Nine years after the brutal attack on the Queer Sarajevo Festival (QSF), I had the opportunity to witness the rise of gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, and intersexual persons from the underground to which we were forcibly pushed.
In 2008, a group of religious extremists, united with other fundamentalists who think alike, violently ended the opening of QSF. Some of the participants were harmed in a way that left permanent physical consequences. But the trauma that scarred this entire community stayed as a memory of the times when we believed that this city and this state could too belong to us as much as to other society members.
After nine long years, we decided that there was no other way to direct the public’s attention towards our existence, problems, wishes and hopes, without showing them in the public space. It is not possible to show our contribution to society, which is an important issue if we bear in mind that we make up part of the general population.
The right time for a protest march
My friend and colleague at the Sarajevo Open Center (SOC), Lejla, suggested that we should organize a protest march focusing on the violence that LGBTI persons suffer every day. Violence is perpetrated in all spheres, from a completely private one (for example, parents taking a trans woman to an exorcist) to a public one, where marking somebody as — for example — a ‘lesbian’ represents an immediate discreditation, no matter the other factors.
We automatically agreed that a march was needed and necessary, and that this was the right time to do it. This shouldn’t have been a Pride, this should have been a protest, because we are proud, but primarily we are threatened.
The process of registering the gathering, obtaining all permissions and the endless bureaucracy was started on time. We expected obstruction, but we didn’t know from where it would come. As time passed, it became clear that the Canton of Sarajevo’s Ministry of Traffic was the main obstacle to our protest. No matter our efforts, the Ministry remained silent, we haven’t received the permission for halting traffic for a short period until it was too late — less than 48 hours from when the march was planned to begin. A very clear sabotage of the authorities who we pay for this (in)activity.
Photo: Nidzara Ahmetasevic / K2.0.
We had to think and react quickly. Our decision was to organize a silent march directed at the Ministry of Transport, instead of the sabotaged march, but still with the topic of violence against LGBTI persons.
From the morning of May 13 onwards, everything seemed like some bizarre dream. You could feel the tension in the city, as if existing as its own parallel entity. We received information that extremist and hooligan groups had organized themselves, among them a man who led the attack against the QSF visitors. It is an especially uncomfortable feeling of insecurity when every sound and every shadow is a potential threat to the bodily and psychological integrity of the participants of the protest.
Visible and proud
In this blog, I’m trying to describe feelings that were very intense. But they appeared so quickly, intensively, and brokenly that to describe them as they occurred would require the artistry of some giant of world literature. At every minute prior to and after the protest, I felt pride, fear, success, defeat and everything inbetween.
I am proud because we went out in the Sarajevo May sunlight, we didn’t go to basements and desolate facilities, we didn’t try to be “str8,” we didn’t pretend in front of our families that we will be brides and grooms, and that we are waiting for the right one.
I am proud, because no matter the obstructions, threats, and the fear, we demonstrated that we are a part of society, that we are a heterogenous group with big problems and a group demanding from society to be treated in the best possible manner.
I am proud because we didn’t let a heteronormative patriarchy lead us into invisibility, because this patriarchy is based upon ethnic and national foundations.
Photo: Nidzara Ahmetasevic / K2.0.
This is only a continuation of a long and endless road towards the equality of all. Winning over public space is one of the tools along the way.
In the end, I will quote a dear friend of mine, Branko, who spoke during the first Zagreb Pride: “No return to invisibility!”
I am happy and thankful to all those who supported our struggle for a better life for us all.
I am proud of the Sarajevo Open Center which invested superhuman efforts in coordinating all the bureaucracy, media space, organization, and all the small details that often aren’t visible.
Until the next protest for improving the status of marginalized groups!
Feature image: Nidzara Ahmetasevic / K2.0.