Key LGBT topics defined

As part of a larger project aimed to improve the quality of life for the LGBT community in Serbia, one of the country’s gay rights organisations has defined five topics to address the authorities with


In cooperation with the Forum for Ethnic Relations, Labris has defined five priority fields on empowering LGBT people that should be integrated into the public policy. These include: access to justice and the rule of law; security, prevention of and fight against violence; ban of discrimination; education and socio-economic stability; and LGBT culture and identity.

Photo: Guillaume Paumier

Photo: Guillaume Paumier

The topics were defined following numerous consultations the two organizations held with stakeholders. “We may look at these topics from two perspectives — the issue of lack of legislative framework and the issue of meeting the established standards of rights and freedoms,” Labris’ Dragana Todorovic said.

According to her, legislative framework in terms of standards of equality before the law, the right to judicial proceedings, ban of discrimination and access to education and health care is satisfactory. But, the implementation of the laws varies drastically.

“In addition to a comprehensive and systematized mapping of needs and finding appropriate and sustainable solutions to improve the situation of LGBT people, it is important to ensure that the proposed solutions reach out to decision makers,” Todorovic noted. Therefore, the next step is to address the authorities with these five topics.

Labris expects from politicians a partnership in the process of finding appropriate and realistic solutions. “The project offers a new beginning for sustainable and constructive cooperation between state institutions and civil society organizations working on issues of importance to the LGBT people,” Todorovic said.

This project is financially supported by the Royal Norwegian Embassy.

Serbia is a signatory to a number of universal and regional international instruments for the protection of human rights, which clearly prohibit discrimination against LGBT people. However, for years there have been a problem with law enforcement and respect for the rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

According to surveys, Serbian society remains deeply homophobic, as a result of which gay people tend to live in isolation and with a high degree of secrecy.

In 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013, the authorities banned gay parades after police declared they could not safeguard marchers against threats of violence coming from right-wing groups. The Gay Pride march went ahead in 2010, but several thousand youngsters, including football fans and members of rightist organisations, threw stones and missiles at the police, injuring police officers and setting buildings and vehicles on fire.

Belgrade-based Labris, founded in 1995, is one of the oldest lesbian human rights organizations in the region. It considers the right to different sexual orientation as one of the basic human rights. Since its foundation, Labris has conducted more than 70 projects on empowering LGBT people.

Source: Royal Norwegian Embassy in Belgrade

Children of Same-Sex Parents Found to be Happier, Healthier than Peers

In the largest study published of its kind worldwide, the Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families recently published its results from a survey of 315 same-sex parents representing 500 children aged 0-17. This study aimed to expand research on same-sex parenting that had been previously limited by smaller scope and sample sizes, and to investigate the impact of social stigma on the wellbeing of the children. However, the study overwhelmingly found that children with same-sex attracted parents scored higher than population samples on measures of child health.

The health and wellbeing of the children was assessed along multiple axes, using three standardized scales “used to measure multidimensional aspects of functioning and health-related quality of life” as well as a standardized behavioral screening that assessed social and emotional wellbeing. Perceived stigma was the other main outcome measure recorded by the study, and were assessed by a standardized stigmatization scale and compared to the health and wellbeing scales.

Of the children who participated in the study, ninety-one had male parents (18% of the results), four hundred had female parents (80% of the results) and five (1%) had an other-gendered parent.

After adjusting for socio-demographic factors, the average scores for general behavior, health, and family cohesion were 3%, 6%, and 6% higher for children from same-sex parents on the Child Health Questionnaire compared to general population values. The conclusions reached by the study were that though perceived stigma is negatively associated with mental health, the children in the study with same-sex attracted parents scored higher than their peers on multiple measures of child health. The study looks toward the future in its conclusion section, stating that “[f]uture work should further explore the ways in which stigma affects the mental health of children with same-sex attracted parents and in particular ways in which these children can be protected from experiences of discrimination,” as the study and studies like it have established that mental health impact on children of same-sex couples is a result of the stigma measure, rather than an inherent feature of same-sex parenting.

Labris at EXIT Festival

A festival attendee signs a petition at Labris's stand at EXIT.

A festival attendee signs a petition at Labris’s stand at EXIT.

