Bosnia’s LGBT Activists Vow to Fight on Despite Cancelled March – Balkan Insight

Encouraged by moves in Montenegro

The coronavirus pandemic, with a lockdown and other movement and social restrictions, has been particularly harsh for the members of the LGBT community in Bosnia, said Darko Pandurevic, of the Sarajevo Open Center, an NGO that campaigns for LGBT and women’s rights. 

He cited a rise in verbal, psychological and physical violence, often from parents, as well as loss of work and a lack of contact and support from the community as some of the main problems.

“The health situation is especially alarming for trans persons who often need specific medical services and therapies that are almost inaccessible even in normal conditions, and often depend on travelling outside Bosnia. 

“It is clear how strong the additional pressure and problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are, when travel is highly restricted and made very difficult,” Pandurevic wrote in an email reply to BIRN.

“As well as the current difficulties, we’ve also mapped fear of what the future brings to LGBTIQ+ persons, having in mind primarily political and economic conditions, which indicate that in the coming period the rights and position of minorities will be even more difficult,” Pandurevic added.

He said it was difficult to illustrate the situation with statistics as community members even in normal situations are reluctant to come out and expose themselves to potential stigma from their families and the public.

The pandemic, Pandurevic said, had also frozen the activities of a working group of the government of Bosnia’s Federation entity, formed just before the onset of the virus, which had been tasked with preparing legislation on legalizing same-sex parterships. It held just one meeting in February.

“We are in contact with working group members and will try to continue work on this issue as soon as possible, in accordance with the situation we find ourselves in,” he said, adding that while the Federation entity had made the first step, while some positive signs were also coming from the Serb-majority entity in the country, Republika Srpska, RS.

“The story about same-sex partnerships has at least started, and become part of the public discourse. Some inter-entity cooperation is visible too; there is a willingness of institutions of the Federation and RS to work together on equality for LGBTI persons,” he said.

In the meantime, Pandurevic said, the LGBT community in Bosnia felt encouraged by Montenegro’s adoption of the legislation legalising same-sex partnerships, becoming the first country in a largely conservative region that is not a member of the European Union to do so, after three earlier attempts over six years .

“This could be a clear and positive example for Bosnia and Herzegovina, that the adoption of such a law is possible even in societies dominated by traditional values,” he added.

Signs of growing tolerance

Every day day that passes without same-sex partnership legislation makes it more difficult for the LGBT community, says Amar Catovic, a 23-year-old law graduate from the northwestern industrial town of Tuzla, Bosnia’s third-biggest.

“You don’t have the right to extended health and social security; and if my partner is dying in hospital, I can’t visit him because we are not ‘family,’” Catovic said in the video talk with BIRN with fellow activists and the Pride march organising committee members.

“The most important change is regarding ordinary people who need to become aware that LGBT people also pay taxes and have bills to pay,” Catovic added.

Still, she said, she was encouraged by her experience as a trainee at the municipal court where she had been forced to listen to inappropriate comments and jokes and disapproving body language from some of his colleagues.

“The court president told me to file a criminal complaint against each person who did that. He asked how I felt, and whether I felt discriminated against; he literally spent an hour and a half talking to me,” she recalled.

Bisera Hodzic, another LGBT and Pride march activist who spoke to BIRN via the video talk, said lack of support from state institutions was the most important issue for the community.

“When we talk about the hate speech and discrimination that I suffered online, I wasn’t given any support, nor were the people who did it punished. The state gives us almost no support at all,” she said.  

But the 23-year-old literature student at Sarajevo’s Faculty of Philosophy said she considered herself lucky compared to other people’s experiences. 

She had no big problems after she came out to her parents and friends eight years ago while a teenager living in the western town of Jace. “I think more or less the whole town knew about it, but people either didn’t pay attention or didn’t care,” she said.

Hodzic said she recently went back to Jajce and tested the level of tolerance with a run through the city with a rainbow flag, the symbol of movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and other sexual minorities rights. “I ran at several locations in the town, and people saw it – but no one reacted or gave me a bad look,” Hodzic said.

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