Homophobia in Albania
“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.