LGBTI Equal Rights Association for Western Balkans and Turkey

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ERA hosts second regional conference on political participation of LGBTI people

12 Jan

17 December 2021 – ERA – LGBTI Equal Rights Association in cooperation with Open Mind Spectrum Albania (OMSA) and HBT-SocialDemocrats of Sweden, hosted in Tirana, Albania, its second regional conference on political participation of LGBTI+ people in the Western Balkans and Turkey. Since its establishment in 2015, and in close cooperation with its member organisations, ERA has advocated regionally and internationally for the political participation, representation and engagement of LGBTI+ people. To date, significant efforts have been made to push for and maintain a positive momentum among governments, parliamentarians, human rights organisations and other stakeholders in the region. The event was organized with the support of Olof Palme International Centre, the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, LSVD Germany, the European Commission, and the Council of Europe hosted its second regional conference on the political participation of LGBTI+ people in the Western Balkans and Turkey. 
The situation: 
There are several existing barriers to the political participation of LGBTI+ people in the region. With extremely rare occasions there are no out LGBTI politicians. Regular studies across the region show that the majority of political parties do not have LGBTI rights in their Party statues or governing programs. Across the region, hate speech against LGBTI people is very prevalent among politicians and other public figures. 
Despite this, LGBTI people have found support and allies among many political parties and politicians, whose efforts in defending this community have made a huge difference. Their efforts – and those of many governments and mandates across the entire Western Balkans region – have led to positive legislation in the area of non-discrimination, protection from hate speech and hate crimes, family rights and those relating to gender identity and gender expression. North Macedonia has recently become a leading global example of parliamentary political engagement by establishing an inter-party parliamentary working group that meets regularly and builds consensus on important legal and policy reforms. 
The road to LGBTI equality however is still very long and no country can say they have fulfilled all demands and expectations of the community. In fact recent global developments and trends, including Europe itself, show a backlash against human and minority rights, and an increased polarization on almost every single topic, which has made the LGBTI movement and communities even more vulnerable and concerned about their future. 
Given these obstacles and the overall context, our conference objectives were: 
·      To update stakeholders on the state of political participation of LGBTI+ people in the region since 2019 
·      To discuss the current situation and strategies aiming to obtain legal gender recognition in the countries of our region
·      To discuss the current situation and strategies aiming to obtain legal recognition of same-sex families in our region. 
The conference was attended by many politicians and Members of Parliament and Governments from across the region. 
When it comes to political participation of LGBTI people in the Western Balkans but also in general, our political parties are male dominated, patriarchal, with strong hierarchy when it comes to decision making processes and it is still always about the vote. We are still complacent to the norms. The politicians present at the conference emphasized that political parties should make their positions clear on LGBTI rights and provide space for LGBTI people in decision making bodies and positions of responsibility. They need to acquire more education and sensitisation on the needs and issues of LGBTI citizens. More work need to be done to address the toxic and aggresive political culture, which forces many LGBTI people to “stay of it”. New grass roots movements, like Ne Davimo Beograd in Serbia, show that inclusion of LGBTI people is possible. Their experience shows also that preparation is needed for the backlash and how to speak to the moveable middle but also sanction those who discriminate. The recent case of the outing of a gay politician in Bosnia and Herzegovina, followed by the support of his party and the general public, shows that there is progress and hope for the LGBTI community to be embraced by their political parties. 
“We have an invisible community, and it is clear why the community is not out from fear of not feeling safe but also in the LGBTI community there is the opinion that the political scene is a toxic and aggressive space so nobody in their right frame of mind joins politics and at the same time and abide to their values.”
Dajana Bakić
“Our representation is organized in such a way that 10% of LGBTI people participate in all structures of the party. We have a proportional list which includes men, women and non-binary. We want to own up to our values. One of our aspirations is not only to create a world where LGBTI people will live freely but also to have intentional processes that will include people from all walks of life.”
Natalija Simović, Ne Davimo Beograd
The second panel focus on trans, non-binary and intersex people who are the least included in societies and laws and policies continue to be regulatory and imposing on the bodies and freedoms of these communities. For example, trans people often need to go through long and violent procedures to change their gender legally. Even though international standards have changed, in our region there is still compulsory sterilisation, hormonal treatment and other types of interventions. In the last years we have noticed a strong and visible trans movement which is established and take space in political life. We see individuals who are taking the space, creating their platforms and we see them making clear demands. First time that we have in the region a community clearly vocal. During the pandemic trans people stood for each other, organizing food, shelter, peer support and everything that the states failed to do. We saw a solidarity which is important for us to achieve our rights. 
The last panel focused on legal recognition of rainbow families in the region. The panel highlighted the many challenges that same-sex families encounter in the Western Balkans region and focused on specific examples from Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia. The panel was a great opportunity to strengthen dialogue on the matter of family rights in our region and to exchange experiences and perspectives. Participants agreed that both policy and legislative environment needs to be improved in respect of family rights for LGBTI persons. 
Click here to read the conference’s full report.

Topic - Family / Gender Identity / Political Participation / Politics
Country - All Countries