Courage is what it takes...and perseverance
Blog by Ambassador Dewi van de Weerd
IDAHOT, the yearly Day Against Homophobia has transformed into a full Week of Diversity in Albania. Catering to all tastes, participants can do a bike ride, go to exhibitions, watch and discuss films, receive prizes or even go to a fundraising LGBT Gala. The avalanche of events requires some agenda planning, that's for sure.
Some years ago the situation was quite different. There were no openly active LGBT organisations and the Dutch embassy together with COC, the main Dutch organisation, supported the set-up of Pink Embassy. This became the first proactive organisation to fight and ask attention for equal rights for LGBT and a halt to discrimination in the country. That already seems a long time ago now. Where civil society in Albania is not very active in many fields, LGBT organisations are thriving. And they manage to broaden their horizon. The Albanian government however is finding it not so easy to show leadership. The government does not yet participate in the yearly LGBT Gay Ride for example. It takes courage, 2016’s IDAHOT theme, and moral leadership, but their support and active policies are needed. This year the private sector decided to become involved.
Albanian HR company The Headhunter published for the first time a yearly index about companies and their policies on equal rights for LGBT. We spend a large part of our life at home or at work. Can you imagine that you would not be able to be yourself there? Not daring to talk about the person you love, to your dad or to your colleagues. The Headhunter did a thorough research related to employment equality with an impressive number of 72 companies (international and national) active in Albania answering to their questioner. The result is an innovative and informative overview and some companies that are performing well. Awards were received by, amongst others, Top Albania Radio, Vodafone and the British Council. Findings of the LGBTIQ Questionnaire revealed that Top Albania Radio has a non-discriminatory and equal opportunity policy that contains the term "gender identity". This is fully in compliance with the Albanian legal framework on non-discrimination. There are now plans to set up a business network promoting diversity and employment equality and offer training. It is great to see several Albanian businesses taking a leading role serving as a role model in advancing the LGBT cause. The approach is innovative and serves as a model for the region.
Perhaps the most challenging issues arise when people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate or not to protect the human rights of LGBT citizens. In this regard the film that was produced by The Netherlands, ‘Out And About’, was useful in the Albanian context. On 17 May it premiered in 25 countries and Albania was one of them. The documentary shows parents from Russia, Indonesia and Kenya and how they have dealt with the coming out of their gay children. One family is muslim, another one orthodox. They both stand behind their sons. One mother finds strength in her faith to deal with the situation that she finds difficult. Also, she finds a group of similar mothers to share experiences with. The embassy organised a film screening where an Albanian mother and grandmother told the audience about their struggle. Sometimes parents experience a kind of coming out as well, facing reactions of their social environment.
A lot of work remains to be done to increase social acceptance. Another Dutch initiative is a Free Card that will be distributed all over Albania. It quotes/extracts the definition of the word "love" from the dictionary in Albanian and its explanation that describes the feeling, but in fact does not indicate age, gender, status or any other physical features. In Tirana, also a shelter exists for youngsters that have been expelled from their families. They have room for eight people and currently have a full waiting list. The embassy will support the shelter. It also has a regional function and receives people from Kosovo and Macedonia.