Somehow, my own process of coming to terms with my sexuality coincided with LGBT activism becoming a reality in my home country. At first, it did not seem like something that would have a deep impact on me. I was 26 at the time, and thought I had “fought my fight”. I remember, being much younger, when I first heard of the acronym “LGBT”, I thought to myself: “where were these people, these activists, when I was younger and struggling with discrimination, self-pity and self-hatred?”. I had a lot of resentment.
I work with LGBTI ERA, a regional umbrella association which caters to 56 LGBTI organisations from the western Balkans and Turkey. It’s boring, very boring, the day-to-day work. It’s a lot of paperwork, a lot of planning, trying to find resources. The “fun”, in my opinion, is in organisations working with and for the community, who are finding so many ingenious ways in creating queer spaces free of prejudice and discrimination, where our identities thrive and our values become reality.
In the western Balkans we have a peculiar problem. EU integration, which has been the main goal of most Balkan countries in the last 20 years, has enabled the passing of very progressive laws, often with little public discourse. This has made the work of LGBTI activists extremely difficult. The top-down approach has created lazy and inefficient public institutions, which have modern laws to apply but little or no mechanism for implementing them. Peace is still a fragile word; most countries are still vulnerable to nationalistic rhetoric and political parties that try to look modern by embracing diversity, while in fact remaining reluctant to publicly endorse LGBTI rights. We need to work on all fronts simultaneously and in coordination: the community, state institutions and society. We do not have the luxury of working in one field only.
I have always felt an outsider. Whatever I do, whatever I believe in and stand for, seems to always be in conflict with the mainstream. It’s that strong pressure that every non-straight person feels from hetero-normative spaces. There is also pressure from the LGBTI world itself. I don’t see myself as part of anything anymore. In a sad way, I do not feel part of any community. I just think that what I and other people are doing, is the right thing.
My aim is peace. I want societies in the Western Balkans to speak more about love, sisterhood and brotherhood. I want to see public spaces being invaded by critical discourse, by inclusion and participation. Yet I don’t want LGBTI people to “disappear” into mainstream spaces. I don’t want us to be just “normal”. I want us to be recognised and appreciated in our differences, in how we form our families, how we fall in love, how we contribute to this world.