As head of the LGBTI+ Alliance, I am deeply concerned by the attempts to manipulate public opinion undertaken by three people against whom the Alliance has filed discrimination complaints before the Commissioner for Protection against Discrimination. We did not file these three complaints against Mr. Akil Pano, Mrs. Marsela Lekli, and Mrs. Blerta Tafani because they do not share our beliefs regarding the legal recognition and rights of the LGBTI+ couples and families. This set of complaints is based solely on the discriminatory, insulting, and harmful language that these individuals have used to express their differing opinions in public. We consider any attempt by them to label our denunciation of their public statements as an attack on their freedom of expression a lie and an attempt to misinform the general public regarding the details of this specific case.
Mr. Akil Pano, Mrs. Marsela Lekli and Ms. Blerta Tafani have launched a “crusade” against the LGBTI+ community and continue to mount and promote through Albanian media, a negative, clichéd, one-sided, misinformative, unfounded, and consequently discriminatory rhetoric. They use their current position and the space they occupy in mainstream media without thinking, even for a second, about the challenges and hatred that hundreds of young LGBTI+ people face every day inside their homes, at school, or in their neighborhoods, where people call them sick. They do not think at all about the hundreds of young LGBTI+ people who feel unaccepted and unloved by “normal” people like the pastor, the psychologist, and the journalist in question.
Can people who sow this kind of hatred, ever be considered champions of free speech?
More specifically, Mr. Akil Pano said in the show “Albania Live” on Top Channel, that the LGBTI+ community has an aggressive agenda. That our initiatives are the initiatives of a sick community; that our selfishness is sickening, among others. Following his public appearances, he continued to spread his denigrating rhetoric on social networks, drawing parallels between the legal recognition of LGBTI+ persons and the legalization of zoophilia; accusing members of the LGBTI+ community of wanting to access schools, so they could turn children into homosexuals. It feels redundant to say that this accusation has no standing in fact and is based entirely on a parody circulating on the Internet.
Over the past decade, I have participated myself in countless TV shows alongside the pastor. I have tried, during my public appearances, to be fair and not to infringe, at any time, on the pastor’s freedom of religion and his right to exercise his faith. The same goes for any other believers who have followed our debates on television. Unfortunately, the pastor has not extended the same grace to me and the LGBTI+ community. The LGBTI+ community and I are not concerned about the pastor’s desire to express his opinion against the legal recognition of LGBTI+ issues or same-sex unions. Such opinions can be found also in so-called developed countries, where they are espoused not only by religious representatives, but also by other public figures and by a large section of society. Their freedom of expression is an inalienable and undeniable right.
However, the case in question is different from any other previous statements made by the pastor. In fact, what is disturbing is precisely the language he has used to express his thoughts and attitudes, which differ from ours. Albanian people have an expression: “Word do more damage than bullets” and in this case, we worry about the fact that the pastor’s rhetoric, which is regurgitated in parallel by some media outlets, have irreversible effects on the lives and existence of LGBTI+ individuals, whose need for equal legal protection is being treated in a dehumanizing, insulting, mocking, and scientifically ignorant manner.
Similarly, Mrs. Marsela Lekli, in her capacity as a psychologist (an unlicensed and unregistered psychologist per the Albanian Order of Psychologist, as established during the latest hearing on Wednesday and in her last public appearance), stated on the June 8th afternoon show at ABC that children raised in families with same-sex parents will be like them in the future, that LGBT families are against our family and social tradition, because how can society ever develop with same-sex couples? She has also said that one cannot compare a gay couple with a normal couple who unfortunately cannot have children. Mrs. Lekli, as a psychologist (licensed or not, this distinction does not matter, as long as this is the title she uses to refer to herself in public) promotes, through her statements, negative stereotypes about LGBTI+ people, laying the foundation for the unequal treatment, discrimination and hatred towards the LGBTI+ community and children born from this community.
On the same ABC show of June 8th, the journalist Blerta Tafani constantly insulted me with denigrating and offensive language, telling me that “you debase [our] society; you can not have a family; it would be a misfortune for you to have children,” among other comments of a similar nature.
Will we, as a society, and our institutions, continue to allow spokespersons for hatred to shape our critical thinking and dominate public dates?
Do we think that this denigrating vocabulary is the standard we should aspire to when it comes to freedom of expression in Albania?
All the best,
The LGBTI Alliance
P.S. After receiving the consent of the author, who sent this message to the LGBTI Alliance, we are sharing one of many vital examples of the fear and trauma caused by the hate speech directed at members of the Albanian LGBTI+ community by public figures. As we have stated whenever we have been given the opportunity, hate speech should be banned once and for all by public media, as its consequences are severe and irreversible for anyone.
“I read everything very carefully, and I hope that this ‘government’ of ours does something, because I’m a teenage member of the LGBTI+ community, and it’s my right to live free. But instead, I have to “act” just so I can have a place to live and to avoid being beaten in the street and bullied. These people need to have a hard look at themselves, because they’ve pushed so many people towards suicide, and others are currently contemplating it.
Now, I have to go to school, where I’ve to listen to tons of teenagers speak badly of the community that I belong to, and tons of teachers that also speak with hatred about them. And these people think this will convert me into a heterosexual person. No, this pushes me toward suicide, just so I can escape all of this. I hope something gets done, because the moment I turn 18, I’m leaving this cruel country and I will never again set foot in this land that I have ‘turned ugly.'”