Washinghton Blade: Poll: Anti-LGBT discrimination, attitudes common in Balkans

Transgender rights advocates take part in a Pride celebration in Belgrade, Serbia, earlier this year. (Photo courtesy of Sarajevo Open Center)


A poll released this week indicates anti-LGBT discrimination and attitudes remain commonplace throughout the Balkans.

The National Democratic Institute, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute and Civil Rights Defenders polled 655 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia in an online survey conducted in June and July of this year. The organizations also held an LGBTI focus group in each of the six countries’ capital cities — Tirana, Sarajevo, Pristina, Skopje, Podgorica and Belgrade — in August.

Eighty-one percent of LGBTI Kosovars who took part in the survey said they have “been exposed to psychological abuse,” including threats of physical violence. More than 70 percent of LGBTI Serbian respondents said they experienced the same treatment in their country, which is a 15 percent increase from 2014.

Sixty-five percent of LGBTI Albanians who took part in the survey said they have experienced discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTI respondents in all six countries indicated they most commonly face discrimination in employment.

The majority of LGBTI respondents from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia said Pride parades “have improved the position of the LGBTI community” in their respective countries.

The Serbian government in 2013 cancelled a Belgrade Pride march, citing threats of violence from anti-gay extremists.

Organizers of the first Queer Sarajevo Festival in 2008 cancelled the event after dozens of people attacked participants during the opening exhibition. Three people were injured in February 2014 when a group of people wearing masks attacked an LGBT festival in the Bosnian capital that Sarajevo Open Center, a local advocacy group, had organized.

Nearly half of LGBTI Bosnians who took part in the survey nevertheless said they would take part in a Pride gathering if their government guaranteed the security “of all the participants.”
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The survey also polled 6,436 people in the six countries in June.

Fifty-eight percent of Macedonians and 44 percent of Bosnians who took part in the survey said they would “try to help” their child “find a cure” if they found out their child was gay. Thirty-four percent of Montenegrin respondents said they would “stop communicating with” a friend, acquaintance, colleague or a neighbor if they found out that he or she were LGBTI.

More than 70 percent of the respondents who took part in the survey in the six countries described marriage rights for same-sex couples as “completely unacceptable.” This figure drops among those who said they “personally interact with LGBTI persons.”

Only 10 percent of respondents said LGBTI people have the right to adopt children. This figure increases to 26 percent among those who “personally interact with LGBTI persons.”

The survey notes 60 percent of Kosovars and 61 percent of Macedonian respondents said they would not vote for a political party that “wants to protect and promote the rights of LGBTI citizens.” It noted, however, that Serbia’s ruling party did not lose any support among the country’s voters after it allowed the Belgrade Pride parade to take place last year.

Sarajevo Open Center Executive Director Sasa Gavric told the Washington Blade on Friday in an email the survey “confirmed existing data in our country.”

Gavric said a “surprising result” was the correlation between the popularity of political leaders in a respective country and their support of Pride celebrations.

“The research showed that if political leaders do support LGBT rights this does not mean they will lose political support,” said Gavric. “This is an important massage for our political leadership in the conservative countries.”
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The Balkan countries lag behind many of their Western European neighbors in terms of LGBT rights, but they have moved to extend rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity in recent years.

Consensual same-sex sexual conduct is decriminalized in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

Albanian and Serbian law bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Kosovo and Montenegro have enacted statutes that prohibit anti-gay discrimination. Bosnia’s Law Against Discrimination took effect in 2009, but it does not specifically define “sexual orientation” or “sexual expression.”

An LGBT-inclusive hate crimes law took effect in Serbia in 2014.

“In new democracies struggling to overcome ethnic and sectarian conflict, LGBTI rights have not been as high on the development agenda as they should be,” said National Democratic Institute’s Central and Eastern Europe Regional Director Robert Benjamin in a press release that announced the survey results. “This poll suggests that homo/transphobia is not a fixed prejudice in the Balkans and that LGBTI rights are beginning to receive public recognition. Research of this kind is a critical tool, but to be effective the data needs to be integrated into communication and advocacy strategies that promote equal rights for LGBTI people.”

More than two dozen LGBT rights advocates from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia in July 2014 attended a Belgrade training the Victory Fund organized as a way to encourage increased involvement in their respective countries’ political processes. A group of men less than two months later severely beat a German advocate who was attending an LGBT rights conference in the Serbian capital.

Marriage Equality USA Executive Director Brian Silva was among the LGBT rights advocates from around the world who traveled to Sarajevo in September before taking part in this year’s Belgrade Pride. Special U.S. Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry in the coming days is scheduled to travel to Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia.