by Rex Wockner
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 “an important law against discrimination,” which he said is “unacceptable.”
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 the Gay-Straight Alliance Against LGBT Discrimination in Albania, issued a press release hailing the prime minister’s announcement.
“Aleanca Kunder Diskriminimit te LGBT … welcomes the statements of Prime Minister Berisha yesterday in support of the non-discrimination law and marriage equality for gay people in Albania,” the statement said. “We look forward to the support of all parties and to the passage of the non-discrimination 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.”
The group’s Web site is http://www.gayalbania.org and it can be found on Facebook by searching for “gay albania.”
“In addition to this week’s 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,” said spokeswoman Mindy Michels in an e-mail from Tirana, the Albanian capital. “For 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.”
“A 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,” Michels said. “A 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.”
Michels, an American, said that for the first two-and-a-half years that she and her partner lived in Albania as open lesbians, “we met only one gay Albanian man, and he emigrated shortly after we met him. We knew there had to be other people, but we couldn’t find them.”
Until this past February. “We met a few GLBT Albanians who wanted to work on changing things,” Michels said. “And 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.”
In 2008, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, Thomas Hammarberg, told the CoE’s Parliamentary Assembly and Committee of Ministers that gay Albanians face routine intolerance and violence.
“An open discussion regarding homosexuality remains taboo in Albania,” Hammarberg wrote. “LGBT persons are routinely subject to intolerance, physical and psychological violence and seen by many as persons suffering from an ‘illness’. … There have also been cases of mistreatment by the police.”
“There 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,” the report continued. “This lacuna results in victims being dissuaded or discouraged entirely from seeking just satisfaction.”
Hammarberg said that “to sensitize people on diversity of sexuality requires education.” He recommended “a 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.”
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.