Re-Writing the Past: the LGBT+ history of the Baltics. Abstracts

Updated: Jun 19, 2019

The representations of homosexuality in Estonian media from 1920ies and 30ies

Rebeka Põldsam

Although the decriminalisation of male homosexuality in the Estonian Republic was discussed already in the 1920s, the laws, as becomes evident in the research by Andreas Kalkun, were not implemented until the 1930s. We can learn about troubles with these laws when reading newspaper articles about military men who got into trouble for homosexual behaviour. The presentation will look at various representations of homosexuality in Estonian media between the wars. There are different stories of the Berlin clinic run by the sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, as well as stories of his lecture in Tartu, cruising spaces, hermaphrodites and viragos, the Czech activism of sexual minorities, men’s bars in Riga, the genius homosexuals in history, and other wonders.

On the Diary of a Soviet Latvian Gay Man

Ineta Lipša

The presentation will give an insight into the diary written by a Latvian queer person named Kaspars Aleksandrs Irbe (1906-1996). The diary covers the entire Soviet era - from a couple of weeks before the Soviet occupation in 1940 to the restoration of independence in Latvia in 1990, and even beyond. The last entry was written on March 12, 1996. Irbe died a few days later at the age of 89. At the moment of Soviet occupation, he was 34, and he had experienced same-sex desire for five years. Irbe’s main objective was to write about his romantic adventures so that it would be easier to remember them in his old age. He thought of memories as the meaning of life. He wrote not only about his own queer experiences but also focused on observation of different sexualities visible in public space, focusing on local life in Jurmala, where he lived, and in Riga, where he worked, over an extended period of 50 years from the 1940s to 1980s. (The corpus of diary texts consists of 77 notebooks.)

Male Homosexual Experiences in Late Soviet Estonia Expressed Through Oral Histories (first notes)

Uku Lember

The paper presents parts of the first results of my larger research project in which I aim at filling a gap in studying LGBT history of the Soviet Union after Stalin (1953-1991) by the example of Estonia. In the larger project, I aim to analyze communicative networks and to identify patterns among queer people through extensive oral history research. In addition to promoting the democratization of civic society, I aim to contribute to a better understanding of late Soviet individualisation processes and personal identification patterns with large social categories (such as the Soviet state, ethnicity, and profession), while also exploring methodological issues with applying Western queer theory in the Eastern European context.

Glimpses into Soviet Estonian Gay Male Pasts in a Life Story Collection from 1996 and in Contemporary Art

Riikka Taavetti

Riikka Taavetti addresses in her presentation the glimpses into Soviet Estonian gay male past discovered in a collection of life stories gathered in 1996, and in contemporary art, namely Jaanus Samma's exhibition NSFW: A Chairman's Tale (2015/2016). The presentation discusses the possibilities of remembering Soviet queer pasts in the post-Soviet era and addresses the differences in discovering the memories of male and female same-sex desires.

Entering the Closet: the Humbling Experience of Interviewing Soviet-Era Homosexual Men

Rita Ruduša

“I was an experienced journalist and editor when I started working on the book "Forced Underground," and I thought I had seen it all - armed conflicts, inmates, activists, and world leaders - and knew all there is to know about researching a story. However, the particular challenges of talking to the protagonists for my book was an eye-opening experience as well as a humbling one. If a person had spent a significant part of his life under a cloud of criminalized homosexuality, he was not going to bear his soul to a journalist easily. The presentation will focus on the challenges of working with closeted protagonists and the lessons learned in the process.”

The Latvian LGBT Movement and the Narrative of Normalization

Janis Ozoliņš

The presentation is going to be dedicated to the analysis of the process of re-introducing non-normative sexuality into the public discourse of Latvia as well as the history of Latvian LGBT activism and several of its strategies, paying particular attention to the category of “normality” and its presence in the public discourse when speaking about non-normative sexuality.

The LGBT March in Estonia – Past and Present Struggles

Aet Kuusik

In the re-independent Estonia, there has been an organized form of LGBT activism since 1990, when the first sexual mintority organization, the Estonian Lesbian Union, was established. Pride marches, which are one of the worldwide symbols of LGBTQA+ activism, have taken place in Estonia only five times. The presentation will focus on the role the marches have had, why there have been so few, and what meaning the march as a form of activism has had here and elsewhere.


The seminar took place at the Oct 26th 2018; it was organized by the Estonian LGBT Association and supported by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.

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