Here, 41-year-old Lithuanian soldier Rolandas Skabickas reveals what it’s like to be gay and to serve in the country’s Armed Forces.
The book is part of the larger Friendly City maps project in Lithuania, aimed to promote an LGBTI-inclusive and otherwise friendly society.
‘I’m serving with the Lithuanian Navy in the Lithuanian Armed Forces, Naval Sea and Coastal Surveillance Service. Our service is in control of observing the sea and coastline, and collects data from the radars.
‘My work is focused on organization: making the duty schedules, carrying out military preparations and leading the military practices. I am the Chief Petty Officer – it’s the seventh rank out of nine petty officer ranks. POs are the middle link between the soldiers and the officers.
‘Soldiers are the privates doing the everyday work. Officers are the ones making the commands, and petty officers help to organize everything and make the commands reality.
‘When I was a child, I dreamed of being a soldier. Later, I became a weak, puny teenager and didn’t think I could ever be one. I started to become afraid of the army, I didn’t want to be a conscript. When I started to serve, I realized that many of my fears had no foundations.
‘Physical activities and training helped me to quickly get stronger. I gained more trust in myself. I liked the fact that many people with different mindsets were all here in the army, believing in one common goal.
‘A few days ago, I came back from my first mission. These missions are based on voluntary participation and different duties are required to that of my regular work. The mission task of our operation was to defend a ship of humanitarian help, from pirates, so that it could safely reach the region of Somalia. We got lucky and bypassed the direct confrontations. That said, at the same port we used, a few days later, grenades exploded and there were deaths.
‘In Somalia, I could be shot or jailed for simply being myself.’
“‘How has such a beautiful family failed?”‘
‘I agreed to share my story because from my experience I know that the more people know about LGBT+ issues, the more they open their minds.
‘By talking about the fact that I am gay, I have already changed at least 10 people’s opinions. I remember, when I was divorcing my wife, one guy I know was surprised and said: ‘How has such a beautiful family failed?’
‘I told him openly: “How long would you live with a gay guy?” He then replied that if I were gay, I would immediately fly out of the window. I didn’t fly anywhere – we still get along. He had to face that I am gay, and that’s it.
‘Many think that they don’t know any LGBT+ people, that it’s some kind of rainbowy fairytale propaganda situation that they see on TV. There are many stereotypes, and because of them, some people don’t even believe that I’m gay: “You don’t look like that, not even close.”
‘But sexual orientation doesn’t have anything to do with the way you look. There are gay policemen, soldiers, lawyers, simple workers and even the men who are swearing rather than talking.
‘Perhaps people from the art world are more open in public because they have more freedom, they don’t have the pressure to behave in one way or another.
‘When I shared my coming out on social media, I was worried about how it would be accepted at work. Until then, only my closest colleagues knew, but I wasn’t sure how the rest of my unit would react. And yet I didn’t have any bad reactions, only some jokes – and I like to joke myself too.
‘When I got back to work after the vacation, I had to admit that nothing happened, the sun was still shining. Everyone kept doing their jobs.’
‘I tried to stay close with my children’
‘I wish that same-sex partners had access to everything that mixed sex couples do. Marriage, raising children – both our own, and adopted. I believe that it will like that one day.
‘I remember recently I read a news story about a gay couple raising their son. Comments were so cruel and crude, feeling sorry for that child. But nobody thought that their son could have a great life with education, trips and vacations… Meanwhile, many children are waiting at the foster homes, receiving none of these things. Why don’t we let them have a happy childhood?
‘I myself take care of two young teens from my ex-marriage. I divorced my wife four years ago, but from the beginning I tried to stay close with my children.’
‘Today our vacation begins, we will be together for a whole week. I’m proud of them. They are very creative, each exploring a different musical field. I notice everything and praise them even for the small things. At the moment I’m living in Palanga because of my job – once I move to Klaipėda, we’ll see each other more often.
‘Children are one of life’s long lasting connections. Partners, friends, colleagues – everything can change, but your children will always stay your children. I am 40 years old, but when my mom calls me, I’m still the same child to her.
‘I’ll defend our country no matter who is in our government’
‘I consider myself a patriot. Sometimes we don’t value how much we have already achieved in Lithuania and the European Union.
‘You can be free here, feel safe, work and save some money. Of course, you could always leave, searching for a better place – but you shouldn’t forget about the possibility to stay and fight for the country. Perhaps sometimes it’s more difficult in Lithuania, but only here we are at home.
‘That said, patriotism doesn’t mean always agreeing with the government. As a soldier, I don’t comment on politics, but as a citizen, I often have my opinion.
‘If I see that things aren’t going the right direction, I can, and I must, call it out. I wish everyone were more active and joined different civic actions. Only a country that has strong citizens, can be strong itself.
‘All in all, if needed, I’ll defend our country no matter who is in our government. Whoever you are – vegan or meat eater, gay or homophobe – I’ll defend everyone, regardless of their opinion about me.’
Words: Rolandas Skabickas
Friendly Stories can be read offline at any of the friendly venues in Vilnius or Kaunas, all listed at friendlycity.info.