An LGBT Movment Rises in Conservative, Muslim Albania
Albania may well be one of the most conservative countries in the most conservative region of Europe, the Balkans. But the Huffington Post reported that there seems to be a surprising shift in views when it comes to LGBT rights.
The formally communist Eastern European country will hold its first LGBT photo exposition, which will welcome a number of ambassadors and foreign dignitaries. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, the event is part of the International Day Against Homophobia and it will be open to the public. The media will cover the exhibition and attendees will walk through an area designated to showcase photos that "evoke the feeling of being an LGBT person in Albania," the article notes.
The article also says that the exposition is "extraordinary" for Albania (a nation of mostly Muslims) as well as a historical moment because it is such a high-profile event that features "same-sex desire."
Only about three years ago did LGBT issues enter the country's consciousness after Prime Minister Sali Berisha shockingly announced that he backed marriage equality during a televised meeting of his ministers. His support came a few months after he announced his support for a comprehensive national anti-discrimination law. On February 4, 2010 the Albanian Parliament unanimously passed the measure, which banned discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. The law prohibits discrimination in areas including, employment, the provision of goods and services, education, healthcare and housing.
The legislation, however, did not address gay marriage. Before Berisha's support, there were hardly any gay rights groups that advocated for same-sex marriage. Currently, marriage equality and civil unions are not recognized but LGBT groups hope Berisha will keep his promise and eventually legalize same-sex marriage.
Last month Albania's Deputy Minister of Defense Ekrem Spahiu made anti-gay comments after the country held a LGBT rights parade but the prime minister later rebuked his remarks, calling them "unacceptable."
"My only comment is that they should be beaten with poles ... in other words, beat them with a rubber stick," Spahiu said.
Other political leaders in Albania urged Spahiu to apologize for his anti-gay comments as well, including the People's Ombudsman Igli Totozani. The Huffington Post notes that no gay Albanians came forward to thank Berisha for standing up for the LGBT community.
But now, gay rights activists in the Muslim country are sprouting up to show their faces and claim equal rights for themselves -- not fearing Albania's conservative public eye.
"What lies behind this remarkable and swift transformation? In 2009 fears about possible violence, discrimination, lack of acceptance, and, perhaps most importantly, the shame that it would cause family members meant that not one person in Albania would publicly acknowledge same-sex attraction," the article says.
"Today, there are LGBT activists openly protesting the homophobic and violent remarks of governmental officials," it continues. "Young LGBT Albanians are giving presentations in college classrooms and going on television talk shows, educating students and the Albanian public about the realities of their lives."