I grew up in a very open minded part of the world, and I am thankful that accepting people for how they look, sound, love, and live has been a part of my ethos since I was a child.
Call it a bubble if you will. Whilst I understood that LGBTI+ individuals faced discrimination in varying levels, it wasn’t until I came to Albania that I saw homophobia in full force.
Homosexuality was only legalised in 1995 following years of it being punishable by imprisonment of up to ten years. This means that no, whilst on paper homosexuality is accepted and LGBTI+ people are free to live their lives as they choose, the reality is that much of the old mindset remains.
Albania does not recognise same-sex unions, same-sex adoption, and in 2018 when the inclusion of LGBTI+ issues was suggested in school activities, there was widespread outrage.
Non-cis individuals are the targets of widespread discrimination that starts in their home with their family and impacts every part of their life including school, employment, and even just being out in public. I have interviewed several individuals who have lost their families, homes, employment, and friends, as well as having been attacked in public.
There are a number of charities and NGOs that work tirelessly with little to no governmental support, to provide services to LGBTI+ individuals as well as to chip away at the stigma that prevails.
One of these is Streha, a charity-run shelter in Tirana.
“Streha” seeks to provide support, resettlement, and reintegration for young people whose lives have been devastated because of their sexuality or gender identity.
The shelter provides essential care to LGBTQ+ individuals who have suffered physical and emotional abuse, discrimination, and unfair treatment as a result of their sexuality or gender identity; offering safe accommodation, medical care, psychological counselling, legal assistance, training and skills development, and mediation with prospective employers, whilst enabling individuals to heal and create a sustainable life for themselves in an often hostile cultural environment.
Without funding, the centre would cease to exist and the people that it helps would find themselves ostracised and pushed to the fringes of a society that rejects them based on their sexual preference or identity.
Steps are being taken to improve the situation for LGBT+ individuals in Albania but there is still a lot of work to be done. The work that Streha does is incredibly important and for this to happen, money needs to be raised.
“Every year, Streha hosts an annual fundraising event to raise much-needed support and awareness of the shelter for the year ahead. In 2019 this will be hosted on the 14th May as part of the IDAHOT and Pride celebrations that week.
Please give generously to this fantastic cause, ensuring that the doors of a one-of-a-kind refuge remain open for years to come. Your giving will enable the ticket-sales and auction proceeds to go entirely to the needs of the beneficiaries of the shelter.”
You can find the link to the crowdfunder here.
This article was originally published on The Balkanista.