Homophobia in Serbia

A dispute over the staging of a Belgrade gay rights news conference has shed fresh light on the discrimination faced by Serbia 's homosexual, bi-sexual and transgender communities.

In February 2009, the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocacy group sought media attention for the launch of 'This is Our Country,' its report on the state of human rights for LGBT persons in Serbia.

However, the news conference had to be switched to another venue after organisers were denied use of the capital's Sava Centre.

The GSA challenged the decision by the venue's management, criticising it as an act of homophobia. They were encouraged by support from government officials concerned at the alleged discrimination.

Campaigners interpreted the withdrawal as more evidence of the hardline approach that affects Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people in Serbia .

Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed his concerns at their treatment in a report on Serbia published in March 2009.

Hammarberg noted that ''Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) persons remain victims of discrimination, prejudice and intolerance in Serbia . Their plight is largely hidden from public view, and when they are referred to in public debate it is often in negative terms. Many of those persons who speak-up for LGBT rights - regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity - are themselves often victimised with impunity.''

The Commissioner underscored ''the precarious plight of transgender persons in Serbia , who have become a particularly victimised and vulnerable group” and also sounded alarm at the extent of the homophobia present in public attitudes.

The report revealed that in a public opinion survey, 70% of the interviewed sample considered homosexuality to be a sickness. Only seven per cent thought 'pride parades' were a legitimate way of seeking equal rights for LGBT people.

The report added: ''In the Commissioner's assessment, the notion of rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons is in its infancy in Serbia , and safe, open discussion on the issues remains taboo.''

The Commissioner welcomed the Ministry of Culture's provision of funds for an online news website dedicated to the country's LGBT communities and advised Serbian authorities to tackle homophobia through education.

''A prerequisite to changing attitudes is the provision of targeted sensitising education,'' the report stated. ''Raising awareness regarding LGBT persons, challenging homo- and trans-phobia, mainstreaming equal rights for all persons, promoting sexual health education and the inclusion of young people are all crucial elements to breaking a perpetuated stigma against LGBT persons.

''Further training of other officials including law enforcement, judicial and medical personnel should be a focus of government action.''

Find out more

Report by the Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, on his visit to Serbia (13-17 October 2008)
File ''Fight agaisnt Homophobia''


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