5 December 2007 – Gays Without Borders
Albania’s Gay Flight: homosexuals forced to leave Albania or suffer with deep-rooted homophobia
by Ben Andoni in Tirana
“Could I tell my mother that I am gay? She is nearly eighty-years-old now. I would never want to cause her such trauma at this stage in her life. My father – when he was alive – asked me, but I could not admit it to him either,” recalls the man in his forties, too afraid to give his name, too self-conscious, constantly looking over his shoulder.
Getting in touch with Gjerji, as he wants to be called, was not an easy task. A form of underground credibility must be established through a network of intermediaries. Repeated cases in the past have taught the homosexual community that, in a traditional society like Albania, going public with their sexual orientation means losing their jobs, risking threats and possible rejection by their families.
“From what we know, the data that we have, there is a community of nearly 3,500 in Tirana alone,” says Genci Terpo, a lawyer with the Albanian Human Rights Group, AHRG.
Though the Albanian Parliament legalized homosexual relationships in 1995, more than a decade later, gays and lesbians are still heavily stigmatized, and a majority of them are choosing to leave, amidst fears that if their sexual orientation is discovered, their safety will be endangered.
“The attitudes toward homosexuality have not changed much, and they have to protect themselves,” says Terpo. “It’s not that now, in 2007, there is any real difference to what we have seen before. They continue to be subjected to discrimination in all walks of life, and that includes state institutions,” he adds.
In the past the majority of homosexuals leaving the country tended to pass through the illegal smuggling routes that were such a familiar feature of the Balkans during the 1990s. Now a growing number is turning to human rights organizations, like AHRG.
“Our biggest problem is identifying ourselves and the possibility of having a shared space where we can meet without fear. There are gay and lesbian clubs all over the world, even in Arab countries which are historically more traditional than ours, and yet here we live in fear” says S.L., a member of the Albanian Gay and Lesbian Association, ALGA.
S.L. says he has good reason for such fear. “We were sitting in a park when two police vans pulled over. The officers got out of the van and dragged us away. One of the drivers came over to me and kicked me repeatedly, his boot hitting my stomach. When I begged him to stop, he just shouted ‘Shut up you faggot’, and continued kicking me”, adds S.L., recalling the incident.
ALGA and AHGR have been trying to bring to the public’s attention the treatment of homosexuals in Albania. In addition to its publicity work, AHGR also provides legal representation, free of charge, for ALGA members in case of arrest or mistreatment.
According to S.L. a number of members from the organization are currently applying for asylum in EU countries due to the discrimination they face, and a few of them have already left.
The first case registered by ALGA was in 2002, when one of its members was granted asylum in the Netherlands through the assistance of AHRG, after being subjected to repeated psychological and physical violence from police officers.
Human rights reports on Albania concede that ingrained attitudes among the public leave Albanian gays and lesbians on the fringes of society. According to AHRG, Albanian homosexuals face “intolerance, physical and psychological violence – often from the police – and discrimination in the workplace.”
A.A., another member of ALGA, has been granted asylum in Sweden. After being repeatedly harassed by police, he turned to AHRG to seek a way to leave the country.
June 19, 2008 – PinkNews
Albania failing to protect gays from violence and discrimination
by Tony Grew
The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights has highlighted the problems faced by gay, lesbian, trans and bisexual people in Albania. Thomas Hammarberg’s report to the Committee of Ministers and to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recommends a series of measures to improve the situation, including information campaigns. The report says that despite equal age of consent and other legal changes, attitudes in the central European nation “have not changed much.”
“This lacking public acceptance of LGBT may be attributable to the Communist heritage and patriarchal attitudes which have perpetuated a discriminatory and repressive attitude towards certain groups within society,” the report states.
“To sensitise people on diversity of sexuality requires education. This could take the form of a combination of public campaigns, integration of further sexual education within school curricula and further training of state professionals including law enforcement, judicial and medical personnel.”
Mr Hammarberg said that LGBT people in Albania “are routinely subject to intolerance, physical and psychological violence and seen by many as persons suffering from an illness.” He met with gay rights groups in the country and human rights workers who said that LGBT people face hostility “not only from the general public, but that there have also been cases of mistreatment by the police.”
The report concludes that the Albanian government make victims of discrimination aware of their rights, and have an independent authority to receive their complaint. A combination of public campaigns, integration of further sexual education within the school curricula, and further training of state professionals, including law enforcement, judicial and medical personnel is also recommended. The Council of Europe promotes and protects democracy, educational and sporting co-operation and created the European Court of Human Rights. To read the Albania report click here.
