All posts in “Foreign Media”

Queer.hr: Srpski vojnici mogu biti gay

Gay Echo je objavio da za razliku od SAD-a, u Srbiji LGBT populacija može stupiti u vojsku.

Vojska Srbije je trenutno raspisala natječaj putem kojeg prima zainteresirane muškarce i žene u profesionalnu vojsku. U Srbiji više nema obaveznog vojnog roka već se vojska profesionalizira.

Predrag Azdejković je za Queer.hr rekao da  LGBT populacija u Srbiji ne zna da joj je dozvoljeno ići u vojsku i da mogu biti profesionalni vojnici, jer vlada mišljenje da ako u Americi nije dozvoljeno – u Srbiji tek nije.

“Ali tu je greška.” – kaže Predrag. “U Srbiji ne postoji nikakva zakonska zabrana, znači dozvoljeno je. Također, Zakon protiv diskriminacije zabranjuje bilo kakvu diskriminaciju na osnovu seksualne orijentacije, tako da se to primjenjuje i na vojnu službu. Nama, kao Gej lezbejskom info centru je vrlo važno da informiramo LGBT populaciju i nudimo provjerene informacije. Ali, Srbija je homofobična zemlja i zato smo pozvali Ministarstvo odbrane i Vojsku Srbije da kažnjava svako maltretiranje vojnika na osnovu seksualne orijentacije i da zaštiti LGBT osobe u oružanom sastavu.”

Queer.hr: Gay podrška Crvenoj Zvezdi

Gej i lezbijski info centar Srbije podržao nogometni klub Crvena zvezda

Proteklog je tjedna u Srbiji veliku medijsku pozornost zauzela vijest kako je GLIC (Gej lezbijski info centar) pružio formalnu potporu nogometnom klubu Crvena zvezda pozivom navijačima u zajednici da pomognu novčanim donacijama klubu u povelikim financijskim poteškoćama. Nekadašnji nogometni prvak svijeta i Europe je danas na rubu propasti – u dugovima 22 milijuna eura, igrači masovno napuštaju klub jer im se ne isplaćuju plaće a navijači direktore i upravu posprdno nazivaju konobarima. Scenarij, zapravo, nemalo sličan onome i u vodećim hrvatskim klubovima koji, ako ne gutaju novce iz proračuna (Dinamo) u upravi imaju nepodobne rodjake i gradonačelnikove obiteljske prijatelje (Hajduk).

U regiji, a vjerojatno i šire se nikad u povijesti nije dogodilo da jedna gej i lezbijska udruga ponudi ovako eksplicitnu pomoć jednom nogometnom klubu. I dok predsjednik GLIC-a Predrag Azdejković ističe da provokacija bilo kakve vrste nije bila ni na kraj pameti pri sastavljanju priopćenja, iz Zvezde se zasad ne osvrću pretjerano na nenadanu potporu i sve stavljaju u isključivo ekonomski kontekst kakav je mogao proizaći od bilo kojeg individualca u Srbiji. S druge strane, navijači Partizana situaciju ismijavaju govoreći da će „navijači u suknjama“ spasiti Zvezdu. No ovo nije prvi put da dvije, nazovimo ih suprotstavljene strane (jer na Balkanu je učestala pojava da navijači mlate gejeve i lezbijke, a bili su i inicijatori masovnih nereda za vrijeme prvog Beograd Pridea) izražavaju nekakav oblik solidarizacije. U kolovozu su tako prošle godine klubovi osudili homofobne grafite na ulicama koje su postavili njihovi navijači i inducirali njihovo uklanjanje.

Gejevi i lezbijke najviše prate nogomet

Azdejković ovaj čin ističe kao istinsku želju da se voljenom klubu pomogne, uz tvrdnje kako je navijanje za Zvezdu faktično stvar srbijanske tradicije. Kako kaže, gejevi i lezbijke od svih sportova vjerojatno najviše prate nogomet stoga poziv na podršku ne bi nikoga trebao iznenaditi. Ipak, priznaje da je pomalo paradoksalno podržavati nekoga tko te zapravo mrzi stoga ovu reakciju treba tumačiti i kao pružanje ruke pomirenja, ne samo Zvezdi već svim nogometnim klubovima i navijačkim udrugama jer je GLIC prije svega udruga zasnovana na principima solidarnosti, međusobna pomaganja i tolerancije.

