Biljana Ginova, LGBT activist: We fight for the basic – the right to life and freedom
No attack on the LGBT community has either been condemned or perpetrators have been brought to justice. We are ignored by institutions, by the system. The state does not show taking all measures to combat discrimination and repression against LGBT community
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LGBT community in Macedonia is organizing “Pride Week” for the second time. On this occasion, in an interview for Inbox 7 we are talking to Biljana Ginova, LGBT activist
What does the “Pride Week” program contain?
Ginova: This week we have the second “Pride Week”. This year we have also tried “Pride Week” to include a program that will be on several levels. One level is aimed at the general public to which we want to show the whole homophobia present in our society, existing in books, dictionaries, textbooks, in the social life in some way. We want to show how homophobia is born, how it grows and is spread. We also directed some of these activities towards NGOs and youth activists. Such is the workshop on how to overcome homophobia and homophobic by introducing comprehensive sexuality education, and other workshop is planned on the fact that LGBT rights are human rights. On the other hand, the whole week is geared towards the community itself, the group of activists. Do we need to have Pride (Pride Parade) or we do not need one? Is it provocation or need? What is Pride Parade and whether we are ready for it? We have had speed dating (blind date) which not only aims to help socialize and build social bonds of LGBT people, but also criticizes the society. There are no conditions for establishment and existence of a safe place where LGBT people can move and socialize. We are completely removed from the public space. Even the cruising places (different places at different times) that existed for decades, have these years been erased and turned into something else. They have changed. We will certainly encompass themes that are just as important. The topic of HIV and people living with it, as well as the theme of double discrimination suffered by transgender people, especially those who are sex workers.
You mentioned that homophobia does not stop. Who and how spreads homophobia in Macedonia?
Ginova: Today we live in a society which structurally introduces homophobia. Through all the possible tools that can be used. Through education, media, public speeches. We live in a society in which no attack on LGBT community has been condemned. Neither condemned, nor perpetrators have been brought to justice. It somehow encourages, justifies violence against these people. Thus attackers become local heroes. And they do not only attack LGBT community. But all that are different. They attack all those who seem to belong to this community. So even the people who are not necessarily gay (homosexual) are attacked just because they look like gays.
If the pride parade is what gives strength to LGBT community, then why do not you play “more aggressively” in its organization and why not publicly ask support from relevant institutions and public figures?
Ginova: In the past years we have opened a debate on the parade a few times, but it has never been decided to organize it for various reasons. We are arranging the way we would organize this parade. One of the theses that we stick to is certainly asking the public to support us. But the context of the parade and why it is needed is often distorted. When talking about the parade it should be clear that first of all we talk about a protest, a protest march aimed at a specific policy requirement. Here we are still at the level of fundamental rights – not fulfillment of the right to life. And if we had a pride parade or protest march we would do it so to seek to fulfill the right to life of LGBT people. On the other hand, parades are organized to remind us of the struggle. What happened in 1969 in Stonewall when first LGBT people decided to strike back? First of several riots between the police towards LGBT people happened. For the next year the first Pride (Parade) to take place. And we should celebrate it because people are proud to have won something. But here, in Macedonian conditions, it should be a protest to demand basic human rights for LGBT people.
Why is it so hard to admit that one has different sexual orientation from other people?
Ginova: It is very difficult because people are convicted of it. People are told off at school. We have had cases where after a girl reported to be a lesbian, a social worker at school to advise her that it is wrong and that she needs to change the way of life. We have had a case reported to us when a man loses job because of a public display of his sexual orientation. It is a very indicative case as the man first noticed he had not received the promotion. It was a person employed in a state institution. Promotion rules are clear, public and more or less equal for everyone. When the man asked why he had not been promoted, he got fired. First, he began proceedings against the employer, but later not only did he give up but left the state. We can only imagine under what pressure he lived as he decided to leave Macedonia. There are many more examples. Thus, transgender women who are victims of domestic violence are not recognized as women by shelter centers (centers for taking care of people, victims of domestic violence). These are social centers to meet women’s needs. All these situations contribute to increasing the stigma imposed on the homosexual community. On the other hand, LGBT people do not feel protected because in the Criminal Code, the article in which offenses are governed committed by hate, does not include the basics of sexual orientation and gender identity. Also sexual orientation and gender identity are not provided in the Law on Protection against Discrimination. Nor, more importantly, the state shows that it takes all measures to combat discrimination and repression against LGBT community. When laws change, when the state changes the way of dealing with discrimination, then they will feel safe. Simply to be what they are. No one has to tell anyone what he/she is. But simply to live their lives freely, holding the boyfriend’s hand if it he a boy or girlfriend’s hand if she is a girl.
What is your cooperation like with relevant institutions and public figures that can help a lot in achieving the rights of members of LGBT community?
Ginova: We cooperate with many public figures who gave support when we worked on the campaign “Macedonia has love for all”. I also want to emphasize the cooperation that we have with the Commission for Protection against Discrimination. It is commendable that the Commission has responded to several our complaints and decided that it was about discrimination against LGBT community. It is about textbooks containing homophobic and discriminatory content. The Commission ruled that pedagogy textbook for third year high school and textbooks of psychiatry and medical psychology contained inappropriate homophobic content, and the Commission should give a proposal or recommendation that section to be removed from textbooks. Certainly, there is room for improvement because the Commission’s recommendation includes removing part of the text, but does not propose replacing with a new text, with a new scientific thought that will show what homosexuality is. This leaves plenty of room for deletion of a large group of citizens.
If we make a comparison with Europe and the rights of members of LGBT community there, where is Macedonia?
Ginova: According to the latest map of ILGA-Europe, which measures conditions on the continent, Macedonia is at the very bottom. Certainly this analysis is not comprehensive because it only sees the laws in the states referring, of course, to the reports of NGOs.
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights is a non-governmental organization (NGO) fighting for the rights of members of LGBT community. How are you strengthening the awareness of these people’s rights?
Ginova: Firstly, for us, as Helsinki Committee and LGBT community, it is important to strengthen the community. The focus of the programs we implement is on one hand directed towards it. There are support groups for lesbian, in support of gay men, a group for support of transgender people and groups for parents and families of LGBT people. On the other hand, last month we launched an intervention fund, the first of its kind here. We established the Fund to meet the urgent need of LGBT people. We have faced people who have been victims of domestic violence or have lost their jobs and have no means or conditions to initiate proceedings or to find a safe place. So the fund we established will disburse funds in three areas. One is medical care, other is legal support and the third intervention is to find a safe place. On the other hand, for all acts committed against LGBT people we file appropriate petitions and initiatives to change laws.
At the end of “Pride Week” what message will you send and who to?
Ginova: With the end of “Pride Week” what we want to achieve is community’s visibility. That we are here, we are part of the public space. We are ignored by institutions, by the system. Crimes against LGBT people are neither condemned, nor is attention paid to our demands. So hopefully “Pride Week” will on one hand strengthen the movement, on the other hand it will increase community’s visibility before the general public. As homophobia is not natural. People do not hate us. The very definition of homophobia is irrational fear towards people with different orientation. If we attract more people to our debates, performances, if we have the opportunity to talk to more people about the problems that the community faces every day, for me it will be a success. If a few people who first encounter the problems of LGBT community after these events somehow reduce their homophobic behavior in their environment, for me it is a success. I also hope that this “Pride Week” will attract the attention of inadequate legal regulation and inaction of state institutions, especially regarding eradication of discrimination and homophobia in our society.