Last weekend, Labris was invited to participate in the NGO sector of EXIT Festival in Novi Sad.  EXIT is a music festival that is held within the Petrovaradin Fortress that has garnered a reputation for being one of the largest and most highly-renowned festivals in Europe, attracting an audience of around 200,000 people from all over the world.

EXIT has been rooted in a tradition of civic engagement and activism since its beginnings in the year 2000 as an anti-Milošević student protest. Today, this tradition continues with an area of the festival being allocated to various NGOs and similar organizations promoting their causes during the festival. It was in this section that Labris had a table.

 

During the four days of the festival, representatives from Labris passed out materials from various campaigns in partnership with IDAHO Beograd and PFLAG including pins, bags, stickers, and flyers. Festival visitors were encouraged to sign two petitions at Labris’s stand: one against discriminatory language regarding homosexuality in psychology and biology textbooks, and one supporting Labris’s draft of a same-sex partnership law. This experience allowed us to talk to and explain the aims of our organization to people from not only all over Serbia and the Balkans, but from many other places in Europe as well.

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Mina from Labris hands out information at the NGO stand at Exit.

Art as Advocacy: Subversion at International Art Show Manifesta 10

After much international disagreement over whether or not the “roving European Biennial of Contemporary art” Manifesta should be held in its chosen location for 2014 in St. Petersburg, Russia in light of Russia’s recent LGBT-related human rights abuses including the “anti-propaganda law” that has been widely publicized in international media, International Foundation Manifesta released a response last August that they would maintain St. Petersburg as the site for Manifesta 10. The Foundation stated that “[they] believe it is vital to play an active role in this dialogue” on progressing the narrative and human rights of LGBT people in Russia, and that “[o]n principle Manifesta cannot and should not only perform in the ‘safe haven’ of the West… This inevitably involves dialogue with those with whom we may disagree.”

This response may have been a contributing factor to many of Manifesta’s participating artists choosing the route of subversion rather than boycott that had been suggested (and that, in the end, some had chosen). An article by The Guardian examines the queering of this international yet intentionally Russian art space piece by piece, from Marlene Dumas’s collection of portraits paired with quotes called Great Men which examines gay men who have made contributions to cultural history while facing discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, to Wolfgang Tillman’s photography exhibition which he references as “the gayest show [he has] done” in the article.

Upon farther inspection of Manifesta 10′s website, queer themes seem to pervade the art show and directly confront Russian culture, including a “lecture-performance” called The Tranny Tease (in English) on Turkic languages spoken in Russia and former Soviet states performed the group “Slavs and Tartars.” (Russian language description and information available here). Marlene Dumas’s Great Men shows a Russian audience the faces of Russian success, from Tchaikovsky and ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, contextualized not only by their successes but also by their sexuality and subsequent oppression. Manifesta 10 is not just a island of queered space situated temporarily and impotently against Russia’s vast expanse. In these moments, it is a direct engagement with and aggression against a country that can celebrate Tchaikovsky as a countryman but criminalize mention of his sexuality. It is in these spaces where art can uniquely engage with and challenge cultures of oppression — in Russia and beyond.

LGBT in Serbia: Trans* Issues

In recent years, Serbia has become known worldwide as a center for sex-reassignment surgeries for transgender people. Sex reassignment surgeries have been performed in Serbia since 1989, and since an amendment to the Health Insurance Law by the Parliament in 2011, Serbia has made these surgeries subsidized by state provided health insurance. Costs are also kept low for foreigners who enter the country to undergo the procedure in an act of what is now called “medical tourism” and has been noted by publications such as the New York Times in their article “Serbia Becomes a Hub for Sex-Change Surgery.”

This reporting, however, gives a false impression of the quality of life for transgender people in Serbia. According to this report to the Council of Europe, transgender people are more likely to face employment discrimination or get fired from their jobs when they are undergoing sex reassignment surgeries or procedures. This systematic disenfranchisement of transgender people in Serbia, like in many places around the world, often leads disproportionate numbers of trans* people (especially transwomen) to turn to sex work, which may be both illegal (as in Serbia) and dangerous.

