Some children in Lithuania were fortunate. Until recently, their early childhood centres (what we used to call 'kindergartens' in this part of the world) were implementing a daring early childhood education project called Gender Loop, initiated by organisations from several EU countries. The main point of the project was to instill equitable attitudes towards gender and human diversity from an early age, the logic being that since gender stereotypes begin in early childhood, they should be tackled in early childhood centres.
As part of the project, stereotypes related to gender norms and heteronormativity were challenged with carefully-selected, age-appropriate means, one of the methods being the transformation of traditional fairly tales to accomodate issues of gender equality and human diversity. Thus, a story about a princess who lost her possessions and was dressed in a paper sack is told to demolish stereotypes about the need for girls to take extra care of their visual appearance. The princess saves a prince from a dragon, but the prince begins to mock her looks, after which she decides to avoid such ungrateful types in the future. To introduce the issue of sexual orientation, the modern Dutch picture book “King and King” was introduced in some early childhood centres. It is a witty parody of love stories from classic fairy tales, converting the traditional happy end to describe a gay relationship: instead of a princess, the prince falls in love with her brother, and they get married and become King and King.
Now, however, it looks like Lithuanian children will have to do go back to traditional fairy tales, where princes are courageous, princesses weak and beautiful, and a prince never marries a prince. The Lithuanian Parliament is considering a law to protect minors from harmful information, with which, on par with visual images of violence and mutilated bodies, it intends to ban images representing same-sex relations in a positive light. The argument goes that exposure to positive images of gay relationships may be harmful to children.
Many people would agree that children’s exposure to any frankly sexual scenes may be harmful, but this is not the point. The law speaks of images representing relationships, not sex scenes. In other words, an image of two women holding hands while walking their dog on a beach, or of two men sitting close to each other in their kitchen and browsing through a book, can be considered offensive if displayed in an environment where children are present. And certainly the picture of two princes kissing on the last pages of ‘King and King” would be deemed severely offensive.
My condolences to the Lithanian Parliament if they are serious about passing this law. It would reveal the depth of denial of basic recognition for gay and lesbian Lithuanians that work and pay taxes from which the MPs draw their salaries. Their happy relationships will from then on be deemed offensive for the Lithuanian public. And my congratulations to those children who were lucky enough to be taught by teachers using the Gender Loops methodology. I bet there will be some boys among them who will not be easily bullied into assuming rough and tough East European male gender roles the society still expects of them – and some girls who will not mind being called ‘funny’ as long as they are happy with their own style. In other words, they will be more confident, self-sufficient individuals – and hopefully more tolerant as well.