foto: Dado Ruvic / REUTERS
In BiH, it is comfortable, convenient, and even useful to be Serbian, Croatian, Bosniak, a member of an important political party, a football club fan, a member of a big traditional religious community – in other words, a part of a majority, to think and behave according to a model of conduct which is designed and enforced by the majority within a community. However, if you are unfortunate enough to be a part of a minority, even if it's just your sexual orientation, you might very likely find yourself unable to leave your house because you might get a solid beating just around the corner or in your favorite bar. Nobody cares that you are, in fact, innocent. As members of the LGBT community, hundreds of people in BiH are exposed to violence and isolation every single day, even though actual laws guarantee them equality and a dignified and safe life, without discrimination.
Who are LGBT community members in BiH? How do they live, what do they have to confront and fight against? What do they hope for?
Milan hopes that he might be able to pay off his mortgage next year and take a nice summer trip to Bali. He is a successful engineer in his best years and he is a healthy, happy man. He has a great job, friends, a dog, an apartment, a car... he also has a life partner who he shares a home with. They have been living together in love and harmony for years. Milan lives in Belgrade. When Milan goes to visit his homeland in middle Bosnia, he is happily welcomed by his parents and numerous other family members. Even though they are very proud of him, they keep asking him: “When are you going to get married? It's about time!” Milan is gay, but they don't know this about him over there, back in his homeland. When they want to truly offend someone, even if it's a member of the National Assembly, the same one that just passed a series of ''pro-European'' laws, political adversaries will say that he is – gay! Not a criminal, con artist, deceiver, gangster, murderer, pedophile... nope!
Milan is not alone in this.
Within the last twenty years, thousands of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender or intersexual persons departed BiH forever.
Many of them fought for their basic human rights, pushing through the insults, the attacks or other forms of mental and bodily torment. Even though their fight had been strong, they grew tiresome and left for places where they could build a family, live with their partners like regular folk, and not only ''in the closet'' (original: “u svoja četiri zida” – inside your four walls), but in shops, malls, squares, PTAs and meetings too, or wherever else for that matter.
LGBT persons who still remain in BiH, the now more seasoned crew who kept fighting on, are rarely visible or accepted within their communities. Although, they do admit it is now slightly easier to be an “outed” person than it was twenty or thirty years ago.
Some things have indeed changed since the time our story’s hero packed his bags and began his journey across the Drina and towards the big city. Even though they do this with quite the reluctance, most of BiH today “accepts” that LGBT persons exist. They are truly real and not some “fabrication by the decadent west” that those cheeky foreigners are trying to slip us. Laws have been changed. In BiH today, according to the Law on Gender Equality and Law of Prohibition of Discrimination, any form of discrimination is strictly forbidden, as well as inequality or any form of violence based on your gender identity or sexual orientation. You could say these laws guarantee you the same kind of equality you are guaranteed based on your nationality, religion, race…
Yes, the law has changed, but only as much as it had to be amended under EU and western pressures and only in the biggest cities, where institutional and public opinions had to be changed regarding public gatherings of LGBT individuals or organizations. Even this isn’t enough and the LGBT community was banned from hosting their events in Sarajevo’s city center not once, but twice during last year only. Even the famous first Pride Parade, which occurred in the capital city of BiH, was hosted in controlled space and with ample police security all around. However, even this is a huge civilizational step forward, compared to what happened in 2008. Let us not forget that in 2008, Queer Sarajevo Festival, the first LGBT event of its kind in BiH, was abruptly interrupted by a violent intrusion of Wahhabis who, witnessed by police members and citizens, injured more than ten festival participants and terminated the festival.
In spite of all of this, even very “literate and educated” people in BiH today still have the tendency to characterize LGBT people as “psychopaths” and “sickos”, even though all the way back in the seventies of the 20th century, science had clearly and officially concluded that a homosexual orientation is not a “disorder” or sickness.
It is also not a rare occurrence for people to claim, even if they do exist only “within their own four walls” (original: “u svoja četiri zida” – inside your four walls – “being in the closet”), that all of them should be rounded up and sent to jail, even though homosexuality has been decriminalized in our geographical region over thirty years ago. Unfortunately for all of us, there’s more. Public opinions by BiH’s leading religious communities are just the cherry on top. They are continuously keeping at their, more or less, distinguished attitude that every sexual orientation, except “the holy matrimony between man and woman”, is a sin.