Transgender people in Serbia are also more likely to face violent attack. In 2009, transgender woman Minja Kočiš was brutally attacked and killed in her own apartment in Belgrade. In writing, the Anti-Discrimination Law is in place as the first piece of Serbian legislation that prohibits discrimination on the grounds of “gender or gender change” in addition to sexual orientation; however, this is often not enforced on the level of the Serbian courts, where hate crimes are often not recognized as such but rather as misdemeanor charges.

There also exist many issues for transgender people to obtain proper legal status in Serbia. Though sex reassignment surgeries may be legal and available in Serbia, there currently exists no path available for a transgender person to legally change their name and gender status on governmental documents, or their personal identification number. There is no legislation in place that would regulate family law issues pertaining to trans* people post-transition, and there is no protection of the right for the partners of trans* people or the parental rights of trans* people. As noted by this shadow report made to the UN on the status of LGBT people in Serbia, this lack of legislation concerning transgender issues is tantamount to a denial of legal recognition of transgender people in Serbia, and is in blatant violation of Articles 16 and 17 of the ICCPR as well as Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

It is a bizarre juxtaposition to see Serbia often cited in international media and by celebrities  as the ultimate destination for cheap but high-quality sex reassignment surgeries, while in Serbia trans* people still face discrimination in employment despite legislation, and have virtually no avenue for legal recognition of a medical/legal change in their sex.

Safe and Equal: Non-discrimination and Diversity Management in Employment

entersupport

Partners: Škuc-LL (Slovenia), Labris (Serbia) and Gayten (Serbia)

Contracting Authority: Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Serbia

The 24 months project  »Safe and Equal: Non-discrimination and Diversity Management in Employment«  is cooperation among Slovenian and Serbian partners. The action encompasses promotion of cultural diversity and capacity building of community based organisations for advancing the rights of discriminated groups and to provide services also in less developed Serbian regions.The project is relevant to several EU instrument for the promotion and consolidation of democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedom.

The project promotes gender mainstreaming as a horizontal priority of EU policy development and legislation in all areas of life and work. Adequately, the needs of disabled people are respected in all segments of the project (disability users’ friendly website, accessible venues, services). The relevance of the action is also in line with implementation of the European Employment Strategy: improvement of the working environment and conditions including health and safety at work and reconciling work and family life; effective implementation of the principle of non-discrimination and promotion of its mainstreaming in all EU policies; effective implementation of the principle of gender.

The weak implementation of anti – discrimination measures and the lack of integral approach to equal opportunities are main reasons why different vulnerable groups in employment are still exposed to discrimination. During the global economy crisis employers introduce financial restrictions, which make vulnerable and minority groups even less competitive and equal opportunities less accessible to all. Main obstacle for struggle against discrimination in employment is stigmatization of minorities and vulnerable groups and prejudices on how e.g. disabled, Roma, older people, young people, migrants, LGBT people, women are less reliable, motivated or efficient workers, but rather connected to higher business risk, even loss. Many workers and employment seekers are confronted with the burden of prejudices and stereotypes, which are an obstacle on their way to equality. However it seems that in spite of protective legislation the basic prejudices remain; deeply rooted in mentality of people and traditional ideology, prejudices are hard to overcome. But once they are, it is for good. To challenge intolerance, stereotypes and negative thinking, early education and awareness raising is crucial. Therefore we developed the idea of educational pilot project focused on introducing new measures for equal opportunities and to transfer Slovenian good practice and innovative method for diversity management and anti-discrimination to Serbian partners. The project includes trainings of trainers in this important area, and as well identification and analysis of good practice. We are focusing on human rights CSOs, because they have vivid interest and real potential to change the mentality of people and to make them learn new ideas. Simultaneously we intend to conduct a national media campaign for awareness raising of decision/policy makers, social partners and general public. Our aim is active promotion of equal opportunities in employment and labor market.

Project is supported by Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Serbia (EU Civil Society Facility Serbia Programme)

The information contained does not necessary reflect the position or opinion of the European Commission.

 

 

 

Stop Targeting Hungarian NGOs

Since its re-election, the Hungarian government launched a campaign attacking the credibility of Hungarian NGOs and are striving to gain controlling power over their funding distributed independently from the government


We believe that a dynamic and independent civil society plays a fundamental role in a democratic society, as it is one of the key checks and balances to governing power.