S njime se slažu i sociolozi sporta koji na čitavu priču gledaju kao apel za poštovanje prava različitosti i ponuda za miroljubivu koegzistenciju jedne osjetljive manjine prečesto ugrožene od strane navijača, a slažu se da će se samo ovim činom malo toga promijeniti zbog tvrdo ukorijenjenog patrijarhalnog obrasca društva u kojem žive.

Premda bi sigurno bilo zanimljivo sagledati ovu situaciju u hrvatskom kontekstu, teško je još uvijek zamisliti mirnu simbiozu zagrebačkih navijača i lgbtiq populacije koja npr. po navici već izbjegava „njihovu“ stranu ulice u Draškovićevoj. No istine sigurno može biti i u Azdejkovićevim riječima. Oni pravi navijači u svojoj srži bi trebali biti miroljubivi ljubitelji sporta; nažalost, oni glasniji i ako su u manjini zbog toga uspijevaju prevladati. A najbolji reprezentativni primjer za to su već od nas spomenuti zagrebački White Angelsi koji su s Queerom i Centrom za mirovne studije surađivali na projektu smanjenja homofobije i jezika mržnje na nogometnim utakmicama. Nadajmo se tako da i ova pohvalna gesta GLIC-a neće proći bez adekvatne zahvale i uvažavanja od strane vodstva kluba a toliko i navijača.

The Guide: Blogging behind closed doors

Khalid knows how frightening it can be to live in a country where being gay is taboo.

In 2007, Khalid agreed to appear on the inaugural cover of MK, the first gay magazine in Jordan. But the shirtless photo of the young man caused a stir after the tabloids caught wind of it. The outcry was so fierce the magazine never published.

“I was still in school at the time,” Khalid told Guide magazine from his home in Amman, the capital of Jordan. “People were talking about it in my school, and they didn’t know it was me at the time. It was very scary because there was no one in the whole Arab world ” the Middle East ” who was out in the media.”

Although Khalid says he never felt his life was in danger, he did face blackmail attempts from those who threatened to out him to his parents. He hid out in neighboring Lebanon until the scandal had passed.

“It’s very simple as I’m talking about it, but at the time it was very big because no other media was talking about homosexuality,” Khalid said. “But now, everyone in Jordan is talking about it. That’s a big step in two years.” The 21-year-old model eventually returned to Jordan, where he launched the monthly webzine My Kali to give Arab gays “a better image to look up to.”

“Most of the people here look to English, European and American publications,” Khalid said. “Those images don’t really apply here. I just wanted to give people a different image to which [they] can relate.”

Khalid, who asked that his last name not be used, is one of a growing number of gays around the world who have launched online publications. Their sites serve as virtual community centers and are an increasingly important source of news and information for gays in their own countries and others around the world.

But this online activism is often dangerous, which is why most of the bloggers quoted in this article asked that their full names not be used. Some countries in which gay bloggers work ban homosexuality. Laws designed to curb homosexual activity often carry steep prison sentences –and sometimes the death penalty. Homophobic attitudes can prove equally harmful.

GuG began to blog nearly three years ago. He wanted to document what it was like to live in Uganda, a country where gays are vilified. He lives in the capital, Kampala, which he described as “the best place to hide, where the population is densest.”

His blog, with commentary about the country’s leading political and religious figures, has emerged as an important source of information about gay life in Uganda. GuG has posted dozens of items about proposed legislation in his country that would impose the death penalty for homosexuality.

The BBC’s call-in television show World Have Your Say invited GuG to appear as a guest in early January to discuss the situation for gay men and lesbians in Uganda. He has also spoken with other journalists around the world, but he lamented that he cannot devote all of his time to fighting the measure.

“The problem is at the moment that I have to concentrate back on bread and butter issues,” said GuG.

“VISIBILITY HELPS”

In the Philippines, a piece of legislation affecting gays is a prominent topic on a blog called Bakla Ako, May Reklamo? (which translates roughly as “I’m gay, got a problem with that?”) The proposed law would ban anti-gay discrimination.

