Being LGBT and out in Serbia is still a matter of courage.
Although the situation has somewhat improved for Serbia’s LGBT community since 2001, there is still a long way to go to their full acceptance in the Serbian community. Photo: Beta
My first experience of how deeply uncomfortable Serbian society is with non-standard sexualities and genders came in the days after the bloody debacle of the first Belgrade Pride Parade in 2001 – a mixture of hooligans and ruffians of all stripes attacked and injured more than 40 attendees who believed that the freedom to love whom you choose would come hand in hand with political freedoms following the fall of Milosevic.
I was just entering my teens, so I didn’t experience it on the streets but in my very liberal Belgrade home when I told my father I intended to write a student newspaper piece about the unfairness of the state, society and the Serbian Orthodox Church towards the LGBT population.
Though a tolerant guy, he immediately blanched and explained to me, concerned and in no uncertain terms, that while I certainly had a point, I, a boy of 13, should not want to associate with “that” and “risk being labelled”, because the stigma attached to homosexuality in Serbia would make my life miserable.
Headstrong as any teenager would be when confronted with parental disapproval, I wrote the article and submitted it to my teacher who was in charge of the newspaper.
Again, rather than getting a pat on the back, there was an uncomfortable silence and an explanation that it would not appear in the newspaper because “it is not appropriate”. It was shelved, replaced by lyrics to some pop song.
Seventeen years later, even without my self-righteous, angsty article, things may have changed for the better. But society’s basic unease with a diversity of sexuality and gender remains.
While we have an out prime minister, an out Eurovision winner, and our normally campy pop-culture even produced out reality show contestants, being out and out of the limelight still requires great courage and confrontation with society-wide prejudice.
Rather than strong condemnation and action, occasional physical attacks on LGBT people, to say nothing of off-colour remarks by public figures, still produce deafening silence.