30 July 2009 – BBC News
Albania ‘to approve gay marriage’
by Mark Lowen, BBC Balkans correspondent
Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha has announced his party will propose a law legalising same-sex marriage. It is an unexpected move in a country that is still one of the most conservative in Europe and where homosexuality was illegal until 1995. Mr Berisha acknowledged the proposed law might provoke debate but maintained that discrimination in modern Albania had to end. The bill was drawn up by a group of non-governmental organisations. It has been accepted by Mr Berisha’s Democratic Party and will now come before parliament in the autumn.
In a predominantly Muslim country with almost no open homosexual community, the announcement by a conservative PM has taken people by surprise. Goran Miletic, a Belgrade-based human rights lawyer, working partly on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues said it was an important step forward for the country.
“(It is) encouraging for the LGBT community in Albania, bearing in mind that they are not visible comparing to some other Balkan states like Serbia, like Macedonia or Croatia.” But he said he did not think the law would be passed easily in the face of immediate opposition from religious communities
The reaction by Islamic and Catholic leaders has been vehement. Under the isolationist rule of Enver Hoxha, Albania was officially an atheist state. But since the fall of Communism almost two decades ago, religion has once again grown and its leaders’ voices are influential.
Albania, though, has set its sights firmly on the goal of European Union membership, and it seems this proposed law is aimed at showing Brussels a progressive new image. If it is passed in the autumn, it could move the country one step further on its European path.
August 19, 2009 – daily queer news
Albania to Legalize Gay Marriage
“This is an important law against discrimination,” said Berisha, who often stresses the importance of family values.
The prime minister said that the law had already been put to parliament and that MPs should treat it seriously because it provides a legal basis against discrimination, bringing the country into line with a framework already approved by the EU, which Albania aspires to join.
Although deeply secular, Albania is one of the three countries in Europe with a Muslim majority – with Bosnia and Kosovo – and it is unclear how the government’s decision will be accepted by the public.
05 February 2010 – ILGA
Albania protects LGBT people from discrimination
On 4 February 2010, the Parliament of Albania unanimously adopted all inclusive anti-discrimination law which bans discrimination in on the grounds of various characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender identity. ILGA-Europe welcomes this development and congratulates Albanian human rights groups and LGBT activists as well as Albanian politicians for making a joint effort to tackle discrimination.
Albania is a potential candidate country for joining the European Union and is required to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. ILGA-Europe regards new Albanian anti-discrimination legislation as very positive step as Albania is now one of a very few countries in Europe which explicitly bans discrimination on the grounds of gender identity. It also goes further compared to some latest EU Member States which only ban discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in employment and not in other areas of life.
Lilit Poghosyan, ILGA-Europe’s Policy & Programmes Officer, who oversees the organisation’s work in the Western Balkans, said:
“We congratulate Albania on this important step towards EU integration and elimination of all forms of discrimination. We hope that the new Albanian anti-discrimination will be a good example for other countries in the region aspiring to join the European Union and have not yet adopted similar laws.
Moreover, we hope that Albanian example will influence Macedonian authorities to revisit their recent decision to delete sexual orientation from the list of banned grounds of discrimination in their anti-discrimination bill currently being debated. Macedonia is a candidate country for EU membership and is under obligation to provide protection against sexual orientation discrimination.”
February 5, 2010 – PinkNews
No gay marriage for Albania
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
A gay rights law passed in Albania yesterday will outlaw homophobic discrimination but will not allow same-sex marriage. The law gives protection to citizens against discrimination on grounds of gender, race, colour, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation. It came to be known primarily as a gay rights law after Prime minister Sali Berisha said in July he supported gay marriage. Until 1995, homosexuality carried a ten-year prison sentence in Albania. The country is hoping to join the European Union. Despite the lack of a provision for gay marriage, the law was welcomed by Albanian gay rights groups.
A statement from Alliance Against Discrimination given to the Straits Times described it as “a victory for democracy and for human rights for all Albanians”. Lilit Poghosyan from the gay group ILGA-Europe, said: “We hope that the new Albanian anti-discrimination will be a good example for other countries in the region aspiring to join the European Union and have not yet adopted similar laws. Albania is deeply secular but is also one of only two countries in Europe which is predominantly Muslim. Religion was banned during the Communist rule between 1944 and 1990.
