Serbia Holds Its First Peaceful Gay Pride March in More Than a Decade

Serbia hosted a gay pride march Sunday, the first peaceful pro-LGBT demonstration in the country in more than a decade


The march through Belgrade, the nation’s capital, was held under heavy police security to prevent a repeat of the violence that marred a 2010 demonstration in which hundreds of people were injured.

An estimated 1,000 gay activists and their supporters carried rainbow flags and signs — some bearing the message “Pride. Normally.” — while marching along eerily empty streets with anti-riot police units positioned on almost every corner. The gathering was patrolled by several thousand policemen, who blocked off central streets and avenues throughout Belgrade.

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After the unrest in 2010, Serbian authorities banned pride marches, citing security risks and the threat of violence by far-right groups and ultra-nationalists. Only minor scuffles were reported this year and a group of 50 hooligans stoned a police cordon set up to prevent them from approaching the demonstrators. A local photographer was slightly injured during the scuffle. Another group threw firebombs at a local television broadcaster, slightly injuring two policemen.

Police choppers equipped with cameras flew above the area, and a number of businesses, including a McDonald’s restaurant, pulled down their shutters to avoid a repeat of the damage that resulted when riots broke out during Serbia’s 2010 pride parade. Belgrade police said 50 people were brought in for questioning before and during the march.

“This is just a start,” said Goran Miletic, one of the organizers of the march. “Next year, we will have less policemen, and less every year, until we will all walk free, with no need for such security.”

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Marija, 25-year-old student, came with her best friend to “show that not only gays support the pride.”

“I hope that next time, even more people — gay or straight — will come out to show that we are all equal,” Marija said.

Local media reported that members of special anti-riot police unit beat a brother of Serbian conservative Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and two members of his security team as they tried to pass through a cordon despite warnings.

Speaking to reporters after the march, Vucic said he was “personally sad” about the incident, but refused to elaborate.

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Vucic said Sunday that “there must be no violence during the pride as Serbia respects its laws and constitution.”

“No one is allowed to jeopardize the others, no one should use violence against anyone else and the state’s job is to prevent it,” Vucic told reporters ahead of the march.

A number of foreign diplomats attended the parade, including the EU delegation chief Michael Davenport. For the first time ever, several Serbian ministers and the mayor of Belgrade joined the march.

“For the first time, the [government] institutions have publicly supported the organization of the pride and media reports were more favorable for the LGBT community,” one of the organizers, Boban Stojanovic, told reporters Saturday.

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On Saturday, the ultra-nationalist far-right group Dveri organized an anti-gay counter-march in central Belgrade. No major incidents were reported during the protest, which lasted several hours and was heavily secured by the police.

The head of the influential Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Irinej, spoke up against the gay pride, saying it was “immoral” and “violently imposed by a gay lobby and their mentors from (western) Europe.”

via VICE from Serbia

Common Resolution Against Violence and Hate Crimes

A German friend and participant of our conference “The future belongs to us: LGBT rights on the road to the European Union” was attacked and seriously injured the night between the two conference days. The attack left him in life threatening condition


A German friend and participant of our conference “The future belongs to us: LGBT rights on the road to the European Union” was attacked and seriously injured the night between the two conference days. The attack left him in life threatening condition.

The organizers Labris and Hirschfeld-Eddy Foundation along with co-organizers Civil Rights Defenders and YUCOM decided to change today’s conference programme to focus on moving forward after such an event.

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We decided to organize a protest march in the streets of Belgrade at noon against intolerance, hate crime and violence against minorities, since the attack is speculated to have been xenophobic.

We call upon all human rights, anti-discrimination, civil society organizations, and all people of good will to build a strong alliance against hate crime, violence and any kind of minority related hostilities such as the attack witnessed in the early hours today. This incident echoes back to the unfortunate case of Brice Taton in 2009. Further, we ask that the Serbian state act against the perpetrators of this attack and to speak out against xenophobia, homophobia, and other prejudices that plague Serbian society. The rule of law cannot be sidelined when such things occur, especially from extremists such as nationalist and hooligans.

Today was violence against one group and tomorrow it will be to another, and so on. We all, whether LGBT, Roma, religious minority, disabled, or from other discriminated groups, experience the same violence, hate speech and hate crimes and we have to stand together to protect ourselves and to cooperate for a brighter future where all people can live as free and equal citizens.

Every human being has to ask themselves in which society they want to live: In a society where some people have more rights than others or in a society where everyone has the same rights, the same chances and the same level of protection against violence?

The way a society deals with its minorities is a litmus test for its level of democracy, liberty and openness. We all have to be constantly cautious and attentive to make sure that the freedom, the rights and the liberties we have fought for are not attacked, taken away and replaced by intolerance, repression and violence.

Our thoughts and best wishes are with the victim of the attack, and we hope for his speedy recovery and well being. The participants of the conference “The future belongs to us. LGBT rights on the road to the European Union”

Belgrade, 13 September 2014

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

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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.