Perspectives | Human Rights

Ms. Balje, will my friends ever be able to count on you?

By - 20.03.2024

Elected officials must be held to account for discriminatory speech.

In Kosovo, there is increasing emphasis on individuals’ rights and freedoms to authentically express themselves. While people in marginalized communities have always challenged exclusionary institutions and norms, open advocacy for values of inclusivity is more prominent than ever. The shift toward expressive individualism is evident across various domains, from the acceptance of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations to the celebration of unique personal beliefs.

Expressive individualism is a philosophical concept that emphasizes the importance of self-expression, personal autonomy and individual fulfillment. Its core idea is that every person has unique traits, desires and aspirations that should be embraced and celebrated. This ideology has had profound influences on social values, shaping how individuals perceive themselves and interact with society. 

For many LGBTQ+ people, expressive individualism has important implications on social values. This has empowered innumerable LGBTQ+ individuals to assert their identities openly and unapologetically, challenging societal norms and advocating for equal rights and acceptance. However, it’s important to note that while expressive individualism has brought about positive change for many, it also intersects with broader social structures and inequalities. Not all have equal opportunities to express themselves freely and without experiencing discrimination and marginalization based on their identities. Therefore, while expressive individualism has contributed to progress in LGBTQ+ rights and visibility, ongoing efforts are needed to address systemic barriers and ensure full equality and acceptance for all members of the community. 

Systemic barriers persist in Kosovo, exemplified by Duda Balje, a deputy of the Assembly of Kosovo and chairperson of the Parliamentary Commission for Human Rights, who has faced calls for her resignation from the latter post due to her exclusionary and homophobic language. Despite mounting pressure from human rights advocates and civil society groups, Balje has ignored these calls, highlighting entrenched biases in Kosovo’s political and administrative structures.

Balje’s long history of insensitive comments toward the LGBTQ+ community has made her no stranger to controversy. Her disparaging remarks make many citizens uncomfortable. However, at the same time, her public statements have been an inspiration to challenge misconceptions and emphasize the moral imperative that discrimination is unequivocally wrong and does not belong in our society. 

In our functioning democracy, where acceptance and equality are championed as fundamental values, it is disheartening to witness a public figure perpetuate discrimination and hypocrisy. Despite being a minority herself — a member of Kosovo’s Bosnian community — Balje’s vocal remarks opposing LGBTQ+ values send a damaging message to the LGBTQ+ community, reinforcing the notion that our identities are not only unwelcome but also exploitable for personal gain. 

In our functioning democracy, where acceptance and equality are championed as fundamental values, it is disheartening to witness a public figure perpetuate discrimination and hypocrisy.

Every person’s dignity must be respected

Economic factors such as the rising costs of living and financial instability have significant impacts on social justice and equality for the LGBTQ+ community. As economic pressures mount, marginalized communities, including LGBTQ+ individuals, often bear the brunt of these challenges. Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity often leads to marginalization in the labor market and difficulties in securing stable employment and advancement opportunities. As one of my friends recently said, “Shouldn’t it be a top priority for Ms. Balje, with a Ph.D. in economics and her position and expertise, to address economic inequality and fight for a more equitable society where all individuals, including me, have equal opportunities to thrive economically?” 

Sociopsychological factors, persistent stigma and discrimination can exacerbate feelings of isolation, fear and internalized shame among LGBTQ+ individuals, significantly impacting their mental health and overall quality of life. Evolving attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community can profoundly influence interpersonal relationships, with acceptance or rejection from family, friends and peers playing a pivotal role in shaping individuals’ sense of belonging and acceptance. Not long ago, a transgender friend told me that by being herself, she lost the majority of her family and childhood friends, but now, has built a new family and has friends she can count on.

There are limits to how much humiliation LGBTQ+ people can endure. Without legal protections in place, simple acts like going to a bank for a loan as a couple or seeking medical care in a hospital can be excruciatingly uncomfortable experiences. Fundamental rights that many take for granted become distant dreams for these couples. The fear of humiliation and rejection looms over every interaction, casting a shadow on what should be routine affairs. Even something as intimate as making medical decisions for each other during times of illness or planning for the future by legally inheriting each other’s property becomes fraught with uncertainty and vulnerability. These individuals navigate a landscape where their rights are not protected under the law, leaving them in limbo and inferno. This reality is nothing short of abomination.

Understanding hypocrisy involves recognizing the contradiction between professed beliefs or principles and one’s action or behavior. Rather than upholding the principles of equality and non-discrimination, Balje, as the chairperson of the Commission for Human Rights, opposes initiatives aimed at advancing LGBTQ+ rights, citing personal beliefs that contradict the institution’s mission. This egregious example of hypocrisy is a sobering reminder of the dangers posed by individuals who betray the trust placed in them and prioritize personal biases over the fundamental rights of others.

