|Mindy Michels (right), pictured with her partner, Melissa Schraibman, is a spokeswoman for the new Tirana-based organization Gay-Straight Alliance Against LGBT Discrimination in Albania.
Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha on July 29 endorsed a bill introduced in Parliament to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and also said Albania will legalize same-sex marriage. He called the bill âan important law against discrimination,â which he said is âunacceptable.â
Albania has no presence on the main e-mail list for European GLBT activists, and this column had not heard of any gay activism in Albania. Most gay Albanians are believed to be closeted, and anti-gay discrimination is said to be widespread.
However, on July 30, an organization calling itself, in English, the Gay-Straight Alliance Against LGBT Discrimination in Albania, issued a press release hailing the prime ministerâs announcement. âAleanca KundĂ«r Diskriminimit tĂ« LGBT ... welcomes the statements of Prime Minister Berisha yesterday in support of the nondiscrimination law and marriage equality for gay people in Albania,â the statement said. âWe look forward to the support of all parties and to the passage of the nondiscrimination law soon after the next session of Parliament begins. This is not only a step to be taken for European integration, but primarily for the emancipation of Albanian society. We are proud that our country is joining so many others in embracing equality and rejecting discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.â
The groupâs Web site is gayalbania.org, its e-mail address is email@example.com, and it can be found on Facebook by searching for âgay albania.â
Once contact was established with the group, it became clear that a lot has been going on. âIn addition to this weekâs major announcement, over the last six months the new gay-straight organization, as well as the coalition of human rights groups, have done quite a bit of work to raise visibility and create community,â said spokeswoman Mindy Michels in an e-mail from Tirana, the Albanian capital. âFor the May 17 International Day Against Homophobia there were lectures at universities, press coverage in several of the major papers, posters around the capital, the distribution of 30,000 free ... postcards, a radio show with two gay activists, an editorial by the U.S. ambassador, an interview with the Dutch ambassador, an open statement against homophobia issued by 24 NGOs, and more.â
âA weekly gay-straight night at a local bar was established in June, and currently provides the only gay-specific venue for gathering and community-building,â Michels said. âA Facebook site for the Aleanca was opened in April, and now has nearly 500 members. ... Plans are underway for events for Coming Out Day, including a screening of Milk by the U.S. Embassy, as well as a variety of other activities.â
Michels, an American, said that for the first 2 1/2 years that she and her partner lived in Albania as open lesbians, âwe met only one gay Albanian man, and he emigrated shortly after we met him. We knew there had to be other people, but we couldnât find them,â she said.
Until this past February. âWe met a few GLBT Albanians who wanted to work on changing things,â Michels said. âAnd they have done a tremendous amount in a short period of time. Day by day, through word of mouth, through the Facebook group, through media coverage, through lectures at universities ... they are finding other people, creating community, and building a group of people who want to try and make a difference. I cannot begin to tell you how inspired I am by them. The steps are small, and there is a long way to go, but something has started.â
In 2008, the Council of Europeâs commissioner for human rights, Thomas Hammarberg, told the CoEâs Parliamentary Assembly and Committee of Ministers that gay Albanians face routine intolerance and violence. âAn open discussion regarding homosexuality remains taboo in Albania,â Hammarberg wrote. âLGBT persons are routinely subject to intolerance, physical and psychological violence and seen by many as persons suffering from an âillnessâ. ... There have also been cases of mistreatment by the police.â
âThere is no single competent body that may accept complaints on the grounds of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in Albania in the context of employment,â the report continued. âThis lacuna results in victims being dissuaded or discouraged entirely from seeking just satisfaction.â
Hammarberg said that âto sensitize people on diversity of sexuality requires education.â He recommended âa combination of public campaigns, integration of further sexual education within school curricula and further training of state professionals including law enforcement, judicial and medical personnel.â
Same-sex marriage is legal in Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, Spain and the U.S. states of Connecticut, Iowa and Massachusetts. Same-sex marriage also has been legalized in the states of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, though the laws have not yet come into effect.
Brazilian Gay Group Achieves UN Status
The Brazilian Association of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transvestites and Transsexuals achieved consultative status at the United Nationsâ Economic and Social Council on July 27. The status allows nongovernmental organizations to access UN meetings, deliver oral and written reports, contact country representatives and organize events.
Achieving the status always has been a lengthy, uphill battle for GLBT groups, but organizations eventually have prevailed in recent years from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Spain and Sweden. Some 3,000 nongovernmental organizations have consultative status.
The Brazilian groupâs acceptance was supported by Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, El Salvador, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, South Korea, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay and Venezuela.
It was opposed by Algeria, Belarus, Cameroon, China, Guinea-Bissau, Indonesia, Iraq, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
Seventeen nations abstained from voting or were not present: Barbados, Cape Verde, Congo, CĂŽte dâIvoire, India, Kazakhstan, Malawi, Mauritius, Moldova, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Philippines, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and Somalia.
World Outgames Staged In Copenhagen
More than 5,500 people took part in the second GLBT World Outgames July 25 to Aug. 2 in Copenhagen. The games, a rival to the Gay Games, came into existence in 2006 when the Gay Games organization had a falling-out with its local organizers in Montreal, who responded by launching a duplicate international games.
Opening celebrations took place July 25 outside Copenhagen Town Hall, which, in 1989, was the site of the worldâs first legal same-sex registered-partnership ceremonies. Athletes came from more than 90 countries, and the weekâs events also included a human-rights conference and art and culture programs.
The night of the opening ceremonies, three participants were punched and kicked near Town Hall by two men who screamed âhomo pigâ at them. The suspects were captured and taken into custody for the duration of the games. The victims were treated and released at a hospital.
Three days later, a U.S. runner participating in the games, Dean Koga of Seattle, was injured when a man threw powerful fireworks â which some reports called âbombsâ â onto the track at Ăsterbro Stadium. The alleged perpetrator was taken into custody by police, who reportedly took half an hour to arrive, and charged with committing a hate crime.
OutSports.com said Koga, 58, spent hours in surgery having âa big chunk of plasticâ removed from his right hand. But he was back on the track the following day and won a gold medal in his age group in the menâs 200 meters.
-assistance: Bill Kelley