September’s Belgrade Pride Week boasts more events than ever, as its organisers work towards more legal reforms and greater inclusion of the LGBT+ community in mainstream society.
By Nina Pantelic
Belgrade Pride Week 2018 will take place from September 10th to 16th under the slogan, “Reci da!”, or “Say Yes!” in English. The title was selected to highlight the list of key demands put forward by Serbia’s LGBT+ community, including recognition of their civil rights and protection from hate crimes, according to Goran Miletic of Civil Rights Defenders, who has also been a leading member of the Pride organization since 2011.
The week featured films, gallery exhibitions, conferences, debates and many other events, culminating in the Pride march on Sunday, September 16, starting at 2pm at Slavija.
The community’s request list includes the adoption of laws on gender identity and registered partnerships and educational reform, removing discriminatory content from school textbooks.
Miletic says the community originally hoped that these goals could be achieved in the short term, but they now realised that changing mindsets took years of activism and action.
“The government doesn’t recognise same-sex unions, there is no right of inheritance, to health care, joint property ownership… practical things that mean a lot to people,” Miletic says.
Still viewed with disfavour in society
A Pew Research Center opinion poll from 2017 showed that most Serbs, 69 per cent, still view same-sex relationships as morally wrong and only 12 per cent favour same-sex marriage.
Miletic highlights that, for meaningful change to happen, a major shift in the mindset in the country and the region generally is needed.
A comprehensive poll of adults in the Western Balkans carried out by Ipsos in partnership with Civil Rights Defenders, Victory, the National Democratic Institute, NDI, and USAID, in 2015, revealed that one third of those interviewed said they would stop communication with friends, colleagues or neighbours if they found out they were LGBT+.
The research indicated a low level of tolerance in Serbia and in the Balkans. In Serbia, only 14 per cent of the respondents said they would support an LGBT+ person completely, and only 7 per cent indicated the same in Macedonia – and only 3 per cent in Albania.
Asked if they would support children who were homosexual, 22 per cent of the respondents in Serbia said they would – but 48 would try to find a “cure” for them and 7 per cent would stop all communication.
Research carried out with NDI further indicated that few people in Serbia see LGBT+ citizens as a discriminated-against minority group.
A 2014 poll showed that only 6 per cent of adults in Serbia identified sexual minorities as the most discriminated-against group in society. However, the Ipsos poll showed that among members of the LGBT+ community itself, 41 per cent believed sexual minorities suffered worse discrimination than Roma, women or people with disabilities. Miletic highlights this gap as a major challenge, stating: “The first step is visibility.”
Numerous reports highlight that lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people in the Western Balkans encounter routine abuse due to their sexual orientation and gender expression, ranging from verbal and physical harassment to discrimination in the workplace.
The organisers of Pride week believe that visibility is one of the greatest factors in changing peoples’ minds and that personal contact between LGBT+ and non-LGBT+ people will help change attitudes and challenge prejudice and stereotypes.
Long march towards acceptability
Parada ponosa Beograda, or Belgrade Pride Parade, was founded in 2010, when a community of citizens came together to organise a week of events that culminated in a Pride walk in the city.
Throughout Pride week, dozens of events, some 65 this year, are organised with the goal of promoting LGBT+ values and questioning the limits of gender and sexuality through art, education and activism.
The organisers of this year’s event are Civil Rights Defenders, GAYTEN-LBGT, Beograd Prajd, Heartefact, Izađi, Da se zna, and the Youth Initiative for Human Rights. In addition to Belgrade Pride Parade, other events organised by other LGBT+ activist groups include a separate march, which was held in June this year.
The fight for LGBT equality has had a turbulent history in Serbia. Back in 2001, a group of LGBT+ activists first attempted to hold a small gathering on Republic Square in Belgrade, but they were attacked by members of right wing organisations and sports club fans, which led to over 40 people being injured.
There was no government reaction and it would be nearly a decade before the next Pride walk was held. Meanwhile activists pushed to improve the environment. The following years saw the passage of various pieces of legislation. For example, the Law on Broadcasting obliged public TV and radio broadcast service carriers to prevent intolerance and hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation, while the Law on Public Information sanctioned hate speech, including that based on sexual orientation. The Labour Law banned workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In 2010, an estimated 500 participants gathered in Manjez park in Belgrade for a day of Pride events, followed by a public walk. The government was by now committed to guaranteeing the safety of attendees, who were protected within the park and along the walk. However, conflicts still took place elsewhere in the city centre between an estimated 6,000 policemen and the same number of hooligans out in the streets. The clashes led to 132 policemen and 25 citizens being injured, and 250 arrests.
Over the next three years, organisers attempted to hold annual Pride walks, but they were all cancelled at the last minute on the grounds of security concerns. It was only in 2014 that the organisers held the first Belgrade Pride without any major incidents of violence.
For the last four years, Belgrade Pride events have been held successfully, with about 2,000 people attending the most recent march, among them Serbia’s Prime Minister, Ana Brnabic, an openly gay woman.
A Pride Information Center was opened that same year. It welcomed 3,000 visitors during the month it was open.
This year, the centre reopened on August 16, and will remain open until March 2019. Teodora Savic, a volunteer at the centre, said it had become a useful resource for the LGBT+ community, and that visitors included both locals and foreigners. She believes an important issue for her community is recognition of same-sex registered partnerships, noting for example that when lesbian couples start a family, the government only recognises only one of them as the legal parent.
Asked about her expectations for the future of the community, she hopes that, one day, same-sex couples can walk hand in hand with their partners in the street without fear of violence or harassment.
“More psychological support services should be made available to members of the LGBT+ community, and especially trans members, given that their suicide rate is higher than the average,” she concludes.
The Belgrade Pride Centre, located in Kralja Milana 20, is open every day from 10am to 8pm. For a full list of Belgrade Pride Week 2018’s events, check out www.parada.rs.