LGBTI Equal Rights Association for Western Balkans and Turkey

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LGBTI activists from ERA region reflect on FRA survey results

25 May

Increased visibility of LGBTI people in schools and society, combined with increased social polarization means we need to figure out how to make sure LGBTI people are safe. The rise of the far right across the region and Europe, means that unless seriously addressed, the position of LGBTI people, as well as other marginalized communities, will deteriorate even further, as nationalists and extremists attack any type of minority, including LGBTI, to gain power and momentum. We need to tackle this issue seriously and with concern. A huge majority of LGBTI people are not engaged with any organization or in any way with their rights. If we want to empower our community, then we need to figure out how to bring them closer to the cause. More efforts should be made to decentralize the movement and promote networks and grass roots groups in local communities. These in turn should be able to reach out more members of the community and provide the much needed help and support. Many trans and intersex people are not out to anyone. They spend most of their lives without any form of support or contact. We need to find ways how to create more accessibility and safe spaces for our trans and intersex peers. Of all the countries surveyed by the FRA, Serbia and North Macedonia report alarming numbers of hate crimes and violence against LGBTI people. In light of the very low trust and reporting that community has towards authorities, these numbers should encourage law enforcement authorities to do much more work in this field;
LGBTI activists from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, North Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia met today to reflect on the findings of FRA second LGBTI survey, which was published on 14 May. Lana Gobec from Legebitra in Slovenia, Daniel Martinović from Dugine Obitelji in Croatia, Stefan Petrovski from Subversive Front in North Macedonia, Stefan Šparavalo, ERA Steering Board member and representative of Da Se Zna, and Dajana Bakić from Tuzla Open Center in Bosnia and Herzegovina, shared their reflections. 
The overall position of LGBTI persons has not improved in Europe, and in several countries the situation shows either stagnation or regress. In our region the spectrum is more or less negative, from Slovenia standing a little below the EU average, to Serbia and North Macedonia, where the overall situation is much worse. Activists from the region were not surprised on most accounts of the survey, knowing way too well the living situation of LGBTI people in the region and the impact that homo/trans/bi/queerphobia have in their lives. However, they find the findings helpful both in relation to the community and how to advocate with state institutions. 
For Lana Gobec, Slovenia fares better than the rest of the region, however it remains below the EU average just like in the 2012 survey. What struck her the most was the low percentage of LGBTI Slovenians holding hands in public and the very low percentage of people (17%) reporting a sexual attack, figures which show that LGBTI people do not feel safe and do not trust the police.  The streets remain the least safe places for LGBTI people in Slovenia and where most attacks occur. 
Some statistics in Slovenia however, make space for cautious optimism: Compared to 2012, LGBTI people are more open about their SOGI status, including here at school and in the workplace (from 77% to 47%). While this is positive in itself, Gobec argues that it cannot be seen as a standalone thing. Research “Everyday life of gays and lesbians in Slovenia”, conducted in 2004 and 2014, reveals that homophobia has increased by 20%. The latest 2020 research reveals also that many LGBTI people have left school. All this means that we need to make schools safe. The same goes for general attitudes: while prejudice is now lower (56%), Slovenian society has become more polarized, not only on LGBTI issues but in general, and people are feeling that hatred is increasing in the street and in the public discourse. So for Gobec “our mission is to figure out how to maintain society a safe space for everyone”.
For Daniel Martinović, from Dugine Obitelji, Croatia is closer to non-EU countries of the region than Slovenia, and just like in 2012 the country is on the bottom part of the survey’s outcomes. He was not surprised by the fact that 94% of LGBTI people had not reported to anyone their cases of discrimination, keeping in mind the very low interest of law enforcement officials to address these incidents as well as the very negative media coverage of LGBTI issues and of incidents as such. LGBTI people are acutely aware of the hate speech and discriminatory language coming from politicians who despite the increased engagement they get from LGBTI CS0s they remain very reluctant to responds to the needs and demands of LGBTI community. 
A striking 87% of LGBTI youth have encountered very negative attitudes in schools which according to Daniel Martinović is mainly due to the Catholic Church’s penetration of social life and the education system which is influencing attitudes of young people. This trend in itself is one of the most worrisome phenomena in Croatia as it means that the future youth of the country might become even more homophobic than the previous generations. 
Martinović expressed also huge concern for rainbow families in Croatia, which despite the fact that people can enter into civil unions, 72% of LGBTI people would want to move somewhere else to get married and have kids. 
He also pointed out how Croatia is a perfect example that changing laws before joining the European Union does not guarantee that the situation will change for the better, and that in Croatia there is now a rise of the far right and family movements which are trying to position themselves against minority groups in society. This is yet another important front that we need to tackle seriously.  
