The socio-economic and worker rights situation of LGBTIQ+ people in the Balkans is complex and challenging. Many people from the general public don’t realize that discrimination, violence and exclusion of LGBTIQ+ people also has a strong impact on the economic and overall personal well-being of LGBTIQ+ people and society at large. Discrimination is not only reflected in hate speech and negative attitudes but also in how emplyers, private and public alike, view and treat LGBTIQ+ workers.
To raise more awareness regionally on the everyday challenges that LGBTIQ+ people face in accessing socio-economic and workers rights, we at ERA talked and filmed several community leaders from the Western Balkans region, who spoke about the experiences and obstacles they face as workers. Luana Myrtollari from Ylberofilia in Albania, Lila Milikj and Predrag Jovanovski from TransFormA in North Macedonia, spoke about their experiences and the specific challenges of the transgender community. Diva Drag from CSGD in Kosovo spoke about the specific challenges that the drag community faces. Vojin Četković from Queer Montenegro in Montenegro as well as Andjela Stojanović and Sanja Marković from Serbia spoke about some of the challenges that LGB people face.
Their videos, with English subtitles, are available on ERA’s YouTube Channel.
Research conducted in the Western Balkans region, such as the one by the World Bank on socio-economic dimension of LGBTI+ exclusion reveals more about this reality. More concretely, two-thirds of LGBTIQ+ people are not out at work in the Western Balkans, mainly due to fear of losing their job, being alienated and discriminated against from colleagues, being subjected to violence, administrative sanctions or exploitation. In the case of LGBTIQ+ employees, it might look like something like “I am giving you more work, in exchange for tolerating you for being LGBTIQ+”. In our region, one in five LGBTIQ+ people have been discriminated against. 40% have witnessed negative attitudes and conduct towards LGBTIQ+ colleagues. 16% have experienced unequal treatment with respect to employment conditions.
While all countries of the Western Balkans have anti-discrimination laws that prohibit discrimination on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and in some cases even sex characteristics, a big problem remains with implementation. Majority of employers in the region lack LGBTI+ inclusive contracts and policies. The Covi-19 pandemic left a mark in our community as well. Young LGBTIQ+ people, particularly those living in bigger cities, lost their jobs, and as a result many were homeless and had to return to unfriendly home environments. A survey with the LGBTI community in Serbia in 2020 found that one-third of LGBTIQ Serbians were unemployed, and many had been so since before the pandemic. For the same reason, many LGBTIQ+ people had challenges securing food, housing and employment, while LGBTIQ+ business owners were affected from the lockdown measures.
Trans people encounter even bigger challenges. More specifically, two out of five trans people report being discriminated against in the workplace, in the past year only. Most severely discriminated people by the job market are trans people, men perceived as feminine and lesbians. Trans people are less likely to get hired, promoted and more likely to get harassed and fired. In almost all cases, trans people have to choose between transitioning or their job. In most of the Western Balkans, lack of Legal Gender Recognition means that trans people cannot live freely in accordance with their gender. In the Balkans being openly trans, more often than not leads to extremely limited employment opportunities. Many choose to sex work as their only means of survival. Absolute majority of employers lack inclusive healthcare practices that are specific to the needs of LGBTIQ+ persons (e.g. insurance for a trans persons’ transitioning costs).
LGBTIQ+phobia, however, does not have an impact only on the community. Employers and the economy in general suffer too. Research conducted in Europe and several countries around the world shows that LGBTIQ+phobia has a huge economic cost for a country, leading to less talented people, smaller markets and smaller economic growth. A 2020 study in four Eastern European countries, for example, found that LGBTIQ+ people are migrating in large numbers to countries which are accepting and respectful to them. Employers that are inclusive of LGBTIQ+ people are more competitive and successful. LGBTIQ+ inclusive employers have a higher performance compared to non-friendly ones, in relation to return of capital, and money circulation for investment and increased profits. Companies with a higher level of diversity perform better and have 45% higher chances to report growth, while 70% of companies have more chances of entering a new market.
Not much will change in the future, unless employers, public and private alike, take active measures in combating workplace discrimiantion and harassment, revise their recruitment and diversity policies and make a commitment to protect LGBTIQ+ workers. It is important that public and private employers revise their employment policies and practices and ensure that they are fully accessible to LGBTIQ+ people. Employers should also create a safe and friendly environment for their LGBTIQ+ employees, and ensure that they are protected from discrimination. Civil servants working in employment services should increase their capacities on how to better assist LGBTI+ people to find jobs. Employers should engage with the local LGBTIQ+ communities and learn more about their issues and needs. Worker’s unions should address the issues and needs of LGBTIQ+ workers and ensure their involvement, participation and representation in unions.
The videos were produced for ERA by Propulsion with the support of Olof Palme International Center.
Photos: Semih Özkarakaş – © ERA