AJ Matela began to blog in 2007 as a way of expressing himself. His site includes lighthearted topics ranging from discussions of gay social networking sites to videos of beauty pageants to “basically anything under the pink sun.” Matela told Guide magazine that his blog continues to morph into something bigger than he originally imagined.

“Since many Filipinos are using the internet nowadays, increased visibility online helps a lot,” said Matela.

The internet has become an increasingly popular place for gays to not only connect with each other, but to learn about gay-specific news, as well as government-sanctioned raids, arrests and other actions.

Mario Martinez launched his blog, Diario de un Gay Guanaco (Diary of a Gay Salvadoran), in 2007 as a way to speak out against the media’s coverage of gay issues in El Salvador. He introduces himself to his readers as a journalist who is “tired of our society’s hypocrisy.”

In a recent post titled “It’s not so bad to be a faggot if you are a priest,” Martinez discusses the sex scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church in El Salvador and the rest of the world.

“These are my experiences as a homosexual in this third-world and machismo country,” Martinez explains.

Some Salvadorans have criticized his website, but Martinez says he has never felt threatened. Other gay bloggers around the world have faced far more serious threats.

Death threats forced Predrag M Azdejkovic, a gay blogger in Serbia, to delete some of his online postings. Azdejkovic, who is also the president of a gay community center in Belgrade, said he has received threatening emails from a neo-Nazi group.

He said some of his countrymen are uncomfortable with the fact he blogs for a national media outlet, but his posts are popular among young Serbs.

“Others have a problem that a gay person has a space on the national network to write,” he said.

Censorship is another issue many bloggers confront.

Ricky secretly updates Gay Boy Weekly from his home in Kuwait City. His most recent posting celebrates his blog’s anniversary with a picture of fireworks. Ricky routinely posts items about gay-specific news throughout the Persian Gulf, but his main challenge is remaining one step ahead of government censors.

“I’m happy that my blog is not yet blocked,” he joked. “What makes me worried is that the government can say that writing about gay rights is against the law.”

Mazaj, who has written Mood for Gay Syria for four years, posts information about gay-friendly coffee shops, hammams (traditional steam baths), cruising areas and hotels in Damascus, Aleppo and other Syrian cities. He said he has not faced the same difficulties that Ricky confronts in Kuwait.

“The Syrian government is a secular government,” Mazaj said. “I know for sure that they know about all the places gay people go to. They don’t care unless people start to demand a change in laws or ask for rights. Then it might be dangerous, but so far there have been no major troubles with the government here about the blog.”

Gay bloggers can face violence from their fellow countrymen.

Cuppatea maintains A Colourful Life of a Gay Kenyan from his home in Nairobi. He blogs about daily life for gay Kenyans. Cuppatea says he identifies people in his blogs by their initials or pseudonyms to protect them from being outed to their families, friends and employers.

In 2007, these fears became a reality after an anti-gay group tried to out people by posing as gay men on Facebook. The Kenyan authorities eventually stepped in, but not before the group outed three of Cuppatea’s acquaintances.

“Some straight people tried to shut me down, but I stressed freedom of speech on the internet,” he said.

SHAPING THE CONVERSATION

Even though statistics indicate roughly a quarter of the world’s total population already accesses the Web, the internet continues to gain traction as more people, especially in the developing world, continue to log on. Internet World Stats reports 74 percent of North Americans and 52 percent of Europeans have regular access to the internet, compared to 28.3 percent of Middle Easterners, 19.4 percent of Asians and 6.8 percent of Africans.

Most gay bloggers who spoke to Guide magazine said they hope their blogs play an important role in shaping the conversation about gay issues in their countries.

“I would like to think that my blog, among other gay blogs in Kenya, has people see that we exist, we are there and we walk amongst them living our lives as they would theirs,” Cuppatea said.

Matela agreed.

“I would like to believe that my blog helps shape the perception about homosexuality in Philippine society,” he said.

Khalid remains hopeful My Kali will continue to challenge homophobic attitudes in Jordan and throughout the Middle East.

“People are easily influenced; you give them something, they read it and they admire it,” he said. “I’m trying to change the very close-minded people here and the perspective of what homosexuality is. And I am trying to break that stereotypical image.”