February 16, 2010 – Human Rights Watch
Albania: Anti-Bias Law a Victory
Groundbreaking Inclusion of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity Shows Commitment to Rights and Freedoms
(New York) – The anti-discrimination bill approved by Albanian lawmakers on February 4, 2010, is an important step toward ensuring equality for all, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Prime Minister Sali Berisha. The bill, which Albania’s government had proposed and promoted, is designed to protect Albanians from all forms of discrimination, including on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
“Albania’s government has shown leadership in the fight for equality,” said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender program of Human Rights Watch. “The bill’s inclusive provisions, if carried out properly, will help build an open society where all can live freely.” For over a year, Human Rights Watch has worked to support changes in Albanian law that would offer anti-discrimination protections in keeping with international standards. In February 2009, Human Rights Watch organized a roundtable discussion in Tirana with 10 Albanian human rights organizations to talk about the issue.
The groups pointed to high levels of homophobia in Albanian society and a dire lack of legal protections. They concluded that a broad anti-discrimination law that would expressly protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Albanians against unequal treatment should be a top priority for government action. Human Rights Watch reinforced this message in meetings with government officials, including Berisha. Albanian human rights organizations prepared a first draft of the bill, and discussed its contents with the government. It was passed with the prime minister’s full support.
Article 1 of the bill defines equality, and includes sexual orientation and gender identity among the reasons equality should not be infringed upon. Article 3 defines discrimination, incorporating every ground mentioned in article 1. In its letter, Human Rights Watch urged Albanian authorities to ensure that the new Office of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality and the Ministry of Labor have the staff and expertise needed to lead the fight against discrimination.
“This law is an important promise – but it is just the beginning,” Dittrich said. “Now the government needs to see that its provisions are realized and enforced.”
20 March 2010 – LGBT Asylum News
400 join homophobic street protests against Big Brother contestant
by John Hodgson
According to the Tirana newspaper Shekulli, 400 people, mainly young men, took to the streets in the northern town of Lezhë on 11 March, protesting “Lezhë is clean – we have no homosexuals.” This was the second demonstration in the town against “the Klodi case”, after an emotional declaration on television by Klodian Çela, from Lezhë, an inmate of the Big Brother house on the Top Channel reality TV programme, that he is homosexual and calling for understanding from everybody, especially his mother.
The protesters in Lezhë demonstrated in the town’s main square, shouting “Klodi out, out,” and insisted that if he is not removed from the Big Brother house, they will step up their protests and continue them in Tirana. According to Shekulli, the protesters “felt compelled to defend the honour of their town and its long-standing traditions.” Their slogans included, “Lezhë does not deserve the stain of homosexuality” and “Klodi has tarred the civilized reputation of Lezhë.” One demonstrator was quoted as saying that if a condition for Albania’s entrance to the EU is a law permitting homosexuality, he would rather the country did not join the EU at all.
The Tirana-based Alliance Against LGBT Discrimination has responded with a media statement describing the protests as a “witch hunt”, and finding them “laughable but above all saddening.” The Alliance states that the protesters “would do better to think how they will be educated, how they will find work, and how they will grow up healthy in a society whose backwardness leads to such savagery and discrimination.”
In its statement, the Alliance points out that:
“Many of the young people we have seen on the streets of Lezhë will have lived in fear on the streets of Italy or Greece, marginalised, discriminated, without money or dignity. Unfortunately, many of these young men end up performing sexual services for money and become prostitutes. When they return to Albania, they try to avoid talking about such things which put them in a tough psychological position.”
The Alliance reminds the police of Lezhë that such protests are illegal under the Albanian Constitution and the Law for Protection Against Discrimination, which penalizes behaviour that incites violence and hatred. The “Klodi case” has stimulated vigorous discussion in the Albanian media. Writing in Korrieri on 15 March, the distinguished writer Fatos Lubonja, a long-term political prisoner under the former communist regime, comments that the protests in Lezhë illustrate “the dismal state of 21st century Albanian society”. According to Lubonja, such protests are a symptom of “a deeply frustrated society”
“These people’s choice of a victim as the target of violence is a symptom of the violence, brutality, and ignorance to which they themselves have been subjected. It has rightly been asked why these young men are not protesting against their crushing poverty, the ecological devastation their region is suffering, and the like. It is precisely because they are not protesting about these things, because they do not know how to do so, that they are protesting against the homosexual Klodi.”
