I have always felt that Albanian people are incredibly friendly, welcoming, tolerant and kind. This courtesy, more often than not, does not extend to members of the LGBTI community.
For over a year I have been engaging with members of the community, attending events, spreading awareness, and combating hateful comments and attacks on social media. I know there is a problem, the community knows there is a problem, but sadly much of society does not seem to recognise it as a problem.
Apart from the swathes of disinformation surrounding LGBTI people, there is a deep and ingrained hatred. Much of this stems from the prevailing toxic masculinity that results in societal issues such as LGBTI hate, and horrific rates of domestic violence against women, but it also comes from the fact that many of those who spout hate, are in the closet themselves. Due to the fact that being gay or trans is not widely accepted here, many of those who know they are in fact homosexual, bi, or trans, feel they cannot speak out, and as a result they take their frustration out on others in the form of harassment and abuse.
The rest comes from ignorance- ignorance of science, of history, of psychology, of sociology, of anthropology, of the law, of human rights, of the concept of equality, and of what it means to be a decent human being.
But how serious is the situation in Albania? On paper there are laws and legal processes in place to protect those that are discriminated against, or physically abused because of their sexual preference or gender identity, but the reality is that they do not work. The police don’t care, the government don’t care, and society as a whole doesn’t care if someone is abused or discriminated against purely because they are LGBTI. Now I could talk for hours about the people I have met and what I have witnessed that can testify to these facts, but instead, I have some cold, hard data.
The “Report on the Situation of the LGBTI Community During 2018” was compiled by Aleanca LGBTI, Streha Centre, and Pro LGBT. It draws on statistics from questionnaires, intake at their various centres, and data provided from a range of other sources. It has carefully collected, quantified, and presented the information to give a clear picture of the challenges faced by LGBTI individuals in Albania over the 12 months of last year.
The report found that the most common reasons that people come to seek the services of LGBTI support organisations is because they have been ostracised by their family and society, suffered discrimination, and been physically and psychologically bullied. These incidents happen in every facet of society from the street and workplace, to social media and even their own homes.
By the end of 2018 a total of 421 cases of discrimination against LGBTI individuals were recorded- but please note that this number is not even scratching the surface of the real statistics as many are too scared, or too distrusting of the authorities to report. These people (and more) were insulted, humiliated, violently attacked, sexually assaulted, or abused on the street as they went about their day, minding their own business. A number even reported that they had been drugged against their will and then assaulted.
Out of all of these cases, only five were reported to the authorities and none resulted in prosecution. The police mocked those who tried to report, some failed or refused to file the reports, investigations were not carried out, and one was even pressured to withdraw the complaint, despite the fact that they had been physically assaulted.
But it is not just the authorities that have been failing the LGBTI community- the media has a big part to play as well. A total of 4500 articles were analysed from Panorama, Lapsi, Balkanweb, and Shqiptarja and 212 were found to contain incidences of hate speech. Shqiptarja was the biggest offender with the highest number of hateful articles. The study also found that when these articles, including hate speech are posted to social media, the prevalence of hate speech comments from members of the public is higher as well. Not only is hate speech illegal, but media platforms posting such messages is highly irresponsible and unethical.
The report shows overwhelmingly that LGBTI individuals in Albania are all but abandoned by their family and the state. They cannot find legal recourse for discrimination and many report losing work and their homes due to the prejudice of others.
This is where a number of local NGOs come in.
Aleanca LGBTI carried out some very important work during 2018. They started providing vital medical services for the community, including health examinations and sexually transmitted disease tests. They also gave 17 people career development support and assisted 25 in improving their presentation skills for interviews and creating professional CVs. 17 were assisted in registering at local employment offices and finding work opportunities, yet none were offered a job despite their best efforts. Around 50 others were assisted with liaising with government departments including social housing, economic aid, disability assistance, and in the renting of new apartments. A further 25 were assisted with receiving healthcare where previously they had been discriminated against and 56 were tested for STDs.
In addition to this, Aleanca and Pro LGBT launched online counselling service which is able to reach more and more members of the community, throughout the country. A helpline was also set up for LGBTI youth, through a cooperation between the organisations.
An online portal “Historia Ime” was also set up in 2012 and it remains the main source of LGBTI information and other human rights news for Albanian society. Over the last 12 months it has become an important platform for the trans community through its publication of “Trans Magazine”- the only such magazine in the country.
STREHA is the first residential centre in the country that provides LGBTI individuals with safe shelter and assistance with integration.They provide accommodation, food, healthcare, psychological support, mediation and negotiation with family and employers, training and skills assistance, education, support with legal services, referral to institutions, socio-cultural activities and the opportunity to increase life skills.
During 2018, STREHA assisted 15 individuals in-house and a further 25 cases in distance. In addition to this they provided ongoing monitoring for 62 individuals according to their needs. The most sought after service was that of psychological counselling, followed by medical care, psycho-social counselling, and English language classes.
Following their tireless work that is all funded by donations, seven received vocational training certificates, 22 found employment, and three restored relations with their family.
Aleanca reported as well that eight LGBTI individuals, out of 30 that applied, received asylum in the EU based on discrimination they faced in Albania. There are also still a number of cases pending- thus showing that Albania is unfortunately far from the safe country that many think it is, for LGBTI people.
And this, dear readers, is why we need events like Pride. Some say “why do you need to have an event for these things?’ and my answer is because LGBTI people have been told they should be ashamed for so long, now is the time for them to be proud. These events raise awareness, promote tolerance, and respect, and they help show bigots and abusers that the power of love is much greater than that of hate.
There have been LGBTI individuals in every society in the world since the dawn of civilisation and there will continue to be. They are humans the same as you and I and they are entitled to live their lives with love, peace, and respect. No one is asking you to agree, no one is asking you to have sex with someone of the same gender, we are just asking you to treat all humans with the equal respect and dignity that they deserve.
Tirana Pride will take place on May 18th next to the “I <3 Tirana” sign on the main boulevard. Be there at 12 for fun, friendship, music, dancing, and more than anything- love!