How five young Kosovars put homophobic views behind them.
Kosovar society is often seen as a hostile environment for LGBTI persons. In 2015, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) conducted a public opinion poll exploring attitudes towards LGBTI issues in six countries; Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Kosovo. In presenting their data, the NDI concluded that most respondents to the poll from the general population “do not believe that LGBTI people should be able to live openly based on equal rights.”
Some of the data from Kosovo was particularly eye-catching. Amongst the general population, of whom 1,221 people were surveyed, only three percent of respondents declared that they would fully support their child if they discovered he or she was a homosexual. In contrast, 15 percent, more than any other country, declared they would make him or her leave the family home, while six percent said they would use physical punishment.
When LGBTI persons were surveyed in the same poll, in Kosovo they reported that the majority of psychological and verbal abuse, as well as physical violence, was perpetrated by ‘friends’ — a unique phenomenon compared to the other countries.
While at the societal level negative attitudes and prejudices towards the LGBT community still seem prevalent, changes are happening at an individual level, however small they may seem sometimes.
Getting to know LGBT persons, being exposed to new information, and discussing with people who advocate for the rights of this community, have often made people change their perspective. To help understand this process further K2.0 spoke with five young men and women to understand how they were dissuaded from their prejudices.
I grew up in an area in which no-one talked about LGBT issues. I actually remember how when we’d see two boys or two girls kissing each other on television, we’d just about break the TV. We’d all rush to change the channel, because it seemed so extraordinary and unbelievable to us. My family were also quite religious, and we had the worst possible opinion about them. “Look at this filth, destroying our society,” was one of the comments I made, as much as I am ashamed to admit it now.
I would often get mad at him for hiding things from me, until one day he admitted that he likes guys. I was a bit shocked. It was very unexpected.
After a few years, as we as a society developed together with technology, and as we received more and more information from different sources, I started to adapt to this subject — but I still didn’t accept them or have good opinions about them.
The turning point came when one of my best friends told me he was gay. I had no idea. We are very close and I cannot imagine my life without him. I would always tease him about not finding a girlfriend, although that doesn’t matter. Even when he was in a relationship, he’d always keep it secret, and I couldn’t understand it. I would often get mad at him for hiding things from me, until one day he admitted that he likes guys.
I was a bit shocked. It was very unexpected. Then when I talked to him and shared experiences, I started to understand that we’re all the same, no matter what sexual orientation. For me it would be the same if he was straight, transexual… the same. He’s simply human.
Growing up in a small city in Kosovo unfortunately often implies living in a ‘suburban’ position, not only in a geographic sense, but also in terms of cultural and educational activities. I grew up in one of these small ‘suburban’ cities, which left us unexposed to diversity and the socialization of taboo subjects. The only time we spoke about homosexuality with our friends was when we wanted to tease or insult someone.
Coming to Prishtina — a city which was not geographically suburban, or suburban in terms of activities, as my city was — was the first move that distanced me from my prejudices. It was here that I began my studies and started to work. I also found a flatmate. It didn’t take long and we eventually became really good friends. We felt comfortable discussing everything, even homosexuality.
The only time we spoke about homosexuality with our friends was when we wanted to tease or insult someone.
Without thinking too long and hard, I told him about how much I hated homosexuals. He didn’t react much, just calmly told me that anyone could be homosexual, even some of my best friends. I couldn’t understand this logic.
Later, after I had noticed something different about him — I am talking many years later — my friend, with whom I had shared a big part of my life, decided to share a truth with me. He said: ‘I like boys, not girls.’ He was my best friend and like a brother to me. I hugged him and told him that what he was experiencing was normal. Naturally, he was surprised by my reaction, as it was completely different from my initial reaction when speaking about homosexuality.
I have not met many members of this community, except for a friend who at some point told me that she was bisexual. Up until then I never gave it much importance.
Nothing distinguishes us.
Although I was not OK with people of this community, when my friend told me about her sexual orientation, I accepted it very easily. Then I started to get to know other people from this community. I started to understand, and to lobby to my other homophobic friends that the world has much bigger problems that need opposing than two boys or two girls kissing.
Now I insist that others see that these people are just like us. Nothing distinguishes us. I get very bad reactions from my friends. They say that I am also gay, just because I try to protect a human right.
Up until high school we were taught that homosexuality is an illness, that the normal way is the way nature created females and males, and that anything outside of this is an illness. I’m not sure if it was homophobia, because at the time we didn’t really speak about homosexuality in general, people just used slurs that are insulting to gay people.
I remember when Freddie Mercury died and they talked about how he had AIDS and as a child hearing the grown ups talk about this with a degree of aversion. People mainly talked about how AIDS is more prevalent among ‘these people.’
There was a lot of stigma in general, and as a child I took those words as the truth. However, later I became more educated and fortunately my generation had internet access, so were immediately a step ahead of our parents and teachers. I started to educate myself.
Fortunately my generation had internet access, so were immediately a step ahead of our parents and teachers.
Then in high school I started to make friends who were homosexual. Slowly I also started to debate with others regarding homosexuality, challenging my own opinions and those of others simultaneously.
Now I am a supporter of human rights without any distinction on grounds of sexual orientation, and I think that it is my duty to influence the change of this wrong mentality which I once believed in, and which was created solely by misinformation and a lack of education. I think it is a duty for all of us, to challenge and change preconceived ideas regarding the freedom of being human.
My friends and I used to joke when we’d greet each other and one of us would go in for a hug, we’d say ‘why are you acting like a faggot.’ We had this guy in school who was a bit more feminine and we’d call him a faggot. We always insulted him and he never hung out with us. Now I can’t even explain why I was like that. We didn’t even know the words ‘lesbian,’ or ‘homosexual,’ or ‘transexual.’ It never crossed my mind that a person could like someone of the same gender.
I don’t really know how to explain why I was like that. My family never discussed these things. We didn’t learn about it at school. I don’t know. I can’t say that religion influenced it, because I wasn’t into it. I believe it was misinformation, and the fact that it is considered taboo. It left us with a sort of handicap regarding these issues.
We didn’t even know the words ‘lesbian,’ or ‘homosexual,’ or ‘transexual.’
In my second or third year of high school, a youth group from an organization in Prishtina came to talk to us about LGBT people. To tell you the truth, my friends and I planned to skip that class, but eventually we stayed and listened to what they had to say. A gay boy was with them as well. We were all like ‘look at this faggot, coming here…’ I remember everyone laughing and f**king around during that lecture. At one point we made them feel really bad.
But that lecture and that gay boy’s story made me understand many things. From that moment I started to think differently and to face this issue, I also started reading about it. When someone started talking about these issues, or when I read something related to them, I paid more attention than before. Now I know people who belong to this community, but I do not even think about treating them differently.K
Featured image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.
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