will affect LGBT folks more than heterosexual, cisgender people.

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