As for Ricky, he describes himself as “one small voice from the Gulf area.” But he notes that he received notes from concerned readers after he stopped blogging for a couple of months.

“I didn’t think that people would read what I wrote, but I discovered that there are huge numbers of people who like what I write,” Ricky said. “I feel so good that they can actually hear my voice.”

Author:  Michael K Lavers

Michael K Lavers is the national news editor for the EDGE Media Network and managing editor of the Fire Island News. His work has appeared in The Advocate, the Village Voice and many gay and mainstream publications.

UKgayNews: Football fans’ graffiti calls for murder of gays

Outraged Gay Community in Belgrade Demand FIFA Action Over Hate Graffiti

BELGRADE, August 10, 2009  –  The failure of the Football Association of Serbia and two clubs in Belgrade to distance themselves from homophobic messages and calls to murder of gay persons which appear in graffiti across the city, bearing the ‘signature’ of fans from the Partizan and Red Star Belgrade has so outraged gays that they have written to the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the world governing body for football, demanding action.

Many buildings in the city bear the graffiti with homophobic messages, including calls for the murder of gays.

Most are ‘signed’ by Red Star Belgrade and Partizan fan groups, the GayEcho website claims.

Two weeks ago, the Gay and Lesbian Info Center in Belgrade and other non-governmental organisations requested the Football Association of Serbia and the management of the two clubs to publicly distance themselves from these messages and to condemn the calls to murder of gay persons.

But the plea has fallen on deaf ears.  So a letter has been sent to FIFA headquarters in Zurich.

“Please, help us in the struggle against homophobia and violence against the LGBT population in Serbia,” the letter pleads.

The hate messages come ahead of the Belgrade Gay Pride parade, which is scheduled for September 20.

“It’s scary to walk through Belgrade because you will [the graffiti] on every corner,” Predrag Azdejkovic, the editor-in-chief of the GayEcho Website, told UK Gay News this morning.

“Belgrade’s major Dragan Djilas said that he is against the Pride Parade and that he doesn’t see why  anyone should parade his or her sexual orientation and show it publicly.  He said that he is against violence.

“Importantly, he is worried because this graffiti is sending a bad message about Belgrade – and makes the city look ugly.

“But nobody is cleaning this graffiti’s from Belgrade’s walls,” he pointed out.

This morning, FIFA was invited to comment.  UK Gay News is awaiting their comment, which will either appear here as an update or in a separate article.

www.ukgaynews.org.uk

Фотогалерия: Сърбин “гримира” известни политици

Колаж на Георги Първанов, “гримиран” с характерния макиаж на групата Kiss, е част от интернет изложба на Предраг Аздейкович, която е качена на сайта на сръбската радио и телевизия Б 92.

Илюстрация: Предраг Аздейкович

http://www.dnevnik.bg/photos/2009/06/03/729595_fotogaleriia_surbin_grimira_izvestni_politici/

Prilog danske televizije o LGBT pravima u Srbiji

Reuters: Gay Serbs see glimmer of hope in Eurovision glitter

By Ellie Tzortzi

BELGRADE (Reuters) – The last time gay men and women took to the streets of Serbia’s capital, they were beaten by nationalist gangs while police looked on.

Seven years from their first and only Pride march, activists now see the glitz, media attention and gay tourists coming to Serbia with the Eurovision Song Contest as a big chance to come out again, louder and more confident than before.

“There are no gay celebrities in Serbia, nobody’s out,” said Predrag Azdejkovic, one of a handful of openly gay Serbs. “Eurovision is so gay, so camp, it’ll be a shock to the system.”

“Yes, maybe it reinforces stereotypes, so people think all gay men are effeminate and all lesbians drive trucks. I have no problem with that. All visibility is good and we must use it.”

Homosexuality is a taboo subject across the Balkans’ largely conservative and patriarchal societies, where many people view it as a treatable mental illness.

Boban Stojanovic, who runs the gay rights group Queeria with Azdejkovic, said homophobia in Serbia stems from an obsession with national identity in the 1990s, a notion of aggressive masculinity created by and for the Yugoslav wars, and the increased influence of the Orthodox Church.

