This article was published in Oslobodjenje, a BiH newspaper, originally in Bosnian. English translation below.
The life of gay people in Sarajevo is difficult, oppressive, pitiless, and dangerous. It’s pointless to fight for a better tomorrow here, said Benjamin (31), who works as a doctor in Sarajevo, in a conversation with Fena Agency. He tells the story LGBT people in Sarajevo with his everyday life and the acceptance, or lack thereof, he has to live with.
Ignorance, prejudice, and stereotypes are pretty much always present when it comes to LGBT people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transexual) in Sarajevo and throughout the region.
An Endless Battle
Many LGBT people have had bad experiences in Sarajevo because of their sexual orientation, but some of them, in spite everything, have managed to build lives despite the disapproval of the majority, largely thanks to the support of their closest friends and family. For security reasons, the names of those interviewed have been changed.
Continuing his story, Benjamin says that he was in love with his best friend, with whom he studied, for seven years, but only admitted to himself that he was gay when he was 18.
Being a gay person in Sarajevo is, Benjamin adds, “an endless battle.“
His friends know about his sexual orientation, and his gender identity is “bigender”, which means that he feels like a woman and a man.
– When I was 28, I told my mom and sister how I feel. It took a lot of time and love for them to accept this news. Now I have their support because I tell them that it’s my happiness that’s important, not the happiness of those arounds me, he said.
Not long ago, a group of young people attacked him and injured him physically. He didn’t report the incident to the police because he doesn’t think it would be useful.
– They also constantly verbally abused me in high school. But this is obviously my burden that I will have to carry with me, said Benjamin.
Jasna, who is 31, who has a master’s in Economics, lives and works in Sarajevo. She says that her first childhood crush was a girl.
– I was 10, and I already knew that I was different. I never had any romantic feelings for anyone of the other sex, she added.
She says that LGBT people in Sarajevo live in hiding and it’s not a simple affair.
– One thing is unclear to me, and that is how when there is so much immorality in this region, originating with politicians, anyone has the time to worry about LGBT people. Who cares what I do behind my four walls?, she said.
She emphasises that there is obviously a lot of animosity, mostly because of the local mentality.
– I am aware that it’s hard to change the mentality of our people, but acceptance would be the most fundamental thing that would make LGBT people feel more security. But believe me, it’s very difficult to get along, she said.
Her close friends know about her sexual orientation, but she hasn’t told her parents yet. She thinks they already know because she’s never had a child.
Jasna hasn’t had huge problems, except for some negative comments.
– One day I was on a walk with my girlfriend and a young guy walked by us. After he’d passed us by about 15 metres, he threw a stone at us and called us vulgar names, she said.
In her opinion, the pride parade can’t change anything, so LGBT people shouldn’t be fighting for their rights using this method.
– Although I am for the parade, Sarajevo isn’t ready yet. There would be more bad than good, she concluded..
Sanja (27) was born in Sarajevo and works as a waitress at a bar. She says that one day she just kissed a girl. The majority of her friends know about her sexual orientation.
– I told everyone, everyone knows and everyone is OK with it because I am surrounded by people who don’t look at me any different now, Sanja says.
In a conversation with Fena, she says that she’s never had any negative experiences, but she knows a lot of people in Sarajevo who have had a lot of problems in their private and public lives due to their sexual orientations.
A pride parade is unneeded.
– As long as heterosexual people aren’t starting to parade around, neither will I, she declared.
She thinks that being gay is a totally normal thing. Whenever anyone asks about her orientation, she tells the truth.
– It was hard to tell my mom, but after I had gathered the strength and admitted it to her, I got a lot of support from her. She says the most important thing is that I’m happy. After that, everything became easier, Sanja said.
Sarajevo Open Centre performed a research project about the needs of the LGBT community in BiH called “Numbers of Life.“
Lejla Huremović, a representative of Sarajevo Open Centre told Fena that the quality of life of LGBT people depends on their everyday surroundings and their psychological and legal contexts.
– The problems that LGBT people face vary and depend on the individual, but generally we can speak of everyday discrimination and violence. The level of discrimination and violence depends on many factors, but one of them is whether or not someone is out, whether they’ve admitted within their circles that they’re an LGBT person, she said.
Huremović adds that because of the high likelihood that they’ll be victims of violence and discrimination, LGBT people stay in the closet and try to exist in society this way.
– In the research project we conducted, it became clear that the biggest problem is a lack of support from friends and family, and then physical and psychological violence. The needs of LGBT people, who are subject to homophobia and intolerance in society, are largely the need for secure space, psychological and legal help, and the efficient functinoing of national institutions when it comes to protection from violence, she underlined.
Huremović thinks that the relevant institutions must step it up in the field of the protection of the rights of LGBT people, to publicly promote tolerance and anti-discrimination, and to create a register of cases of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
– It’s necessary to start processing cases of violence against LGBT people and to take into account hate as a motivating factor, so that these cases are treated as hate crimes. Natoinal institutions must protect all citizens of BiH unselectively, she concluded.
A representative from the CURE Foundation, Vildana Džekman, told Fena that a research project done in the scope of the project “Coming Out! Advocating for the Protection of the Rights of LGBT People“ confirmed that LGBT people are in an unfavorable position.
– LGBT people suffer discrimination in all sectors of society, especially after coming out, that is, telling people about their sexual orientation. These people experience the most discrimination within their families or circles of friends, she said.
Džekman cites violence and verbal and physical attacks as the biggest problems that LGBT people face.
She adds that the relevant institutions must initiate the acceleration of the process of implementing laws and ratified conditions.
– Courts and prosecutors must be educated about LGBT people in order to follow the proper legal procedures. The Ministry of Internal Affairs must be serious about securing public events for LGBT people so that events like the International Film Festival Merlinka don’t occur again, where the Ministry didn’t issue a statement, she explained.
Another big problem in BiH is the lack of consistency within criminal law and the lack of measures against hate speech and hate crime in the Federation as compared to the other entities.
– At the moment, the proposal to the House of Peoples has been once again returned with amendments to the House of Representatives, and I hope that it will pass with this bundle of amendments, she said.
Džekman emphasized that hate speech on online portals and other public sources is a huge problem, and this hate speech goes unsanctioned because of a lack of legal regulation.
– Incitement and hate speech shows how much homophobia has increased in our society, concluded Vildana Džekman in her conversation with Fena.