Balje’s hypocrisy calls into question her suitability for a role entrusted with safeguarding human rights. How can someone be an advocate for equality and justice while actively contributing to the marginalization of a specific community? True progress toward equality and inclusivity requires individuals in positions of power to confront their biases, acknowledge their privilege and actively work towards dismantling systems of oppression. Anything less perpetuates the cycle of discrimination and undermines the very principle of human rights such people are meant to uphold.

How can someone be an advocate for equality and justice while actively contributing to the marginalization of a specific community?

Will my friends ever be able to count on you? 

All these things make me wonder, Ms. Balje, will my friends ever be able to count on you?

In case you do not know, the term LGBTQ+ encompasses a diverse spectrum of identities, each with its own unique experiences and challenges. From lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals to those who identify as non binary or genderqueer, our community is as multifaceted as humanity itself. Yet, despite this diversity, we all share a common desire — to be treated with dignity. 

In our society, Ms. Balje, the term LGBTQ+ often sparks heated debates, entangled in discussions over sexual orientation, marriage equality and gender identity. However, for many LGBTQ+ people, this term is not a subject for debate. It’s an intrinsic part of who we are: doctors, unemployed, teachers, artists, baristas, activists, sex workers and so much more with hopes, dreams and aspirations just like anyone else. We yearn to be seen as individuals, not as stereotypes or caricatures and certainly not as a minority to be lectured to or judged. And our identities should not be up for debate but celebrated and embraced as a diverse community. 

What we seek is not validation or approval, but rather basic respect and legal recognition from our country. LGBTQ+ individuals have long grappled with public antipathy and discrimination, but as society progresses, so too does the visibility and acceptance of this diverse community. With each passing year, more LGBTQ+ individuals step out of the shadows and into the public sphere, challenging stereotypes and reshaping perceptions. 

Indeed, one notable aspect of this evolution is the rise in visibility of transgender individuals. Today, there are more openly transgender people than ever before. This increased visibility dismantles stereotypes and misconceptions and provides much-needed representation of transgender people. 

Drawing on examples from history, sociopsychology, economy and social awareness, communities that offer practical strategies for promoting inclusivity, cultivating a sense of belonging and where diversity is celebrated as a source of strength rather than a cause for division are stronger, more interconnected and mutually inclusive. 

Ms. Balje, it’s common for people to fear the unknown, whether it’s related to nationality, religion, or something as simple as LGBTQ+ people. However, I know you’ve had ample time to become familiar with our diverse community. 

I’d understand if you were hesitant to order a Sangiovese, Pouilly-Fumé, or a gooseberry soufflé because you are intimidated by these names. But we are not fancy drinks or dessert names to be feared. We are human beings, just like you or your next-door neighbor. We have a pub, two community centers, an annual parade and a queer festival. Don’t be an entrapped lost soul. Dropping by or attending any of these events could help peel away some of the fear you may have about us and our community. 

As individuals prioritize personal happiness and fulfillment, they become more inclined to advocate for the rights and freedoms of others, recognizing that the ability to live authentically is essential for overall well-being. 

The secret to immortality, Ms. Balje, is to never admit defeat. We’ll always be LGBTQ+ people. We will never back down, even when faced with pretentious ulterior motives. 

How fascinating it is to have history on our side. The evidence is all out there. Other countries have succeeded and life moved on. The gods did not curse them, nor did the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people take precedence over heteronormative rights. There’s no magic formula to turn people gay — one can only be born this way. If this is not enough, what about civility? Respect for human dignity? 

How fascinating it is to have history on our side.

Ms. Balje, LGBTQ+ individuals continue to face discrimination, violence and systemic barriers to equality. The fight for LGBTQ+ rights is far from over and demands ongoing advocacy, education and allyship. It is incumbent upon all members of society to actively work towards creating inclusive spaces where LGBTQ+ individuals can live authentically and without fear. As LGBTQ+ people continue to assert their rights and demand equality, it is crucial for society to embrace diversity, challenge prejudice and work toward a future where all human beings are valued and respected regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

I am not spreading conspiracies here; I simply believe that it is time for society to understand that love knows no boundaries. For LGBTQ+ people, one gentle moment’s break from solitude has the power to brighten a life in the shadows of marginalization. Generally, love too often carries conditions and judgment, yet for us, those moments of connection bear immeasurable significance. 

Whether it’s the gentle touch of a partner’s hand, shared laughter in a community that embraces us, or the simple act of being seen and cherished for who we are, these moments offer respite from the pervasive loneliness that can accompany living in a world that doesn’t always fully accept us. In these precious instances, the weight of societal expectations and rejection can momentarily lift, allowing us to bask in the warmth of genuine camaraderie, reminding us that our love is valid and deserving of celebration.

Feature Image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.

This article was produced based on the media monitoring conducted by the Reporting Diversity Network, with financial support from the European Union. The content of this article is the sole responsibility of Kosovo 2.0 and does not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

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