Not only is Riga holding it’s annual Riga Pride, but it’s also this city’s turn to hold Baltic Pride (alternating between Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia), and has been chosen to host Euro Pride 2015.
Lgbt rights in Latvia still face many of the problems encountered in other former Eastern block nations where homophobia is still rampant. As a relatively small nation there is just a small lgbt community to go with it, with the only real visible presence of that community in Riga itself.
In celebration of this week’s Riga/Baltic/Euro Pride I’ve selected a few locations for my latest City Pride map.
1) Graduate School of Law – A privately-governed law school co-founded by the Latvian and Swedish governments in 1998 and set up by lawyer Linda Freimane, who became its first Pro-Rector. Linda became a board member of the International Gay and Lesbian Association, and is a founder member of Mozaika (see no.4)
2) Skonto Hall – Venue for the 2003 Eurovision Song Contest final. The television commentator for the host broadcast was Lativa’s only openly gay broadcaster, Karlis Streips. Although he was born in the USA Karlis’s parents came from Riga and he has worked for Latvian tv since the mid-1990s. Karlis is no stranger to Eurovision – he has commented several times, and in 2012 actually co-wrote one of the songs that made the national selection final (it came last).
3) “The House on the Corner” – This name, spoken with hushed voice during the Soviet era, was the KGB headquarters in Latvia. Many gay men were persecuted by the KGB and this building was where many were interrogated in the desire to discover secret enemies of the USSR. In 2014 it was opened as a museum and site of remembrance for all victims of the KGB in Latvia.
4) Mozaika – The location of the head office of Mozaika, Latvia’s leading lgbt rights organisation. It was founded in 2006 in response to homophobic reaction to Riga’s first Pride march the previous year. Mozaika organised subsequent Riga Pride and Friendship Days, and created Baltic Pride in 2009. Its logo was designed by the partner of Linda Freimane (see no.1).
5) Verman Gardens - Venue for several of Riga’s Pride and Friendship Days. The first to take place here in 2007, was attended by about 800 marchers. It was marred by anti-gay protestors through large fireworks into the park, injuring some of the marchers.
6) AIDS Memorial – A line of cobbled stones recalls the names of people who have died from AIDS-related causes, not necessarily of Latvian nationality. Names inscribed on the stones include Rudolf Nureyev, Freddie Mercury and Anthony Perkins. It was created in 1993.
7) Doma Square – Two memorial stones were laid in the square in April 1993 to remember AIDS victims. Riga hosted a World Health Organisation conference where 39 countries created an initiative, called the Riga Initiative, to tackle the spread of HIV in Eastern Europe after the collapse of the USSR.
8) The Parliament Building – This is where the nation’s government sits, including Latvia’s only openly gay elected member, Edgars Rinkevics (b.1973). He is currently the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The government decriminalised homosexuality shortly after gaining independence from the USSR in 1992. Same-sex marriage, however, was banned by law in 2006.
9) No. 6, Valdemara Street – There’s only one really famous lgbt person I can find who was born in Riga, and that person is Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948). He was born at this address and lived in a third floor apartment until 1916. A plaque on the wall commemorates his birth. Although he is best known outside Riga as a film director, he is equally well-known in Latvia as the son of a leading art nouveau architect. A lot of the fabulous buildings in Riga were designed by Eisenstein’s father who even has a street named after him.
|An example of the art nouveau architecture of Sergei Eisenstein’s father. Ó Mark J. Newton 2015.|