Lubonja states that lifting the legal sanctions against homosexuality or approving homosexual marriage are not enough if Albania is to join 21st century Europe. “This requires investment in education to lift people out of the ignorance and spiritual and cultural wretchedness in which they are steeped.” In the newspaper Panorama, Blendi Kajsiu writes that Albanian culture in the past was much more accepting of homosexuality, and blames Albania’s nationalist version of communism for instilling homophobia into Albanian society.
“Nationalism in itself has historically been a highly masculine or masculinist doctrine. In the case of Albania’s national communism, this is clear from the pictures and statues of socialist realism, which stress raw muscle power in men, and even in women. In this context, homosexuality was conceived as a lack of masculinity, and the feminization of the male, that is the very opposite of the national-communist ideal of socialist realism.”
Not all commentators have condemned the protesters. Also in Panorama, Edmond Arizaj states: “I am heterosexual and I don’t like homosexuals. If they are free to express their preferences. I think I have this freedom too. Or perhaps it’s not yet time for us to talk about the rights of heterosexuals, even conservative ones.”
June 24, 2010 – PinkNews
Hillary Clinton discusses subject of homophobia in Albania
bBy Christopher Brocklebank
During her speech in honour of LGBT month, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke in support of an Albanian man who came out on national television. The man, Klodian Cela, was appearing in the country’s version of Big Brother. Mr Cela came out on the show back in February of this year, an act that triggered a series of anti-gay protests in his hometown of Lezha, in northern Albania.
Ms Clinton said in her speech that soon after the event, the American Ambassador to Albania, John Withers, “went on television to publicly express support for this man. He visited his hometown and he invited him to an event at our Embassy, conveying to all Albanians that the United States supports his rights and respects his courage”.
Homosexuality was decriminalised in Albania in 1995, and in the same month that Mr Cela came out, the Albanian parliament approved a wide-ranging anti-discrimination law that protects the rights of gay men and lesbians. Prime Minister Sali Berisha had proposed legalising same-sex unions, but this was not included in the bill. Despite this, activists applauded the law as a great step foward for gay rights in Albania.
However, according to BalkanInsight.com, “Human rights reports on Albania concede that ingrained attitudes among the public leave Albanian gays and lesbians on the fringes of society. An Albanian Human Rights Group reports that Albanian homosexuals face ‘intolerance, physical and psychological violence – often from the police – and discrimination in the workplace'”. After over four decades of communist rule, Albania became a social democracy in 1992. However, the country’s first attempts at democratic and monetary reform led to economic collapse, anarchy and the return of blood feuds. The country is now a parliamentary democracy with a growing economy.
August 15, 2011 – Pink Embassy
Call to Investigate Police Brutality Against a Transgender Woman in Tirana
Pink Embassy/LGBT Pro Albania, an organisation that works for the protection of LGBT community in Albania, wishes to express its deep concerns for the latest case of extreme violence used against a member of the transgender community in Tirana, Albania. On August 14, 2011 around 16:00 members of the State Police, accompanied by a private citizen, where investigating the theft of a necklace at the park near the Albanian Parliament. Amongst the people they were interviewing for the case was also a young man, who is friends with the transgender group, which lives by this park. When the police tried to detain the young man, they faced resistance by one of the transgender people called Paloma.
The reaction of the Police towards Paloma was extremely violent, crossing all boundaries of its lawful use. A group of six police officers, one of them a woman, used totally unjustified violence which based on international acts ratified by Albania, could be classified as degrading punishment and torture.Afterwards, Paloma was taken in custody at the Tirana Police Authority, where violence against her continued until she was totally covered in blood and had fainted. To avoid any bruises on the head and face, she was forced to wear a helmet, while kicking and punching continued all over her body. Pink Embassy/LGBT Pro-Albania are in possession of pictures that show scars and bruises on her body. The Police took Paloma at Mother Teresa National Hospital (QSUT), where she received immediate aid and was then taken back to the police headquarters of Tirana.
Throughout the entire detention, Paloma was not offered any legal assistance and was asked to sign documents without her consent. Paloma cannot read or write. Pink Embassy calls on the Ministry of Interior and Albanian People’s Advocate to start an immediate investigation on the case and to bring to justice all the people in uniform who were involved in the torturing for endless hours a transgender person, putting her life in absolute danger.
For years, the transgender community in Albania has suffered from marginalization and social exclusion. The community lacks support from Tirana Municipality and central government institutions. It is not the first time that Pink Embassy/LGBT Pro Albania publicly denounces the violence and maltreatment of transgender people in Tirana by the Police. Even though during the last months there has been an improvement in the way transgender people were being treated by the Police, the latest case shows that they further need to improve their professionalism and work behavior.