“Before 1990 the gay scene was more free. Although formally illegal, homosexuality was tolerated because the social climate was more liberal,” Stojanovic said.

“But when Yugoslavia started breaking up, there was a rush in all the republics to define a very clear national identity. Today, to be a Serb means to be Orthodox and heterosexual. Being Serb and gay is seen as incompatible. The macho warrior culture of the 1990s is the root of Serbia’s homophobia today.”

OPEN SEASON

Eurovision’s mix of high camp and low culture attracts millions of viewers and a loyal gay following. The 2008 event is held in Serbia after Marija Serifovic won last year’s contest with ballad ‘Molitva’ and a daringly lesbian chic-tinged act.

The nuance was lost on far-right groups who declared open season on gay visitors.

“We are waiting for them,” the Obraz group said, adding it would patrol Belgrade’ streets and show “zero tolerance to the promotion and spread of evil” and use “all means to stop it.”

Authorities initially pondered having policemen escorting gay visitors, then opted for increased security across the city for the week of semifinals and up to the May 24 final.

The attention meant the time was ripe for the first campaign in years, Stojanovic said.

Discreet posters featuring same-sex couples called for “Love on the streets, hooligans in prison.” They survived several days on the streets of Belgrade before being torn down or defaced.

“With all this repression there is huge pressure to be invisible,” Stojanovic said. “We don’t agree. First we must be visible to the majority and then we can start to communicate.”

Azdejkovic and Stojanovic say the influx of colour and fun that comes with Eurovision will be a much-needed challenge to Serbia. An international pariah in the 1990s for its role in the wars, it still has a love-hate relationship with the West.

The two men don’t expect any violence because the flipside of nationalism is “an obsession with being a great host.”

“The government wants to project a great image of Serbia and make this the best Eurovision ever,” Azdejkovic said, adding that there was pressure on police to contain extremists.

“We can only ask our government: Please, if you are going to protect gay foreigners, also protect gay Serbs. The foreigners will be here for a week and then leave, but they’ll have a freedom we can only dream of.”

Sydsvenskan: Nationalister hotar misshandla homosexuella

Serbien. Eurovisionschefen litar på polisen.

Extremnationalister i Serbien hotar bögar och lesbiska i samband med Eurovision Song Contest i huvudstaden Belgrad.

– Personer som visar sin homosexualitet öppet kommer att få stryk, hotar Damir Grbic, en av ledarna för högerrörelsen Obraz. Han är ordförande i Belgradavdelningen av Obraz (se faktaruta), en organisation som är emot de ”moraliskt och sexuellt degenererade” bögarna och flatorna. Grbic välkomnar alla schlagerentusiaster till Belgrad i slutet av maj.

Men:

– Två män eller två kvinnor ska inte få hålla varandra i handen eller kyssas på öppen gata. Det kommer vi att stoppa med våld. Vi bryr oss inte om vad de gör hemma eller på sina klubbar. Men vi vill inte att våra barn ska få se det, säger Damir Grbic.

Han är medveten om att hans uttalanden kommer att väcka avsky i breda lager.

– Jag struntar i om vi uppfattas som primitiva. Vi ser homosexualitet som en sjukdom.

Falska rykten

Upprinnelsen till hoten är falska rykten i serbisk skandalpress om att 20 000 bögar väntas komma till Belgrad i samband med Eurovision Song Contest. Ordföranden för Obraz, Mladen Obradovic, varnade i en tidningsintervju
för att alla försök till Prideparad kommer att stoppas med våld.

Han sade sig också vara stolt över att rörelsens medlemmar var med i den blodiga misshandeln av deltagarna i den första Prideparaden i Belgrad 2001.

Obraz har polisanmälts av ororganisationer inom gayrörelsen.

Men planerna på en parad i samband med schlagerfesten slopades. Istället har föreningen Queeria, som kämpar för
icke-våld och jämställdhet, satt igång en affischkampanj.

”Kärlek ut på gatorna. Huliganer in i fängelser” är budskapet på plakaten över hela Belgrad.

– De flesta revs ned. ”Vi väntar på er” var klottrat på många, säger Predrag M Azdejkovic, pransvarig på Queeria.

