Romas Zabarauskas

I’m not a big fan of the word “activist“ because I think everyone should be politically active. The only reason I am often engaged is that I can be. I was privileged, among other things, to grow up in an accepting middle class family, so I had a chance to educate myself and then dedicate part of my time to speaking up. That’s developed into a few bigger, self-sustainable projects such as Friendly Vilnius , but it still feels like a natural part of me trying to be a decent citizen.

My first passion is filmmaking. After I gained attention premiering my debut gay short Porno Melodrama at the Berlinale in 2011, I decided to come out as gay. At the time there were still very few out people in Lithuania, so I became an overnight sensation, invited to all the newspapers and talk shows. In 2016, I published a book, Lithuania Comes Out: 99 LGBT+ Stories, collecting a hundred stories of Lithuanian LGBT+ people with their full names and photographs. In a short time, the situation shifted dramatically. We have so many more out people and celebrities supporting equality today. I may have contributed a tiny bit, and I’m happy I did. When I do different LGBT+ equality campaigns or speak out publicly, I try to be simple to reach a diverse audience. When I create films, I’m searching for my own style and sensibility, seeking to create an inspiring work of art. It was sometimes difficult to balance these two fields. This identity crisis actually inspired my auto-ironic queer road feature You Can’t Escape Lithuania.

Lithuania has many challenges when it comes to LGBT+ equality. We need to legalise same sex partnerships, marriage and adoption rights. We need to correct the homophobic line in the infamous Protection of Minors Law that has the potential to censor LGBT+-friendly information. We need proper jurisdiction for trans people. We need inclusive sexual education.

I am inspired by queer theory, New Queer Cinema, the history of HIV activism. I’m also really inspired by our local community. It will take years to change the laws, but many fresh LGBT+ things — books, plays, parties — are popping up in Lithuania, and that’s quite amazing. Indeed, I see the growing culture of engaged LGBT+ and supportive people as our victory. Visit Vilnius and you might be pleasantly surprised!