Monthly Archives: July 2014

Key LGBT topics defined

As part of a larger project aimed to improve the quality of life for the LGBT community in Serbia, one of the country’s gay rights organisations has defined five topics to address the authorities with


In cooperation with the Forum for Ethnic Relations, Labris has defined five priority fields on empowering LGBT people that should be integrated into the public policy. These include: access to justice and the rule of law; security, prevention of and fight against violence; ban of discrimination; education and socio-economic stability; and LGBT culture and identity.

Photo: Guillaume Paumier

Photo: Guillaume Paumier

The topics were defined following numerous consultations the two organizations held with stakeholders. “We may look at these topics from two perspectives — the issue of lack of legislative framework and the issue of meeting the established standards of rights and freedoms,” Labris’ Dragana Todorovic said.

According to her, legislative framework in terms of standards of equality before the law, the right to judicial proceedings, ban of discrimination and access to education and health care is satisfactory. But, the implementation of the laws varies drastically.

“In addition to a comprehensive and systematized mapping of needs and finding appropriate and sustainable solutions to improve the situation of LGBT people, it is important to ensure that the proposed solutions reach out to decision makers,” Todorovic noted. Therefore, the next step is to address the authorities with these five topics.

Labris expects from politicians a partnership in the process of finding appropriate and realistic solutions. “The project offers a new beginning for sustainable and constructive cooperation between state institutions and civil society organizations working on issues of importance to the LGBT people,” Todorovic said.

This project is financially supported by the Royal Norwegian Embassy.

Serbia is a signatory to a number of universal and regional international instruments for the protection of human rights, which clearly prohibit discrimination against LGBT people. However, for years there have been a problem with law enforcement and respect for the rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

According to surveys, Serbian society remains deeply homophobic, as a result of which gay people tend to live in isolation and with a high degree of secrecy.

In 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013, the authorities banned gay parades after police declared they could not safeguard marchers against threats of violence coming from right-wing groups. The Gay Pride march went ahead in 2010, but several thousand youngsters, including football fans and members of rightist organisations, threw stones and missiles at the police, injuring police officers and setting buildings and vehicles on fire.

Belgrade-based Labris, founded in 1995, is one of the oldest lesbian human rights organizations in the region. It considers the right to different sexual orientation as one of the basic human rights. Since its foundation, Labris has conducted more than 70 projects on empowering LGBT people.

Source: Royal Norwegian Embassy in Belgrade

Children of Same-Sex Parents Found to be Happier, Healthier than Peers

In the largest study published of its kind worldwide, the Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families recently published its results from a survey of 315 same-sex parents representing 500 children aged 0-17. This study aimed to expand research on same-sex parenting that had been previously limited by smaller scope and sample sizes, and to investigate the impact of social stigma on the wellbeing of the children. However, the study overwhelmingly found that children with same-sex attracted parents scored higher than population samples on measures of child health.

The health and wellbeing of the children was assessed along multiple axes, using three standardized scales “used to measure multidimensional aspects of functioning and health-related quality of life” as well as a standardized behavioral screening that assessed social and emotional wellbeing. Perceived stigma was the other main outcome measure recorded by the study, and were assessed by a standardized stigmatization scale and compared to the health and wellbeing scales.

Of the children who participated in the study, ninety-one had male parents (18% of the results), four hundred had female parents (80% of the results) and five (1%) had an other-gendered parent.

After adjusting for socio-demographic factors, the average scores for general behavior, health, and family cohesion were 3%, 6%, and 6% higher for children from same-sex parents on the Child Health Questionnaire compared to general population values. The conclusions reached by the study were that though perceived stigma is negatively associated with mental health, the children in the study with same-sex attracted parents scored higher than their peers on multiple measures of child health. The study looks toward the future in its conclusion section, stating that “[f]uture work should further explore the ways in which stigma affects the mental health of children with same-sex attracted parents and in particular ways in which these children can be protected from experiences of discrimination,” as the study and studies like it have established that mental health impact on children of same-sex couples is a result of the stigma measure, rather than an inherent feature of same-sex parenting.

Labris at EXIT Festival

A festival attendee signs a petition at Labris's stand at EXIT.

A festival attendee signs a petition at Labris’s stand at EXIT.

Last weekend, Labris was invited to participate in the NGO sector of EXIT Festival in Novi Sad.  EXIT is a music festival that is held within the Petrovaradin Fortress that has garnered a reputation for being one of the largest and most highly-renowned festivals in Europe, attracting an audience of around 200,000 people from all over the world.

EXIT has been rooted in a tradition of civic engagement and activism since its beginnings in the year 2000 as an anti-Milošević student protest. Today, this tradition continues with an area of the festival being allocated to various NGOs and similar organizations promoting their causes during the festival. It was in this section that Labris had a table.

 

During the four days of the festival, representatives from Labris passed out materials from various campaigns in partnership with IDAHO Beograd and PFLAG including pins, bags, stickers, and flyers. Festival visitors were encouraged to sign two petitions at Labris’s stand: one against discriminatory language regarding homosexuality in psychology and biology textbooks, and one supporting Labris’s draft of a same-sex partnership law. This experience allowed us to talk to and explain the aims of our organization to people from not only all over Serbia and the Balkans, but from many other places in Europe as well.

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Mina from Labris hands out information at the NGO stand at Exit.

Art as Advocacy: Subversion at International Art Show Manifesta 10

After much international disagreement over whether or not the “roving European Biennial of Contemporary art” Manifesta should be held in its chosen location for 2014 in St. Petersburg, Russia in light of Russia’s recent LGBT-related human rights abuses including the “anti-propaganda law” that has been widely publicized in international media, International Foundation Manifesta released a response last August that they would maintain St. Petersburg as the site for Manifesta 10. The Foundation stated that “[they] believe it is vital to play an active role in this dialogue” on progressing the narrative and human rights of LGBT people in Russia, and that “[o]n principle Manifesta cannot and should not only perform in the ‘safe haven’ of the West… This inevitably involves dialogue with those with whom we may disagree.”

This response may have been a contributing factor to many of Manifesta’s participating artists choosing the route of subversion rather than boycott that had been suggested (and that, in the end, some had chosen). An article by The Guardian examines the queering of this international yet intentionally Russian art space piece by piece, from Marlene Dumas’s collection of portraits paired with quotes called Great Men which examines gay men who have made contributions to cultural history while facing discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, to Wolfgang Tillman’s photography exhibition which he references as “the gayest show [he has] done” in the article.

Upon farther inspection of Manifesta 10’s website, queer themes seem to pervade the art show and directly confront Russian culture, including a “lecture-performance” called The Tranny Tease (in English) on Turkic languages spoken in Russia and former Soviet states performed the group “Slavs and Tartars.” (Russian language description and information available here). Marlene Dumas’s Great Men shows a Russian audience the faces of Russian success, from Tchaikovsky and ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, contextualized not only by their successes but also by their sexuality and subsequent oppression. Manifesta 10 is not just a island of queered space situated temporarily and impotently against Russia’s vast expanse. In these moments, it is a direct engagement with and aggression against a country that can celebrate Tchaikovsky as a countryman but criminalize mention of his sexuality. It is in these spaces where art can uniquely engage with and challenge cultures of oppression — in Russia and beyond.