“Love is the vaccine against homophobia” was the slogan in use this year for the activities celebrating the diversity and pride of all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) people in Albania. It was a call from the LGBTI community for understanding and acceptance following what the Alliance Against LGBTQI Discrimination describes as a difficult year, full of uncertainty, fear and isolation during the coronavirus pandemic. The Alliance is one of the lead organisations behind the activism marking the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) which takes place in the week of 17 May.
Xheni Karaj, the Alliance’s Director, has been a leading activist for more than a decade. This year’s initiatives are focusing on public appearances and artistic performances. “Our community needs to know that we are here to support them, and 17 May is the right occasion to come out,” says Karaj. “They shouldn’t feel embarrassed or guilty.”
Among the highlights of the programme, there was a queer monodrama staged at a cultural centre in the capital, Tirana. The play tackled the biggest fears of LGBTQI people in Albania, including self-acceptance, and the importance of being accepted in the family. “The family should be a safe heaven. Through art we strive to win people’s hearts in order to change their minds,” says Karaj. She is the first member of the LGBTQI community in the country to publicly come out to reveal her sexuality as lesbian. Karaj gets motivated in her work by the courage of LGBTI people to challenge the conservative Albanian society.
In parallel to raising awareness, the LGBT organisations have also engaged public institutions to commit to strategically ending discrimination against LGBTQI people countrywide. Research shows that twice as many LGBTQI people are targets of discrimination and exclusion compared to the rest of the population. With the support of a joint EU/ Council of Europe programme, the Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Turkey, civil society organisations such as the Alliance are able to better bridge the gap between the community and law enforcement institutions. An example of this is the State Police Directory that has appointed contact points with the LGBTQI community and has improved its protocols for reporting cases of hate crime. Occasions of dialogue between the community and police are fostered through the programme initiatives, in Albania as well as throughout the region.
The Council of Europe has recently adapted and translated into Albanian a manual to guide police on how to respond professionally to such cases and has also organised activities to build capacity within the force. This manual triggers the setting up of a range of follow up initiatives that will address discrimination, inequality and strengthen inclusion within the police, and in the relation between police and citizens. These initiatives are guided by the EU and Council of Europe standards in respecting and promoting human rights.
Xheni Karaj, Director of the Alliance Against LGBTQI Discrimination
As part of the fight for a free and equal society for all sexual and gender identities, the Alliance considers that the main institutional challenge is with political parties. Almost ten years ago, with the support of the Council of Europe, changes were proposed to two key laws that allow same-sex marriage and gender recognition for transexual persons. However, the Assembly has never taken these into account.
“There is no political will whatsoever,” says Karaj, who seems disappointed but not surprised. The Alliance asked all parties taking part in the 2021 general elections about their plans to improve the position of the LGBTQI community, but with the answer was silence. As Karaj says, “The only time sexual orientation was mentioned during the general election campaign was when political opponents wanted to insult each other”. The NGO developed a public campaign pointing the finger at politicians who used such practices in the recent electoral campaign and over the past year.
Such an atmosphere means that community members are put off when reporting abuse, bullying and domestic violence. Nevertheless, according to Xheni Karaj, LGBTQI people in Albania are a resilient community who remain active regardless of the great pressure in everyday life. The community has an online peer support service to provide counselling and legal support. Solidarity with people in need has grown during the pandemic, mainly with the help of donors. The message they all send is “Krenar”. In English it translates as “Proud”.
About the programme
The action on “Promotion of diversity and equality in Albania” aims at strengthening discrimination mechanisms in the country, including by better promoting/protecting rights of LGBTI persons and combating hate speech, in line with the standards and recommendations by the Council of Europe. Activities also aim to support Albania’s accession negotiations with the European Union in the field of fundamental rights.
The programme is financed under the European Union/Council of Europe Horizontal Facility II for the Western Balkans and Turkey (Horizontal Facility II) 2019-2022, a joint effort of the two organizations to meet beneficiaries’ reform agendas in the fields of human rights, rule of law and democracy and to comply with the European standards.
Photo credits: The Alliance Against LGBTQI Discrimination
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