It’s a sin.
Many people take this for granted because research shows that BiH citizens trust their religious communities the most. For crying out loud, why would love be a sin?
Let’s make this crystal clear, once and for all. Being an LGBT person is not a sickness, disorder, crime or sin! Well then, what is it? Conditionally speaking, the LGBT community gathers sexual and gender minorities. Most of our society are heterosexual men and women, people who are biologically and socially of the male or female sex and gender and they are exclusively attracted to people of the opposite sex and gender. In other words, people who perfectly fit within the traditional matrix of the male-female world. All of the others who do not fall within this “consecrated circle” are different and in the position of being a minority. There are so many of them, though. Even if you take a look at it from a medical point of view, experts admit that, between a “pure female” or “pure male” sex, there are around thirty different “subgroups”. They are rare, but they do exist. Now, if you throw in the social factor of an (un)expected identity, behavior and tendencies… well, things tend to become quite complicated and pretty fast. So, regarding the above mentioned, we have men who love men, women who love women, those whose bodies are one, but souls and tendencies are actually the opposite, people who “do not accept” the traditional gender division and so on. It’s quite a motley crew of human nature and character because this world is not as simple as Social Studies textbooks would have us believe. Precisely because of its colorful diversity, the LGBT community gathers around a rainbow flag, which is also a flag used by peace movements.
The LGBT community gathers lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersexual people. According to scientific estimates, every society has around eight to ten percent of LGBT people, including our own. Therefore, at least 250 thousand LGBT members live in BiH today. When we take this number into account and everyday experiences, it is quite clear that a huge number of them are hiding their sexual orientation or gender identity from the public eye, as well as from their families and closest circles of people.
Let’s look at the latest Pink Report – a report about the condition of LGBT human rights in BiH. The report shows us that the marginalization, segregation and discrimination of LGBT persons in BiH is still frighteningly high, including actual violence against their minds and bodies. The number of cases of family or peer violence is constantly increasing, as well as hate speech and public inciting of violence. Just during last year, activists of Sarajevski otvoreni centar (Sarajevo Open Center) have recorded thirty-three cases of felonies and incidents motivated by hatred and prejudice towards LGBT community members. This is quite a number if we consider the fact that most LGBT persons won’t even dare to report violence because, as the Pink Report states, they do not trust institutions to do their jobs. This distrust is deeply rooted in terrible past experiences.
Family violence is a special problem all on its own, where family members, especially the fathers, tend to “reason with and set their delusional sons or daughters back on the right path”.
“Cases of family violence varies from threats and extortion, illegal deprivation of liberty, violence and infliction of serious bodily harm, to forceful treatment. The perpetrators are usually parents or siblings, with support from other family members and even neighbors.” – Stated in the Pink Report
According to the report, every fourth LGBT person in the survey stated that they have been a victim of violence and more than sixty percent of them are afraid for their security.
Because of their fear of violence and personal security, almost seventy percent of LGBT persons are hiding their identity. Around twenty percent of them strictly avoid public mass gatherings and seven percent of the survey participants stated that they avoid public transport and unnecessary outings from their home. Members of the LGBT community are hiding and even accepting self-isolation and self-declared “house arrest” because they are scared. They are scared because it’s only a matter of time when they will run into a bully or other forms of violence, even though they haven’t done anything wrong, they aren’t sinful or sick, nor are they endangering anyone.
Even though BiH declaratively advocates European values, being among the first in Europe to ratify the Istanbul Convention which, among other things, bans gender based violence and advocates the protection of human rights of LGBT members, this is not so in reality. In our unfortunate reality, we are still, figuratively speaking, miles away from Europe. For instance, legal regulation of same-sex marriages, colloquially named “gay marriage”, is still far from even being considered. It is true that the government of the Federation of BiH has “made a first step” towards considering the adoption of this law, but this is where they took their first and only step and stopped. Such a law is far from even being mentioned in the District of Brčko and Republic of Srpska.
Why is it important to legally recognize and adopt same-sex marriage in a similar way to marriage between a man and a woman? This is the only way for LGBT persons to use their constitutionally guaranteed rights, backed by international conventions. For instance, in a male and female partnership, if one of the partners passes away, the other partner has a legal right to their deceased partner's property and pension, even if they weren't officially married. If we look at same-sex couples through the same example, the surviving partner doesn't have any rights because such couples do not exist within the rules of our law.