Vill mobilisera polisen

Kampanjen kommer att pågå fram till schlagerfinalen som hålls 24 maj. Syftet är att få polisen och andra myndigheter att göra sitt jobb.

– De måste skicka ett budskap till allmänheten att våld inte kommer att tolereras. Hittills har de bara stått bredvid och sett på. Besökarna i Belgrad bör undvika att skylta med sin homosexualitet, varnar Predrag M Azdejkovic.

– Det kan vara riskfyllt att vara för feminin om man är kille. Man bör inte heller klä sig alltför provocerande eller kyssas offentligt med någon av samma kön, säger han.

”Garanterade säkerheten”

Eurovisionschef Svante Stockselius vid EBU, European Broadcasting Union, säger till Sydsvenskan att han utgår från att den serbiska polisen ska göra sitt jobb.

I samband med oroligheterna som bröt ut när Kosovo förklarade sig självständigt pratade han med Serbiens president Boris Tadic.

– Då garanterade han säkerheten för alla deltagare, journalister och andra besökare. Och jag tror fortfarande på honom. Vi gör ingen skillnad på våra fans avsett vilken sexuell läggning, nationalitet eller hudfärg de har, säger Svante Stockselius.

Obraz

Obraz betyder ”kind” på serbiska, men är också synonymt med heder och ärlighet. Rörelsen grundades i slutet av 1990-talet. Den är extremnationalistisk och strängt kristen. Damir Grbic kan inte ange någon exakt siffra, men säger att Obraz har ”tusentals” medlemmar över hela Serbien. Den ortodoxa tron och den serbiska nationen är grunden. Obraz förespråkar en ”stat med Guds välsignelse istället för medborgerlig republik”. De misstänkta krigsförbrytarna Karadzic och Mladic betraktas som hjältar.

Homosexuella i Serbien

Predrag M Azdejkovic säger att homosexuella i Serbien ofta misshandlas. Enligt en opinionsundersökning tycker 70 procent av de tillfrågade att homosexualitet är en sjukdom. Över hälften är emot nöjesställen för bögar. Hotet från Obraz har väckt reaktioner internationellt. The European Pride Organizers Association (EPOA), ett europeiskt nätverk för homosexuella, bisexuella och transpersoner, har protesterat bland andra.

Gay Times: Europe’s Other Side

Gay Times

Words by Debbie Stowe

Two years ago, 15 new countries joined the European Union and agreed to abide by its conventions on discrimination. But it seems many Eastern European countries aren’t only ignoring this when it comes to gay men and lesbians, but the Polish government’s refusal to allow a gay event are also actually flaunting it, as GT found when it talked to gay representatives from all over Eastern Europe. Big Macs might have been on sale in Moscow since 1990, but other imports, like gay rights, are taking longer to permeate the former Soviet nation. Maxim Anmeghichean, programmes director for the European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association, says that “throwing stones and even shooting in the direction of parades, police brutality, and blackmail and gay-bashing persist in the former Eastern bloc.”

Marchers in Serbia’s first “and only” Gay Pride Parade in 2001 were viciously beaten by thugs and, according to some reports, the police. While some countries, in their eagerness to join the European Union, have become more liberal, ignorance and prejudice remain rife “In the Balkans, violence is all too common, usually people being beaten up coming home from gay nightclubs or other places, and and in Russia and Moldova politicians are even making tenuous noises about recriminalisation. Progress is a double-edged sword. “ As the community becomes more visible, there are increasing attacks in cruising grounds,” says Rob Rhodes, who’s carried out political research in the area. “However, some people are actually beaten by the right-wing and religious members of their own families or friends after coming out. Fundamentalists become more aggressive in fighting back,” he says.

Gauging the full extent of the problem is hard due to a lack of reliable statistics, partly because victims are deterred from reporting homophobic “Visibility causes incidents, fearing police apathy or even further abuse. “The Russian authorities, especially the police, seem to ignore the widespread violence even more homophobia and direct attacks on you.” The intensity and frequency of these attacks vary. While homophobic against gays,” says Nikolai Bayev. “There are no official statistics about violence is becoming rarer in most Eastern European countries, gays murdered in our country. And I know of lots of cases like this.”

