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While Lithuania is often criticised for homophobic laws and attitudes, her big cities are taking their own initiative to change the country’s course for a more progressive and inclusive society. Wednesday, June 21, a Friendly Vilnius map was issued and 20.000 free copies distributed across the city. This is the 5th edition of the map, a project which has been highlighting LGBT friendly establishments since 2012.
GoVilnius Director Darius Udrys and Filmmaker Romas Zabarauskas
GoVilnius Director Darius Udrys and Filmmaker Romas Zabarauskas

From last year, the project also includes other „friendly" categories, encouraging members to have wheelchair access, vegan options or simply to be welcoming to pets. Next month the friendliness is spreading to Lithuania's second city. The Friendly Kaunas map will be released in July. Both maps are also available online at FriendlyVilnius.com and FriendlyKaunas.com.

A strong citizenship initiative co-founded by Vilnius City Councillor Mark Adam Harold, this year Friendly Vilnius got official backing from the city authorities. LGBT friendly information for tourists was included in the official Vilnius' tourist information website – a meaningful step showing the city's policy of inclusion. Darius Udrys, Director of the city's development agency Go Vilnius said at the Friendly Vilnius launch: "Friendly Vilnius is an exemplary grassroots initiative led by active citizens and businesses that highlights our city's most inclusive establishments and provides valuable information to visitors and residents alike. We are proud to distribute the Friendly Vilnius map at our Tourist Information Centres and to include the information in Go Vilnius media like our Welcome Kit for business and talent locating to Vilnius."

The initiator of Friendly Vilnius is openly gay filmmaker Romas Zabarauskas. „Despite conservative tendencies in our country – and across the world – our city is friendly and we must cherish it. Diversity is not a secondary issue, it is the basis of our society, and so we need to work together for that aim", said Zabarauskas.

More than 50 venues of Friendly Vilnius and over 20 Kaunas venues offer a variety of services – the maps include not only cafes, bars, restaurants, but also hotels, shops and beauty salons. A gay-friendly trip could easily be planned to conincide with special events such as Baltic Pride, the Vilnius LGBT Film Festival "Kreivės", the queer community summer festival "Sapfo Fest" and much more.

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