International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia 2021 Event
“We aim to build a society of equal opportunity” – Deputy Mayor Anisa Ruseti of Tirana, Albania
The dedication to addressing discrimination of persons in Albania by the Deputy Mayor Anisa Ruseti of Tirana became increasingly clear throughout the joint event that NHC organised for this year’s International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) on the 18th of May. The event was organised in collaboration with COC Nederland, VNG International, Aleanca LGBTI and Pro-LGBT and focused on promoting ‘Local Action for LGBTI Human Rights.’
The morning event was an online high-level event moderated by the Dutch Ambassador to Albania Guusje Korthals Altes, and joined by 4 municipalities from Albania and their ‘coach’ municipalities in the Netherlands as part of the Countering Discrimination and Protecting LGBTI Rights in Albania project . As Tirana’s coach is the Municipality of Rotterdam, we were joined by Deputy Mayor Bert Wijbenga, who spoke alongside Ruseti. Wijbenga highlighted the Pink Police Network as an example of the work Rotterdam is doing to create a safe environment for LGBTIQ+ people in the municipality. Training of law enforcement is part of NHC’s aforementioned project, where we have created a collection of to accompany trainings in the police departments and training academies in Albania to raise awareness on victims of hate crimes, hate speech and or discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
The afternoon event was spearheaded by experts, activists from LGBTIQ+ community, and members of the Security Academy in Albania. This included members of the police force who had previously attended NHC’s police trainings. The aim of the afternoon event was to give the practitioners the floor, letting the actors and target groups in our project speak and have regional exchange with best practices from other countries and/or municipalities. One such exchange was between Xheni Karaj Executive Director of NGO Alaenca LGBTI and Dr. Ilirjan Mandro, Dean of Faculty at the Security Academy. They shared plans for Karaj to work with students of the Security Academy. Karaj also relayed seeing positive effects of the trainings the police had followed when she last had to report a case. The police officer present had attended NHC’s police trainings, and the exchange was a positive one.
Recommendations for best practices by experts
While “there [has been] a visible move forward” according to Marije Cornelissen, expert for COC Nederland, over the past three years it has been a practice of “two steps forward and one step back.” The effect of COVID-19 on everyone’s work was evident throughout both events, making it difficult to continue their efforts. However, many speakers outlined the successful ways in which they have adapted to continue their work, including the organisation of the online pride event in 2020.
There is a “strong signal” that things are changing for the better in Albania. Still, in the expert level event Livia Zotrija, project coordinator with Aleanca LGBTI in Albania, made an important point that still “we do not know any LGBTIQ+ persons in our city councils,” our municipalities do not have any LGBTIQ+ members working in the local municipalities whilst LGBTI people “are spread all over Albania.” The fact that these people do not have the courage to come out within the public institutions, means they have failed in making these institutions LGBTI friendly.” Although small steps have been taken, long term, sustainable change is yet to be achieved. Deputy mayor Dorrit de Jong of Zwolle also reflected on the safety of the LGBTIQ+ space in her municipality stating that “we realise that some LGBTIQ+ in our municipality feel unsafe because of prejudice, especially in groups where it’s not safe to come out of the closet.” Increased awareness raising and cultural changes both on the institutional as well as local level are necessary globally to create a society, which embraces and encourages diversity and equal opportunity. This sentiment was echoed by Karaj who stressed the importance of collaboration between NGOs and institutions. Deputy Mayor Geert Gabriels of Weert also emphasized the importance of bottom-up initiations in bringing about change, especially in smaller cities where there are less resources available. Relaying to us how an action as simple as flying the pride flag outside of a town house can already have a large impact, as was his own personal experience in Weert.
“I know it was only the flag, but it was a small kind of recognition” – Deputy Mayor Geert Gabriels of Weert
In order to make these changes, during the events experts offered concrete recommendations on best practices for long term change:
- Collaboration stands central in long-term change; simple things like offering offices can go a long way as it helps small NGOs cut their expenditure. Alternatively, with budgeting, which is another issue, experts urge NGOs and municipalities alike, to avoid hesitation with regard to discussing financial services, but rather engage in cooperation as by cooperating you can find other ways to finance events for instance.
- Consider the local context, highlighting the LGBTIQ+ friendly hotels or restaurants, such information can help tourists and residents alike in feeling safe.
- Municipalities should shift the focus towards everyday communication with their citizens and providing amenities such as cultural events or more basic services such as medical support.
Cross border activity should be fostered by local municipalities as it can sometimes have a greater impact for local level than efforts made on a national level.
About the Access to Justice Programme
Access to Justice works for a criminal justice process in which the rights of vulnerable groups are protected. It strengthens capacities of actors in the justice chain, as well as of civil society organisations that assist these groups. By focusing on networking and coalition building, the programme brings together actors that normally do not cooperate.