Liisa Rohumaa: It is time more straight people supported LGBTQ+ rights in Estonia

Liisa Rohumaa, a half-Estonian, half-English journalist who lives in Tallinn, writes that since the + in LGBTQ+ means everyone, not only gay people, and concerns basic human rights, then straight people, too, need to stand for gay rights and support equal marriage.

Do you believe in “one for all and all for equality”? Is your answer “yes”? Now let me ask the question again when it comes to LGBTQ+ because that was the motto of this year’s Baltic Pride that culminated in Tallinn over the weekend with a parade around the Old Town. After six years, Tallinn was the focus of events throughout the week and the organisers were keen to stress that all were welcome under the banner of solidarity and intersectionality. Yes, straight people, that includes you.

For me, the parade on Saturday, 10 June, was a good start, a peaceful and fun day of friendship, which ended with a picnic at Tallinn’s Linnaruum festival area. Perhaps the sunshine added to a feeling of optimism around discussions of marriage equality and Estonia’s draft law on same-sex marriage that could be passed this month and become a law on 1 January 2024 (Estonia recognised same-sex registered partnerships in 2014).

But none of this can be taken for granted. Indeed, I woke up on Sunday feeling good, only to read in the local media that there had been a homophobic attack in the centre of Tallinn that left several people in hospital – a reminder there is no room or time for complacency. The Pride movement in Estonia needs its allies. More Estonians need to be vocal and active about this human rights issue.

Baltic Pride 2023 in Tallinn. Photo by Tiiu Heinsoo.

I went to the Tallinn Pride event as a half-Estonian, white, middle-aged straight woman – in case you were wondering. It was good to see families, a man with a sign saying, “Free hug from a Dad” and organisations from around Estonia including companies, political parties and embassies march in solidarity. Yes, I do realise you can have gay dads and blended families, but I didn’t actually ask people, “Just checking, are you gay or straight?”

Estonia could take a leading role in marriage equality

I did, however, have a lot of conversations with people saying they would like more straight people to support the marriage equality bill and be more vocal about it. Many commented on the demographics – where is the older generation? I’m only in my fifties and felt like one of the older contingent.

A friend who had attended international Pride events since the seventies said maybe people didn’t think it was a big issue and were more concerned about the war against Ukraine and the weekly shopping bill. And while Tallinn has rainbow flags visible in the Old Town, Noblessner, Kalamaja and Telliskivi areas, 20 kilometres outside of town it really isn’t a thing.

Estonia says it is a modern, progressive country and there’s a lot to back that up. It could take a leading role in marriage equality reform that would be welcomed by other former Soviet-occupied countries with more conservative leanings and fewer “out and proud” communities.

Baltic Pride 2023 in Tallinn. Photo by Tiiu Heinsoo.

It is commendable that so many companies in Estonia sponsored Pride and support diversity in the workplace. Hanna Kannelmäe of the Nordea (a Helsinki-based Nordic bank that has a branch in Estonia) Employee Resource Group, LGBTQ+ and Allies, told the crowd on Saturday, “We are different, we are all equal, we are all valuable.”

While many employees from new finance and tech companies were happy to march at the weekend, it would be good if more mainstream companies, such as supermarkets, were more visible about their equality policies to their staff and customers. Maybe a rainbow flag at the checkout would be a start?

For individuals who still feel a little nervous around this subject or feel the Baltic Pride is just for gay people – you have to start somewhere. You don’t have to call yourself an activist, but if you care about this, it is the first step to you becoming an activist. I feel while I am pontificating about this, I need to admit that when I went to my first Pride event in Sydney, Australia, gay rights were not forefront in my mind. I wanted to see Cher. Even though I had gay friends in the eighties, I was more into nightclubbing with them and wearing “Frankie Says Relax” t-shirts.

Baltic Pride 2023 in Tallinn. Photo by Tiiu Heinsoo.

Visibility as a supporter is the most important                        

If you’re thinking, what can I do, here are some quick pointers:

•            Hassle from your family when you support gay rights? Just say you believe in human rights for all. And make them a great playlist for Christmas of gay musicians, not just Scissor Sisters, but Tchaikovsky too. (Come on, you don’t think he just went to Haapsalu for the mud baths, do you?! Read his biography!)

•            On a more serious note, join your company’s diversity groups and make friends

•            Go to your first Pride event

•            Use and ask for preferred pronouns

•            Hanna Kannelmäe advises not to be silent when homophobic jokes are made but to say that it is not humour, but an insult.

And please, I ask you, email your parliamentary representative about the Family Law Act amendments.

Baltic Pride 2023 in Tallinn. Photo by Tiiu Heinsoo.

There may be some straight people reading this, thinking, this is not my fight and I haven’t got time for this, there are more important things such as Ukraine and the economy. Do you not think LGBTQ+ contribute to the Estonian economy – do they not pay taxes? Are all the Ukrainians fighting the war or just trying to survive, straight? Hanna Kannelmäe says visibility as a supporter is the most important. Wear a small rainbow flag on your clothes. Place the rainbow icon on your desktop, show that LGBTQ+ people are safe with you.

Finally, let’s look at the + in LGBTQ+. That’s you. That’s everyone. It concerns basic human rights. Estonians have proved they are up for a fight when it comes to their rights. Prove it again – this concerns us all.

The opinions in this article are those of the author.

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