LGBT+ topics have frequently made news and conversations, while the Estonian LGBT Association now finds itself in the spotlight, courtesy of a petition by the Foundation for the Protection of the Family and Traditions (SAPTK) that urges the government to pull funding for the organization.
Moods targeting the LGBT association draw strength from a recent survey by the Institute for Societal Studies that gauged opinions of supporters of coalition and opposition parties in terms of state funding for the association. Interestingly enough, Russian propaganda also seems to be picking up.
However, the problem and the way it has been approached can in no way be referred to as neutral. The association is accused of ideological brainwashing, influencing young people and taking advantage of the taxpayer.
We have constantly had to fight such lies, while they keep reappearing. As an employee of the Estonian LGBT Association and a member of the LGBT+ community, I want to talk about it in more detail.
We find that the campaign at hand and other similar utterances constitute harassment and animosity tied to a general worldview, according to which it is permitted to mistreat minorities, people who somehow differ from the abstract notion of an ordinary person.
Still, why do we highlight animosity toward LGBT+ and other minorities? Why aren't general laws that apply to everyone enough here? These are justified questions as not everyone encounters this type of animosity, which is something we can be thankful for.
The reason is that this animosity, both in the form of hate crimes and hate speech, differs from other forms of harassment, abuse and violence in how it affects the victim. It is aimed against a person's very being. Everyone could fall victim to a crime, while not everyone will experience it because of their identity.
If a person suffers because of qualities they cannot choose or change that are part of their very being, its effect on their life is much more serious. And it goes beyond affecting a single person: this animosity can also affect the person's loved ones, their community, even the entire society as it does not limit itself to itself but also sends the message that people who fit the description are not safe. If this animosity is aimed at several communities, pretty soon, there won't be anyone who is not affected.
Those fighting against the well-being of LGBT+ people are usually not up to speed on the daily lives of members of the LGBT+ community or the field in general. It is not a negative assessment of their capacity as no one can be expected to know everything. There will always be topics we navigate well and those we know nothing about. The problem is created when a net of lies is cast over this want of knowledge that is then used to justify attacks.
The association and the community find themselves in a difficult situation that in turn illustrates our vulnerability. Attacked by our opponents, we cannot respond in kind as it would only make it easier to label our activities ideological propaganda, and our adversaries know this. We do not have nearly as much money as they do, and they also know that. They and their supporters are outspoken, while our side tends to stay silent, and they know this too.
Attempts to weaken or destroy the association do not hurt its seven employees. Were funding to be pulled, we would find jobs as we are specialists with diverse know-how and experience, on top of being experts in our chosen field. Our people are the victim here. LGBT+ people, their loved ones and everyone who cares about justice make up a large part of the population.
Society is the victim as lies rob people of the courage to trust one another. Silence falls as listening and caring go out of fashion. Closed doors and closed mouths hide the frantic thought: "Who is next? Will it be me?"
This hugely complicated world
Like I said, many people deny the LGBT+ community's troubles or even the existence of certain identities, claiming, for example, that registration of cohabitation is a special right in a situation where same-sex couples who seek it just want certainty, or questioning the right to self-determination of transgender people when it is believed that other people are better suited to define them.
In truth, there is a lot of incomprehension and confusion even among those who support us or remain undecided. It is true that the world is changing rapidly and could be frightening at times. New developments, concepts, needs, freedoms — it is a lot. Yet, ignoring this complex world cannot bring peace because the best way to spark conflict is to try and avoid one, whether the conflict is internal or external.
If you feel overwhelmed and frightened, regaining control is a matter of facing the beast: knowledge-based information, getting to know personal stories of people, conversation. My personal favorite is not having an opinion when I'm not familiar enough with the subject matter as that too is a conscious decision.
Allow me to return to the beginning. Why should organizations like the Estonian LGBT Association be supported at all?
In a perfect world, the organization wouldn't even exist, while the need for it today is clear. For as long as we work, it will require money. We agree with our opponents on one point: we really could receive more donations to ensure independent capacity. This does not mean, however, that what we do only matters to a few people.
In truth, the association does work deemed important by the state. It is only logical that a country can be successful if its people are happy and can contribute to society in full. This requires security, acknowledgement and protection of everyone's rights and the feeling that this really is home.
This translated article first appeared in ERR.
The author Kristiina Raud is the head of communication and a member of the board at the Estonian LGBT Association.