Do we see the rainbow yet?
It has been an intense and enthusiastic past couple of days since the US Supreme Court declared gay marriage legal. Facebook feeds are more colourful than ever and the virtual world is sharing healthy loads of love and pride. As I was tapping through different parades and celebrations across Europe on Snapchat, I wondered about the LGBT community in Albania. While my friends on social media have not hesitated to express themselves, and I have yet to see a negative reaction, that alone was far from a comprehensive picture on the general opinion of Albanians and the situation of the queer community in the country. I Googled it of course, and one of the first search results dated back to 2013 and announced: Albania is the “most anti-gay country in Europe”. I paused at the title. Then I hurried to scroll down and look for data to back the statement. The ranking came from the European Social Survey, in which 53% of the country was apparently homophobic. However I found out that the survey however had not included most of the countries in the Western Balkans, and the surveyed sample was debatable. This largely loosened up the impact of the title, the picture remained blurry. I decided to test and see what information there is out there in the world wide web.
The truth of the matter is that Albania remains a largely homophobic country. That, combined with Albania’s socio-politics and history makes up a voluminous and very interesting field of study. This article however will not explore homophobia. It will spring out of that given context, and sum up for you what the Albanian LGBT community has in fact achieved during the last 20 years. Here is a brief of some important milestones:
Homosexuality is decriminalized. Before January 20th, the Albanian Penal Code could charge someone of homosexual orientation with up to 10 years of incarceration.
Albania joins the list of 43 countries who make no distinction of sexual orientation for those who wish to serve in the military.
Then Prime Minister, Sali Berisha, promises support for same-sex marriage and an anti-discrimination bill is drafted.
The Alliance Against LGBT Discrimination starts its activities as a recognised NGO. Aiming to push the Albanian society to openness towards diversity and sexual orientation, the organisation is created by a volunteer youth group. Headed by Xheni Karaj and Krist Pinderi, the Alliance revolves around three main pillars: community and capacity building, awareness raising, and advocacy and lobbying. Since its formal creation, the Alliance is increasingly expanding and outspoken.
Law is passed prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, however there is no approval or mention of same-sex civil marriage. This law is meant to provide justice and fairness in real estate, employment, services, healthcare and education. The LGBT community as of this moment gains a legal ground to fight on.
Pink Embassy comes into action in the same year. Their proactivity is based mostly on the media and on the improvement of different channels of communication in order to shape public opinion. Their campaigns, festivals and activities that occupy the public space have indeed reaffirmed their presence as an organisation and the have pointed the attention towards the LGBT community as an active part of society.
The Albanian criminal code is amended so as to put hate crimes against sexual and gender identity on the same level as crimes against any other kind of discrimination such as race, religion etc. The distribution of homophobic content via digital means is also banned.
ProLGBT starts out and becomes the third large and active organisation that operates in Albania. Among other things, ProLGBT has set up an independent news website that focuses on circulating information that concerns the LGBT community that might be often bypassed by other mainstream media.
The LGBT Alliance and Pro LGBT join efforts to set up the first shelter for members of the LGBT community who are left homeless or are seeking refuge due to domestic abuse and violence. The Shelter is the first one in the Balkans and one of the few in Eastern Europe. Among other things, the two organisations have made sure to set up a system of counselling and psychological support for the victims.
The 4th Tirana Gay Bike Ride takes place and a foreign same-sex couple gets married at the British Embassy in Tirana.
My small survey however seemed to emphasise one point consistently: the biggest achievement reached by the Albanian society in the past 20 years has been the creation of dialogue and public discourse, the sharing of ideas and thoughts and the construction of an active public consciousness towards the existence and the rights of the LGBT community. One thing is certain, the socio-cultural diversity in the country is on the rise.