As demonstrated by Putin’s Russia, the harassment of the civil sector could easily lead to the criminalization of NGOs and could effectively hinder their work. We stand in solidarity with the Hungarian NGOs and call on the Hungarian and all other governments to refrain from harassing civil society.

Brenda Howard: Mother of Pride

June is Pride Month — a designation that came out of the Stonewall riots and organizing the years after by American bisexual activist Brenda Howard.

 

“The next time someone asks you why LGBT Pride marches exist or why Gay Pride Month is June tell them “A bisexual woman named Brenda Howard thought it should be.”

- Tom Limoncelli, Bisexual Activist, July 2005

Brenda Howard at an early Gay Rights protest in the 1970s.

Brenda Howard was an American LGBT and feminist activist who is known for organizing the first Pride parade. Howard was an original participant in the 1969 riots at Stonewall Inn, which are widely recognized as the most important event for the gay rights movement in the United States. To commemorate this event the following year, Howard organized an event called Christopher Street Liberation Day March, which became known as the first ever Pride parade in the world. In addition to the march itself, Howard was also the originator of week-long Pride events surrounding Pride marches as well as the name “Pride” itself.

In addition to these accomplishments, Brenda Howard was involved in many other aspects of LGBT and feminist activism through movements such as the Gay Activists Alliance, Gay Liberation Front, Stonewall 25, and through her foundation of the New York Area Bisexual Network. Today, there exists a Brenda Howard Memorial Award founded by the Queens, NYC chapter of PFLAG — the first of its kind to be named after an openly bisexual person, which is given annually to an individual or organization that works for the promotion of the LGBT and, more specifically, bisexual, community.

 

Bisexual Activism in Serbia: An Interview With Radica Hura

Labris speaks with Radica Hura, Serbian bisexual activist, founder of Facebook page Biseksualke i Biseksualci Srbije The Bisexuals of Serbia and moderator for bisexual community UB Net

Radica Hura, Serbian bisexual activist

Radica Hura, Serbian bisexual activist

Labris: Can you tell us about your own bisexuality and how it has influenced your activism?

Radica: I see my bisexuality as part of my identity, a part of me, as if it were my skin, my eyes… It is a part of me and somehow it was logical for me to do the activism because I wanted to find more people like me and to inspire them to speak about it. It is something natural to me to speak about it and to inspire others to speak as well. Although it is not visible, you cannot be silent about that part of who you are. Like I said, it is part of you, it’s natural.

When did you perceive your bisexuality? How much of that was confusing to you and how much was liberating?

I perceived that I was different when I was 12, but somehow in that time I thought that we all should be silent about it. We all are like that, but we should be silent about it. I didn’t notice when it was a boy or a girl, but I noticed it was a person I was attracted to. But I was speaking only about boys because everyone told me it should be so. Like, all girls are attracted to boys but about girls I was silent. When I was 17 I decided I should speak about it. Why not? I didn’t hear anyone else speaking about it, but I said that I must speak it so I spoke out about it. First to my family then my friends. My mother didn’t understand my own bisexuality – she understood how some people were gay and some people were straight, but not how people are bisexual. She said that this wasn’t possible, that it was an unhealthy lifestyle. So it was for two years that I was trying to be straight or gay. I lived three months as straight and three months as gay, and it was like hell, it was really hell… because it was like I was forced to do something I really don’t like. Then one day at breakfast I told my mother I can’t be gay or straight, and she says I know. I spoke to my friends but they didn’t take me seriously. Even the girls I dated at that time didn’t take it seriously, they said “oh, we are all going through a phase and in the end we are going to get married and everything…” and I said “But that’s who we are how can you say that” and they would say “Yes but you know…. It’s a phase. It will all go away.” But I knew it couldn’t go away. Then the boys I dated said “Oh that’s so great, we can have a threesome,” so they weren’t taking me seriously. No one was taking me seriously. And then I involved myself in LGBT activism and realized that no one is speaking about bisexuality there. So here in Serbia, even the boys or girls who were bisexual were silent, so I said okay, I’m going to speak about this. So that was the first bi visibility day in 2013. I am running a page to form a group for support – not an organization because I don’t think that the bisexual community can stand alone, because it is a common fight, the goals are common, we have all suffered the same discrimination and violence and homophobia – because bi people also experience homophobia on top of biphobia because they are in same sex relationships. So I do not believe in bisexual activism standing alone, because I believe it has an equal part – you know, where all the letters, the community parts can be heard and go into the fight equally.