Minsk police have failed to arrest the perpetrators of much homophobic violence, including the serial killings of homosexuals in 2001, according to Belarus activist Svyatoslav Sementsov. Instead of record-ing and investigating hate crime, officers ask the victims personal and irrelevant questions, and groundlessly raid gay clubs. “The passive behaviour of the police is an expression of the state’s desire to ignore and to not protect the violated rights of homosexuals,” says Sementsov.

While such violence may be rare, Eastern European gay people still face a raft of prejudice at home, work and school. “My research high-lighted homophobia in schools from both teachers and students, directed at both teachers and students who were thought to be LGBT,” says Rhodes. “Discrimination persists even in university, with reports of more than one lecturer failing a student in an exam because the stu-dent was openly gay and comments by psychology lecturers that homosexuality is ‘sick’? or a perversion that can be treated.”

Gay people are commonly fired or hounded out of their jobs. A 2001 survey conducted by Slovenian association SKUC LL found that 2.9%of respondents said they’d been sacked over their sexuality and 66.9% had experienced harassment at work. Few gay public figures are out and some have even married – the admission of homosexuality can end a career.

But parental reaction can be even worse. Low wages and strong fam-ily ties keep many Eastern Europeans living at home well into their 30s, so any disapproval has a greater impact. The child who comes out can be thrown out of the house or packed off to a psychiatrist – even in ostensibly more tolerant countries. “Let me give you an example of how hypocritical some Slovene people can be,” says Nina Granda, of the lesbian eL Magazine. “If you told me your son was gay, I would tell you: ‘Don’t judge him, be open, try to understand, or watch Oprah’. However, if in a couple of weeks my own daughter told me she was a lesbian, the Slovene hypocrite that I am, I’d send her to a psychiatrist, lock her up, try hard to find some nice-looking boys from the neigh-bourhood to take her on dates, and tell all of my co-workers that my daughter was getting married.”

Such attitudes have been established and reinforced over time. LGBT people were demonised by Communism, which put great empha-sis on conformity. Any individuality or rejection of the norm – not just in matters of sexuality – was dangerous. State propaganda and the pro-hibition of the foreign media gave people little chance to question what they’d been told and even today, many retain an innate suspicion of outsiders – foreigners, gypsies or LGBTs.

On top of that, in the southern countries, particularly the Balkans, a macho, sexist culture has also reinforced gender roles. “Patriarchal atti-tudes prevail in the region, especially in conflict areas where attitudes are quite militarised, with ‘traditional’ notions of how ‘men’? and ‘women’? should look and act,” says Rob Rhodes. “Men are expected to join the Army and support a wife and children, women to get married and make babies.”

Serbian activist Vlatko Salaj adds that gay men are regarded as “pussies, weak and feminine” while Predrag Azdejkovic of Queeria Belgrade notes that they’re seen as “traitors of the Holy National goals”. Declining birth rates in some countries provide family values proponents with more ammunition. But possibly the main force gay people have to contend with is the Church. Sidelined by Communism, it’s now trying aggressively to resume its role in society. Catholicism and Orthodoxy are strong throughout the region: 90% of Poles are Catholic. Moldovan associa-tion GenderDoc-M reported last year that a high-ranking police officer told a public meeting: “For me, the main law is the law of God, accord-ing to which homosexuality is a sin and those who commit it shall die”.

Homosexuals have become a useful and vulnerable target, not just for priests, but also for politicians. “Leaders that want to come across as strong or nationalist define themselves by excluding gay people,” says Sarah Green of Amnesty. “If crime is high, and the social and eco-nomic situation desperate, the police need to be seen to be doing something. LGBTs are easy to find and target, when really they need to target fraud or bootlegging.” In the Southern Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan), politicians routinely insult their opponents by calling them ‘homosexual’, adds Maxim Anmeghichean.

While whipping up and exploiting homophobia can be expedient for a politician, standing up for gay rights is a riskier strategy. “No Russian political party dares to support the LGBT community,” says Bayev. “No democratic or liberal politician is openly gay-friendly. They are afraid they’ll be regarded as ‘faggots’ themselves and lose votes.”