So, even if they live illegally and ''off the grid'' or, as rigid conservatives like to advise them, ''in the closet'' (original: “u svoja četiri zida” – inside your four walls – “being in the closet”), LGBT people in BiH are still disenfranchised. There are at least 250 thousand of them and they do not have their National Assembly representatives or any form of mechanism that would take a stand in their name and defend their truly vital interests.
Who are LGBT community members?
The acronym LGBT stands for the basic categories of gender and sexual orientation minorities.
Lesbians are women who are sexually and emotionally attracted to other women.
Gay is a name usually used for men who are sexually and emotionally attracted to other men. Gays and lesbians are men and women of the homosexual orientation.
Bisexuals are men and women who are sexually and emotionally attracted to both sexes.
Transgender individuals are people whose gender identity isn't ''in synch'' with their biological sex, so many of them decide to ''transition'' – the process of changing your biological sex in order to be compatible with your own gender.
Intersexual persons are people who are born with the biological characteristics of both boys and girls. They cannot be clearly categorized as either male or female. They can, but do not have to, choose their gender identity and there are more and more cases in the world where intersexual people are being allowed to declare themselves as ''the third gender''. These people used to be called hermaphrodites, a biological term for two-sex organisms, but this term is considered extremely offensive today. For those of you who are unaware, the term hermaphrodite comes from ancient mythology: a name used for the son of Hermes and Aphrodite, born with both male and female characteristics.
A History of Violence and Non-acceptance, from Ancient Times to JNA
Why is the majority of BiH so hostile towards LGBT people, even though they aren't endangering anyone? Some of the reasons are certainly prejudices and stereotypes, which are based on imaginary fear and ignorance. These prejudices and stereotypes are deeply rooted in our history. Since the beginning of time, people have always been afraid of occurrences that are unusual or difficult to explain, whether them being natural disasters or people who are different than the majority around them. For instance, even back in ancient times when homosexual love was inherent even among rulers and philosophers, ''hermaphrodites'', intersexual children who were neither boys or girls, were considered monsters and were murdered by being thrown in the Tiber. Such violence was also present in later historical periods, especially after Christianity, the same one that propagates marital love explicitly and only between a man and a woman, became the state religion. Homosexual relations were forbidden by law and punishable in many countries for centuries, even in SFRJ where they categorized such relations as ''unnatural fornication'', leading to the conviction and imprisonment of around at least five hundred gay men.
As Franko Dota points out, a historian and LGBT activist, homosexuality was considered ''bourgeois and perverse'' and a product of ''insatiable capitalism'' used to ''ruin young people'' up until the middle of the fifties in 20th century socialist Yugoslavia. Back in those days, people believed that homosexuals could only be ''decadent intellectuals'', ''fancy city folk'', priests or non-workers. However, it turned out that ''there is such a thing'' even in the JNA (Jugoslovenska narodna armija – Yugoslavia’s National Army). The experiences of those who were ''discovered'' in the army still remain a secret held by formerly one of the most powerful armies in the world. It’s a fact that JNA was the one that pushed for the decriminalization of homosexual love.
Village, Town, City, Sarajevo
What is it like to be a LGBT person in Bosnia and Herzegovina today? LGBT activists say that it is difficult to give a simple answer to this question because everything depends on family and local context and even when we disregard the context, every story is a story on its own.
''It's true that it is completely different when you are an LGBT person in a village, town or, for example, a city like Banja Luka or town like Prijedor. On the other hand, being the capital city of the country and with a strong activist scene, Sarajevo is a story on its own. Even this should be taken with a grain of salt because even the cities have terrible cases of family violence, deprivation of liberty or banishment from home, violent assaults and even compulsory treatments. On the other hand, LGBT persons who live in villages are perhaps accepted in the best way possible, possibly because such small communities tend to be more intimate and in touch with each other.'' - Branko Ćulibrk, LGBT activist from Prijedor organization KVART
The example he used was a village family that accepted their transgender daughter without any doubt, even though illiterate and uneducated. They have even taken all available steps and tools they could to inform and prepare themselves in order to be able to support their child during its long and difficult journey towards a successful transition.
text: Milkica Milojević
translate: Lidija Drakulić
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