Many refuse to declare their sexual orientation publicly as they are afraid they would not be able to get education or a job. “We don’t have that around here”, one can frequently hear both from an ordinary person and a senior government official. It is not surprising, therefore, that most people have a negative attitude towards LGBTIQ persons. (12-JUL-07)
This interview was made available to www.humanrightshouse.org through Journal of the BH Helsinki Committee. The interview is conducted by Dzenana Aladjuz, journalist. It has been translated for publication here by HRH / Mirsad Pandzic.
The issue of human rights and non-existence of a law on prohibition of discrimination at the state-level in Bosnia and Herzegovina are, unfortunately, raised after incidents where, by rule, members of minorities or persons who do not fit into traditional standards suffer from discrimination. Short-term public interest for consequences of such incidents is not enough for lasting and systemic resolution of discrimination at all levels of government, and in the society. Although violations of human rights cannot be ranked, members of the LGBTIQ community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-gender, inter-sexual and queer persons) are most certainly among the vulnerable groups. Although homosexuality was decriminalized in the Federation of BH in 1996, and in Republika Srpska in 1998, the Law on Gender Equality came into force only in 2003. However, provisions that would ban discrimination on grounds of sexual and gender identity and/or demonstration of inter-sexual characteristics are still non-existent.
We discussed the initiative of non-governmental organizations, under coordination of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, for adoption of a Law on Prohibition of Discrimination in BH, the proposed draft of the law, everyday discrimination, and facing the violence, with Svetlana Djurkovic, the chairwoman of the Q Association, and one of the two publicly declared lesbians in BH.
Svetlana is currently finalizing a report called “Invisible Q? Issue of Human Rights and Needs of LGBTIQ persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, which vigilantly documents discrimination against this population, and she is in the process of finding new premises for her Association. As we learnt, even the process of looking for premises demonstrates the deeply embedded discrimination. Money is not rescued from discrimination either: “It took us five months to find this office. Three times we were close to signing the contracts, but people changed their minds when they heard whom I represent. Although we are the same as everyone else, people seem to think that they would support the whole issue by letting the premises out. You know, they worry about what would neighbours say… People know much more about the LGBTIQ community today, but they still refrain from being associated with something like this. They don’t seem to see it as a business transaction.”
Too heavy words kill me
When we asked about the most frequent type of discrimination against members of the Association and all those who are members of the LGBTIQ community, Djurkovic said:
– Verbal discrimination is the most frequent, but we also experience physical discrimination. You have nightmares after the attacks, you keep locking yourself in… The worst situation is in families where the authorities reject you. Family violence is the most difficult for our population. They won’t let you go out, you will shame them, they lock you in because this is a disgrace for them. Even if you do have the opportunity to report violence, how many people will report their parents? This is particularly the case when persons are financially dependent and easy to blackmail… According to our research, 50 per cent of population want to leave BH, so all those who are classified under LGBTIQ or those whose gender identities do not match the norms – in this case people immediately think that you are gay or lesbian, a creature they will slap on the station, steal glasses from …
Employment conditions are not any better either – discrimination is considerable in most spheres of life. According to Djurkovic: “We are let know that we are not wanted in the sectors such as health, education … Many do not publicly declare their orientation because they fear that they will not be able to get education or employment. Many did not experience discrimination, because they did not come out, but fear because they know people who have experienced this. There is a higher percentage of people who know of a discrimination act than those who don’t.”
The information from the still unpublished report “Invisible Q? Issue of Human Rights and Needs of LGBTIQ Persons in BH” show that social discrimination and exclusion is the biggest problem facing LGBTIQ population, according to Svetlana Djurkovic: “This includes homophobic, biphobic and transphobic treatment and lack of acceptance by the public, all as a result of lack of information and education. Social discrimination and exclusion have become even worse with the state’s official and unofficial stand with regard to these positions, views and behaviour, which leads to further discrimination and stigmatization of LGBTIQ persons. BH is viewed by interviewees as a non-democratic state without adequate legislation and protection of human rights.
Lack of regulation alternately
According to this research, most people have experienced verbal comments and provocation on account of their sexual identity, gender identity and/or expression (31 per cent). Almost 25 per cent have experienced indirect discrimination, gender-phobia or trans-phobia, while 3.4 per cent of persons have been physically attacked due to the way they identified or presented themselves.
– The Roma communities are traditionally more open. For example, in a Roma community Sutka, near Skopje, one trans-couple live together and they do not have any problems. However, as soon as they leave this settlement, they experience problems. The situation is better in South America also. Where ever the community remained closer to their original traditions, there are less problems.
What is the situation like in BH?
– Our society does not give us either skills to deal with this or support to live with trauma. There is no support from the legal system either. Beating and violence will surely not help anyone.
Today, Djurkovic states information from the report, it can frequently be heard that LGBTIQ persons do not even exist in BH. “We don’t have that around here”, one can frequently hear both from an ordinary person and from senior government officials. It is, therefore, not surprising at all that the majority of population mostly has a negative attitude towards LGBTIQ persons. According to Prism Research poll conducted in May 2005, 82.30 per cent of 1,550 interviewees had a negative opinion about homosexual persons, 46.8 per cent believe that homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle, 76.7 per cent believe that accepting homosexuality would be bad for BH, while 70.8 per cent believe that they would feel uncomfortable around a homosexual person.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of legislation, many persons discriminated against do not report attacks, nor are they encouraged to do so.
– In Banja Luka, we had a case where a person who reported violence was sent from one institution to another before finally drooping the charges – Djurkovic says and adds: “In Tuzla, one guy recently suffered serious physical assault by his sister and brother-in-law. He managed to go all the way up to the court, not on the basis of the Law on Gender Equality, but on the basis of law on damaged property and infliction of bodily harm. The Law on Prohibition of Discrimination is necessary in BH and this is why we participated in drafting of this law. However, I still believe that the terms “sex” and “sexual identity”, “gender” and “sexual orientation” [translator’s quotation marks] should be precisely defined. The Article 13 of the law does not make sense. Unfortunately, the Law on Gender Equality does not contain adequate definitions either. For this reason, people must sue under different grounds in cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation, since this has not been defined.
Unawareness of the law and conventions which allow them to seek legal protection is common among the LGBTIQ community itself – up to 43 per cent of them are unaware of these mechanisms. Would it be possible, given such context, to have a gay or trans-gender person as the president of BH one day?
– I think it will be possible, but not any time soon – Djurkovic says optimistically and continues: “Changing social processes and considerations takes a long time. We need to create a very good and open education system and wait for several generations!