With many Eastern Europeans concerned about increasing Western influence, conservative politicians cast homosexuality, along with drugs and crime, as dangerous Western imports. “Homosexuality in most cases is depicted as a trend from the West, sent to Serbia to destroy it,” says Azdejkovic. Paedophilia, pathology and deviancy are other associa-tions, drawn sometimes even in school and colleges. This paranoia and ignorance, along with the increasing assertion of gay rights, have result-ed in a backlash against homosexuality across the region.

“ In many countries where homosexuality is criminalised, it’s from an old law, or the original constitution – it may date back centuries. It just sits there until it’s appealed,” says Green. “What’s worrying is that in Eastern Europe, rather than old laws, we’re seeing new attempts to tar-get the gay community.”

Alex Peènik, editor of the Slovenian Queer Resources Directory, has noticed a difference since a 2004 government change. “Hate speech in parliament now occurs on a regular basis, and it seems ‘the street’ fol-lows the lead very quickly. In Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, it used to be extremely rare for gay men to become victims of violence on the street. Last year, we had three attacks in two weeks.”

Tomas Szypula of the Campaign Against Homophobia has observed a similar trend in Poland. “Radical right parties are getting more popu-lar, especially the Law and Justice and Polish Families’ League, which is now in coalition in the Polish Parliament.” And with civic spirit largely crushed by Communism, LGBT groups struggle to defend themselves robustly. “We’re still not emancipated enough,” says Bayev. “We still prefer to go into clubs and cruising areas than to fight for our rights. We’re still too scared.” Nicolas Alexeyev, head of GayRussia.ru, agrees. “We can’t limit our rights to meeting and having fun underground’.”

But Alexeyev puts a lot of the hostility down to poverty, which is rife in the former Eastern bloc. “The more wealthy people are, the less they care about such things.” Another divide is rural–urban. In the larger cities, where people are more educated and forward thinking, there’s tolerance and sometimes a smattering of gay clubs. In the country, where religion and tradition are staunch, living an openly-gay life can be impossible.

This is mainly due to a lack of information, which is why activists see the media as so important. Since the debate in Moscow over Gay Pride, which the city’s mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, is trying to ban, Alexeyev perceives a signif-icant shift in tone. “In the past, homosexuality was usually discussed only by tabloids when they needed to laugh at us. This has changed within weeks. We’ve now got support from journalists.” Parades are vital because they show the public that gay people are normal citizens, while strength-ening gay identity. The internet, too, is a key weapon in informing people and allowing easier communication between LGBT communities. Positive publicity and increased dialogue have had some results. In March, the Czech Republic became the first former-Communist country in Europe to grant legal recognition to same-sex partnerships. “Fingers crossed; I’d say we’re moving forward,” says Nina Granda. “Because we’re getting organised, doing something, books are being published.

“ There are no official statistics about gays murdered in our coun-try. And I know of lots of cases like this” Nikolai Bayev events are being organised, people are getting together, laws are being passed (lousy ones, but still…). A couple of years back, things like this seemed miles away.”

Hungary is another bright spot – notably in terms of legislation. In 2004, it adopted an equal opportunities law that sociologist Judit Takacs of the gay rights group Háttér calls “the first such law in Europe with specific ref-erence to gender identity as a protected category, which is potentially use-ful for transgender people”. The problem is that LGBT people don’t yet take advantage of the legal opportunities afforded them. Still, Háttér continues to raise awareness of the “not-at-all sensational everyday realities of LGB people’s lives” and the country is unusually fortunate in having some vocal NGOs and even a minister fighting the gay rights corner.

Obliged by their EU membership ambitions to commit to legislation such as the European Convention on Human Rights, Eastern European countries at least now have something to which gay people can appeal, even if society’s hostility lingers. Rhodes reports that the Macedonian Army has recently started allowing openly-gay personnel to serve, and cites the case of two gay men in Kosovo who, after being beaten and then enduring further abuse when they reported the incident to the police, “received a nice shock when the chief of police issued a public apology and suspended the officers concerned”.

Given that the last country to decriminalise male homosexual con-senting acts, Armenia, did so only in 2003, and that LGBTs were being imprisoned until 2001, the progress is undeniable. Like most activists, Maxim Anmeghichean believes the only way is forward. “Our human rights arguments are much stronger than the right-wing ones and the truth is with us. The rest is a matter of time.”