A couple thousand international guests had already taken him up on the idea, coming from all over Europe to participate in a week of events—Latvia's first-ever LGBT history exhibit, its first queer art show at a major gallery, performances, film screenings, and workshops on topics such as trans rights and LGBT organizing in Eastern Europe. Of course, there were also the almost nightly parties, including two that would last until the early hours of Saturday's major event: the Pride Parade, which, no matter how many LGBT locals or counter-protesters turned up, was sure to be the biggest Pride parade in Baltic history.In addition to bringing EuroPride to Riga, Mozaīka had been pursuing a legal and social campaign to make gay rights a reality in Latvia. In the past ten years, it has created an LGBT youth group, Skapis (which means "closet" in Latvian), organized an LGBT library, and started Latvia's first women's basketball team. Mozaīka is also advocating for the adoption of a civil-union law, which would apply to all cohabiting couples, regardless of their gender, and has been building a database of LGBT hate crimes, which are not recognized as such by the government.Parliament eventually banned workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation in order to secure the country's place in the EU, but that remains the only segment of society in which such discrimination is illegal. Today the law, passed in 2006, is rarely invoked because in order to claim its benefits you have to be out. "This often makes it impossible to document the discrimination," Garina explained. So Mozaīka has also made it part of its mission to give queer people the "self-confidence" to come out. In their view, if people don't come out, the LGBT community can't make progress as a whole. "I think our biggest struggle right now—because the political mood is changing—is the community who just doesn't come out," Garina told me.
While gay rights have rapidly made advances in Western Europe in the past decade, Eastern Europe has lagged behind.
In Kronbergs's letter he wrote that he was "sick of keeping quiet and listening to idiocies… about myself and other homosexual people." He decided that the week of EuroPride was the time to come out. "Many of you will probably ask, 'So what?'" he wrote, but he reminded his readers that Latvia is not Western Europe. People in Latvia have been forced to live in secret, leading double lives out of a very realistic fear of losing their jobs. According to Kronbergs, Latvians need to be free to come out because the country is in danger of losing "a whole other village of emigrants… We will [be left with] the society that we sow."Since the first Pride, many of Latvia's LGBT people have immigrated to more tolerant countries throughout the EU. (Many people repeated the joke to me that London is now one of Latvia's largest cities.) One person who fled was a founding member of Mozaīka, Māris Sants, a teacher and clergyman, who left Riga recently after he was denied a job at a school and excommunicated from the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church. To make matters worse, on the fourth day of EuroPride, Latvian parliament passed legislation aimed at the country's teachers in the vein of Russia's infamous anti–"gay propaganda" law. The "immoral teachings" law stated, "The educational system shall ensure the moral rearing of persons who are being educated, doing so in accordance with the values that are included and protected in the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia, particularly with respect to issues such as marriage and family." Though the law's wording was vague, the message was not lost on liberal and queer communities: LGBT and LGBT-friendly teachers are being watched.
I think our biggest struggle right now—because the political mood is changing—is the community who just doesn't come out.
By the time the march had been going for 30 minutes, the crowd had become decidedly blissful. Cars blared Queen, Beyoncé, and ABBA along the route, as people from groups from all over the world chanted and showed their signs: "ANGRY QUEER FEMINISTS AGAINST CATEGORIES;" "QUEERS AGAINST AUSTERITY;" "DON'T SWAP STRUGGLE FOR PRIDE. DON'T SELL PRIDE FOR THE EURO." When the march passed Outlet Optika on Tērbatas Street, Daniel Timofeev looked on from inside. Though he hadn't planned on joining, seeing the sheer size and vibrancy of the parade compelled him to run out of the shop where he worked and dance along to Pharrell's "Happy."In the end Riga didn't have the violent Pride that many had braced for, but the global gay community wasn't entirely spared. Just days after EuroPride, riot police used a water cannon and rubber bullets on marchers peacefully participating in a Pride parade in Istanbul. And in Jerusalem in July, an ultra-Orthodox settler from the West Bank stabbed six people participating in the city's annual Pride event, killing one. Israel has made huge efforts to sell itself as a beacon of gay rights in the Middle East, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has since promised to bring the perpetrator to justice.When the parade finally snaked its way back to Vērmanes Park, Zalitis made a triumphal speech from a stage. "Ten years ago we were seventy versus three thousand protesters. This year, we were five thousand and maybe forty protesters," he said. "In two thousand six, they were throwing different stuff at us—this story is going down with the closet."Zalitis encouraged all the Latvians in the crowd to sign a petition Mozaīka was circulating for the cohabitation law it had been advocating for. If the petition garnered at least 10,000 signatures, parliament would be obligated to debate it. A government worker in the crowd told me that even though it looked like Mozaīka would get the signatures it needed, it was very likely that the law would just be dismissed. Dzintars Rasnačs, the country's Minister of Justice, has made it clear that he would do what he must to stop it. "Partnership registration is the first step toward recognizing same-gender marriage," Rasnačs said in an interview with Latvian media. "And that will probably be followed by the next step—adoption of children by such couples."After the parade, I met some Latvian expats who had returned to their home country for EuroPride at a nearby bar. Liene Dobraja, a Latvian costume designer living in New York and the best friend of Zalitis, was almost in tears. "This is the most important day of my life," she said. Margo Zālīte, a queer opera director who moved to Berlin mostly because of the conditions of LGBT people in Latvia, said that the parade made her think she could live in Riga again. But Kaspars Vanags, who had returned to curate EuroPride's queer art show, spent most of the evening engrossed in his phone. He was fighting with some people who opposed the march on Facebook. Perhaps the protesters had stayed home, but that wasn't going to stop them from making their voices heard on the internet. EuroPride had succeeded in making Latvia's LGBT community visible and in bringing them out in unprecedented numbers, but the homophobia didn't just disappear overnight. As gay people have come out of hiding, homophobes have gone into it. They may have been pushed from the center of the conversation, but they weren't gone. Within a few days, Dobraja had written me that she was embroiled in a familiar fight with her family: The day after the parade, she was back to explaining the difference between a pedophile and a gay person. "It just shows how large the gap is that still needs to be sealed," she said.
Political marches are still associated with Soviet times, when people were obligated to participate in celebrations of the State or risk losing their jobs.