“When justice becomes injustice, resistance becomes a duty.”
Those were the words, the mantra, that Ellie Lust — a member of the Netherlands Police — used to describe the thinking behind the “Pink in Blue” network, a task force within the Dutch police that is dedicated to increase the willingness of the LGBT community to declare and report incidents related to their gender identity or sexual orientation, and to increase protection and counseling for them as a force at the forefront of the battle against LGBT-related crimes.
Established unofficially in 1998 during the Amsterdam Gay Games, the group is comprised mostly of police officers who are themselves LGBT. It is based in Amsterdam, and collaborates with police forces throughout the country. Their prime mission is to improve the ease of access to the police force for the LGBT community.
Ellie is one of the police officers who is part of a documentary directed by Chris Belloni, called “Up Close & Personal: LGBT Police,” shown at a special screening during PriFest — Prishtina International Film Festival, which took place in Kosovo’s capital between July 16-21, 2019.
The 40-minute long documentary focuses on police officers of varying age, gender, nationality and rank, who offer glimpses of their struggle of opening up about their sexual orientation or gender identity — first to themselves, then to their colleagues and to their families.
A police marshall from Canada told her story about how opened up to her colleagues about being a lesbian from the beginning on and never had any problems; an Italian Carabinieri confessed that he led a double life for some time, for years avoiding opening up to his family about his homosexuality. Being part of the police force made this process even more challenging, but now they emphasize their pride of openly being who they are.
In a panel discussion after the movie screening in Kino ABC in Prishtina this Friday, Ellie’s identical twin sister, Marja, who is also lesbian and part of the “Pink in Blue” group, shared with a small public her insights about the idea behind the creation of the task force, which intends to protect and advance the rights of LGBT members within the Amsterdam police force and in the Dutch capital.
The purpose of forming this group within the police, Marja explained, was to “lower the threshold for people from the LGBT community to come forward when something happened,” because until then, people were reluctant to spontaneously walk into a police station or call the emergency number and report what had happened to them.
She also said that the number of incidents reported these last years has spiked compared to ten or fifteen years ago, not because the city of Amsterdam has become more unsafe, but because many of the incidents that took place in the past weren’t reported. Now, she said, because everyone knows that there are also LGBT cops within the force, people feel that they will be listened to and that crimes related to the LGBT community are being dealt with more seriously.
“We often call that the pink and blue effect,” she added.
Meanwhile, the spectrum of movies that take on LGBT issues on Kosovar screens hasn’t been very colorful. Activists and moviemakers say that this is bound to change, however, especially since festivals are increasingly keen on adding films that address questions of gender and sexual orientation to their catalogues.
The “Let It Be” program, which added various LGBT related movies to the PriFest festival during the previous years, has brought more choice of documentaries and short films to Prishtina’s screens this year as well, including the Slovenian feature “Consequences” and “I am Sofia,” an Italian movie that explores the challenges of transgender women and provides some much-needed basic information about the process of gender transition.
The program is part of the “Youth Activists for Change” project, a collaboration between the organization Stichting art.1 — founded by the director Chris Belloni — and numerous organizations across the Balkans, including the Centre for Equality and Liberty (CEL), the Youth Initiative for Human Rights and PriFest in Kosovo.
As part of the project, the “Drop in Centre” has been opened at CEL’s office space, a “safe art space” aimed at LGBT youth in which workshops on filmmaking, storytelling and radio/podcast production are organized.
Different forms of expression through art can be a useful tool toward challenging the widely established stereotypes of a society, like in Kosovo, where there is a general lack of debate and information regarding LGBT issues and rights.
LGBT activist Blert Morina suggested that movies in particular are powerful tools helping the acceptance of LGBT individuals into society, because the visual dimension of the medium helps the public to see and hear the stories and struggles of those people who fight for equal rights all over the world.
“Art can play a huge role in the process of changing the mentality of a society,” Blert said, “especially in societies where no proper space is dedicated to open and genuine debate.”
On the other hand, the general status of the LGBT community in Kosovo, at least on the legal front, has seen improvement. The newly updated Criminal Code has strengthened the protection for LGBT persons by introducing the definition of a “hate act” as a crime committed against a person, group of persons, or property, motivated by aspects such as race, religion or indeed gender identity or sexual orientation, among other aspects.
As the LGBT movement continues its struggle for acceptance, viewers hope to have the chance to see more of these movies that address widely neglected and taboo topics on the big screen. Just as the film itself concludes: “There’s a movement, we’ll go step by step, but the world will know we are there.”
Feature image: Courtesy of Chris Belloni.
This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of ECMI Kosovo and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.