Is there an organization or association in Serbia providing support to bisexual people?

Currently, I don’t think there is one. I was the one who spoke first that I know of – if there is someone, let’s make contact! – but I was the first one who spoke about it. I run a [Facebook] page and people write me there, so I’m ready, if I’m able, to provide that support, to speak with them, to run workshops, to speak about the problems. But associations or group support? There is none currently. My page is all online though, and anyone can comment on that page of bisexuals of Serbia, and there I can speak about almost anything. ‘

In the acronym LGBTIQ, there is a B for bisexuals. How much attention does that get here in Serbia and in the world?

There is one really strange wave in the world in the community itself of bisexual erasure. It is done very silently and viciously, but I don’t think that everyone in the LGBTQ community is like that. Those are powerful circles [that practice bisexual erasure], but they are not powerful enough to fully do bisexual erasure. So I don’t think that will happen. In America, as I have noticed, there are organizations that are coming out and doing work independently, but on the level of Europe, everything is together but bisexualism is excluded. If you ask people about that letter, they tell you it is a “wrong theory.” The biggest organizations have written that they are for the protection of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people, but then in practice they say to you that is a wrong theory. Even bisexual people themselves will say “oh, I used to tell people I was a bisexual but not anymore because I or they think it is a wrong theory.” So there is a strong biphobia. But then in Serbia and other traditional countries, it becomes a double identity. If you come out as bisexual, it is seen as easier because your family assumes that you will eventually get married and end up straight. They won’t accept it – even if you are bisexual you won’t be accepted – but it is easier because that person can hide their bisexuality. But that is why we need to do this support – to say that no, it is not the pressure of a family for people to say they are bi, because we suffer the same, I think, as gay and lesbian people. But we are bisexual people and we have the need to be able to say it is not about the pressure of the family, it is about who we are.

On the 23rd of September, it is Bisexuality Visibility Day. Will the day be marked here in Belgrade?

I came out for the first time to mark the date last year, and I hope that this year in 2014 it will be marked as well. And I hope that others there are to both hear and prepare that because I don’t want to stand alone for all Serbian bisexuals, so if others joined that would be great.

 

Radica can be contacted via her Facebook page Biseksualke i Biseksualci Srbije — The Bisexuals of Serbia, and more of her personal story can be found here.

LGBT friendly network – application for a better understanding

Innovative support for the LGBT community

All information of interest to LGBT people, their parents and friends are now easily and freely available on smartphones thanks to the initiative of Labris – lesbian human right organization


Belgrade, 3 June 2014. – The more active contribution to the reduction of homophobia and discrimination against LGBT people in Serbia, the organization Labris has launched a unique application for smart phones – LGBT FRIENDLY NETWORK.

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The application is developed based on LGBT friendly map that is previously developed on the website pflagsrbija.org.rs and except for information about the activities of the LGBT organizations now in one place and easily are accessible contacts for psychological and legal support, as well as state institutions in Serbia that have an understanding LGBT issues and support this population.

The application currently provides information and contacts of 9 LGBT of LGBT friendly clubs/bars, 37 organizations, 19 institutions, 11 therapists and two gynecological ordinations in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Niš, Šabac and Zrenjanin. There are contacts for legal, psychological care of professionals who have been actively working on improvement of the position of LGBT people in Serbia.

“With this application we wanted to provide to LGBT people and their families and friends information on all significant activities within the community. That’s why Labris invites civil society organizations and government institutions to join LGBT FRIENDLY NETWORK and to contribute to reducing homophobia and together with us work on better acceptance of LGBT people in the Serbian community” – Jelena Vasiljević, Program Coordinator in Labris

LGBT FRIENDLY NETWORK is not designed exclusively for the LGBT community, but also for the parents and friends of LGBT people who now easily can access the information and contacts for any kind of help they need.

Labris – organization for lesbian human rights launched the initiative for the realization of this innovative and useful application. The application is available for free via Google Play service and the website: pflagsrbija.org.rs