Advocating for LGBTQI+ rights and freedom in Kosovo

Aug 12, 2021

By Charalampia Armpounioti

CEL Summer School 2019 “Reading Feminism for the 99%: Equity, Advocacy, and Privilege” (Photo: CEL)

UN peacekeeping operations work tirelessly to help countries ravaged by violence and war make the difficult transition from conflict to peace. They also strive to ensure that the rights and safety of all people is guaranteed, focusing particularly on ensuring that the most vulnerable groups in society can enjoy equal rights, benefits and freedom.

Among those vulnerable groups are LGBTQI+ people who are often discriminated against because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics. Due to deeply entrenched homophobic and transphobic attitudes, they are often victims of severe human rights violations. These may include discrimination in the labour market, in education, in healthcare services, physical attacks and assaults or even the risk of torture, arrest, imprisonement and death penalty.

Genuinely dedicated to making this world a safer and fairer place to live in, LGBTQI+ activists and organisations around the world fight to protect the LGBTQI+ community from violence, prevent inhuman and degrading treatment, advocate for the adoption of legislation protecting the members of the community and safeguarding their rights.

“We have to be vocal at all times. It is only like this that we can contribute to a better society in the future.” CEL team

The Centre for Equality and Liberty of the LGBT community in Kosovo (CEL) is an example of such an organisation working to promote and uphold LGBTQI+ in Kosovo. In an interesting discussion with CEL’s Executive Director, Blert Morina, along with some members of his team, we wanted to learn more about their work and their views on youth’s role in peace and security.

Blert Morina in Pride parade (Photo: Blert Morina)

Blert Morina is an LGBTQI+ youth activist born in Gjakova, Kosovo. He has studied sociology, is currently working as the Executive Director of CEL Kosovo, and identifies as a trans man. When asked about the reasons that influenced his decision to become an activist, he claims that in Kosovo, “everyone is an activist in one way or another. Due to the past, we were forced to be active, as we were fighting to survive.” As he underscores, he works hard to help eliminate discrimination in the country.

With regard to the Centre for Equality and Liberty of the LGBTQI+ community in Kosovo (CEL), Blert states that it was established in July 2013 to empower the LGBTQI+ community in Kosovo. CEL prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, raises awareness on LGBTQI+ rights and advocates for equal rights for the LGBTQI+ community in Kosovo in accordance with the Constitution and the legislation of the country.

CEL workshop with police officials on LGBTQI+ communities (Photo: CEL)
Awareness-raising training session on the rights of LGBTI communities in Kosovo municipalities (Photo:CEL)

The key objective of CEL is to become a driving force underpinning the creation of a progressive, diverse and tolerant society in Kosovo, a support system for ensuring equal rights and opportunities for all and a motivator for change. The Centre also aims to strengthen the legal framework for the LGBTQI+ community in Kosovo, and help enhance its participation in international and regional mechanisms and projects which are beneficial not only to the community itself but also to society.

As Blert affirms, despite being a fairly new organization, CEL “has many achievements including the capacity building of civil servants, society and the LGBTQI+ community itself.” For Blert, the highlight of the Centre’s track record is challenging the State before the Basic Court and the Constitutional Courts of Kosovo for the recognition of gender identity and the change of name and gender marker in official documents for transgender people. “This has been a message to all that LGBTQI+ people will not be silent when there is injustice”, he points out.

In addition, CEL has organized training sessions for the Kosovo Prosecutor and police officials from different municipalities to help raise awareness on LGBTQI+ rights in Kosovo. In collaboration with the University of Prishtina, CEL has hosted summer schools on LGBTQI+ representation and activism, gender and sexuality and feminism, equity and advocacy. CEL is involved in research projects, with a view to increase knowledge on LGBTQI+ related matters, and provides psychological counselling and legal support to the members of the community. It is currently advocating for the inclusion of same-sex marriage in the Kosovo Civil Code.

Blert Morina honoured with Democracy Award (Photo: Blert Morina)

With regards to the challenges that youth face, both Blert and the CEL team agree that living in Kosovo poses particular risks for youth, and especially for LGBTIQ+ people. Isolation, unemployment, and the lack of spaces where youth can freely express their interests are common issues that many young people have to address. However, the reality is even worse for the LGBTIQ+ community who often is forced to lead a double life due to the highly homophobic mindset, lacks access to basic health services and often has to seek healthcare in neighbouring countries. In addition, being LGBTQI+ in Kosovo often translates into being disowned by their own family, being harassed in the streets, and having to suffer hate speech and hate crime.

Blert strongly urges for these challenges to be addressed as “youth in Kosovo have a huge potential”, and as a young state “Kosovo needs to have a progressive mindset in peace processes.” He deplores that, “without the inclusion of the communities such as youth, LGBTQI+, women, ethnic minorities such as Roma, Ashkali or Egyptians we cannot aim for peace”, and, thus, asks that all stakeholders are involved in decision-making. The CEL team also argues that Kosovar youth are truly courageous, motivated and creative in bringing positive changes and that, as the future leaders of the country, they are responsible for shaping the mindset for a sustainable and peaceful future. To this end, as both Blert and his colleagues agree, youth need to be granted the space and the platform to thrive; it is only then that young people can meaningfully contribute to building peaceful communities.

Blert Morina in one of the Pride activities for CEL (Photo: Blert Morina)

Through their hard work, Blert and the CEL team show everyone how these peaceful communities would look like. Discrimination and intolerance must be eliminated if we are to build sustainable peace, and must be replaced by inclusion, mutual respect. After all, as Blert puts it “peace is when no one feels threatened for their lives and can enjoy all human rights, and when the well-being of each individual is a priority”.

Advocating for LGBTQI+ rights and freedom in Kosovo was originally published in We The Peoples on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.