Stefan Petrovski from Subversive Front in North Macedonia, when looking at data from his country, was struck by the very low number of people who are out (18%), the high levels of discrimination in the workplace (1 in 4), the fact that half of trans people are actually not out to any one and that 85% of the respondents are not involved with any LGBTI organization in the country. He argued also that keeping in mind that many LGBTI people might have actually refused to fill in the survey, the percentage of people who are not involved in any way with LGBTI rights is even higher. He pointed out also the lack of education on LGBTI issue in schools and the fact that the topic is addressed mostly in a negative way.  
Petrovski pointed out also that the very recent repeal of the anti-discrimination law in North Macedonia, will bring additional challenges for the movement and the community. 
Stefan Šparavalo, ERA Steering Board member and representative of organization Da Se Zna! from Serbia, pointed out the importance of such research in face of the low numbers of LGBTI people who report cases of discrimination and violence to the authorities. As an organization which works on addressing hate crimes, Da Se Zna! knows only too well the challenges it faces with decision makers, law enforcement officials and other stakeholders, who claim that “LGBTI people do not face violence in Serbia”. The research of course reveals quite the opposite, and shows that both Serbia and North Macedonia have the highest percentages of crimes against LGBTI people 41% and 38% respectively. In Serbia, 50% of LGBTI people avoid certain places for fear of being assaulted (EU average is 33%), meanwhile 17% of LGBTI people in Serbia have been victims of a hate crime compared to the EU 11% average. 
When looking into the data of openness about being LGBTI, Šparavalo argues that the fact that Ana Brnabić, Serbia’s current Prime Minister is openly lesbian, has had no impact on improving the visibility of LGBTI people in the country. Brnabić, who has been frequently criticized by the LGBTI movement, for not doing enough for the community, has not contributed to an increased number of people being out.  Compared to previous studies, it seems that LGBTI people are still very much closeted, with 53% of LGBTI Serbs saying they have never been out to anyone. 
In addition to these inputs, activists noted that the research shows that we need to do much more in the area of education and provide as much tools and knowledge to young people. Participants admitted also that this will be one of the long lasting issues in the region and that being able to provide education on LGBTI rights in schools is still a major challenge. In Croatia, where providing sex education in schools is practically impossible and were the role of the Catholic Church in education is ever growing, local organizations have found alternative ways of providing education on LGBTI rights, such as by working with local governments and councils, a tactic which has proven very successful and has been embraced by more local governments over the years. 
Dajana Bakić, from Tuzla Open Center in Bosnia and Herzegovina, argued that even though her country was not part of the survey, all of the findings reflect the reality of her country. She cited recent research from the country showing that around 90% of LGBTI people do not trust institutions and the police and the main source of information for them are local organizations. She pointed out the importance of decentralizing the movement, very relevant for providing education on LGBTI rights and for being able to reach the community at the grassroots level. She asked ERA to do more work on this area by helping in the creation of local groups and networks that can work in local communities and build bridges of trust with local governments and institutions.  
What do the data tell us about the future? Where should we focus our efforts?
Activists discussed the importance of sharing this important data with politicians and decision makers, who are equally responsible for all the progress and the regress that our societies endure on LGBTI rights. In Croatia, organizations like Dugine Obitelji, are making efforts to bring politicians to the table, ahead of the upcoming elections and discuss their positions on LGBTI rights. 
The data show us also that we need to significantly increase and improve the visibility of our community and we need to have more positive and success stories out in the public. We should take control of the narrative and influence public attitudes. We should find a common language with the rest of the population and challenge the dividing narrative of the time. 
Participants agreed for ERA to follow up with a few concrete activities, that would be of help to the membership:
1. Organize a regional online meeting on strategies and actions to take during the upcoming elections in Serbia, North Macedonia, Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina (local)
2. In cooperation with international partners, such as the Council of Europe, organize a regional online meeting with law enforcement officials from the 4 countries, and inform them on the outcomes of the survey and provide them with additional recommendations;  
3. Before the new school year, organize a meeting with members to discuss visibility of young LGBTI people and what kind of campaigns and actions to undertake; 
– To read the full survey report click here
–  To read a summary of Croatia findings click here
– To read a summary of North Macedonia findings click here
– To read a summary of Serbia findings click here
– To read a summary of Slovenia findings click here
– To read the full survey report “A long way to go for LGBTI equality” click here

Country - Croatia / Macedonia / Serbia / Slovenia
Tags - Access to Justice / Croatia / Discrimination / European Union / Fundamental Rights Agency / Hate Crimes / LGBTI Surveys / North Macedonia / Research / Serbia / Slovenia /