Serbia Pride: Gay PM Brnabic 'not wanted' at parade

By Slobodan Maricic & Petra Zivic
BBC Serbian

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionAna Brnabic is the first gay head of government in a Balkan country

It's the only Balkan country to have an openly gay prime minister - so why are some of Serbia's LGBT activists determined to keep PM Ana Brnabic away from Gay Pride?

When Ms Brnabic was appointed last year, hopes were high in the LGBT community: not only was she the first woman to head the Serbian cabinet, she was also the first LGBT politician to hold such high office in the Balkans.

She marched in the 2017 Pride parade in Belgrade, surrounded by posters reading "Ana is here," and took selfies with dozens of people.

But one year on, progress is scant: LGBT rights have not improved, new laws are still far from being adopted and there has been no fall in the number of attacks on gay people.

In largely conservative Orthodox Christian Serbia, a candidate for EU membership, discrimination and violence against the LGBT community are widespread.

Two gay Prides, one gay PM and no end to problems

Ahead of 2018 Pride, a group of activists disappointed with the slow pace of reforms launched a campaign called "Say no". Its main goal is to prevent politicians from attending Pride marches, as campaigners believe they have done little to strengthen LGBT rights.

Ms Brnabic is the main focus of their campaign, because her "work on strengthening LGBT rights has been disappointing," said a statement from the organisation behind the campaign, GLIC.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe first peaceful Belgrade Pride happened in 2014, but anti-gay protesters also took to the streets

Speaking at the 2017 parade, Ms Brnabic said that LGBT rights would be addressed only after important problems such as inflation, pensions and the standard of living had been resolved.

"It was a scandalous statement," Predrag Azdejkovic, the head of GLIC, told the BBC.

Unhappy with the efforts of other gay activists, Mr Azdejkovic started another parade in June. Its goal is to "bring the gay march back to ordinary people and away from politicians".

"They say: 'You have a gay prime minister, two parades, you should be content'. But it's all just made up," said Mr Azdejkovic.

For Serbia's LGBT community, everyday life is still marred by widespread homophobia: a survey by the regional ERA organisation showed that every fifth gay couple in Belgrade gets rejected when trying to rent a flat.

The situation is even gloomier outside the capital, activists say.

The government has adopted the Law against Discrimination but cases rarely come to justice. Another survey done by ERA showed that 90% of people in Serbia are against giving LGBT couples the right to adopt, while about 70% are against gay couples inheriting a partner's belongings after death.

Same-sex marriage is still illegal in Serbia.

Bleak history

image copyrightAFP
image captionAround 100 people were injured when anti-gay protesters clashed with police during Belgrade Pride in 2010

Serbia's first Pride parade in 2001 ended in violence when hundreds of hooligans and extremists attacked a peaceful march despite a heavy police presence.

And in 2010, about 100 people were injured when that year's march was also attacked in central Belgrade.

In the years that followed, the interior ministry refused security clearance for the parade to take place. Only in 2014 did the marchers return to the streets, again with considerable police presence.

Make-up and LGBT rights

Four years later, the LGBT flag welcomes visitors to the Pride Info Centre that opened its doors to the public in central Belgrade.

"If we had opened the centre 10 years ago, I am sure it would have been demolished," said Goran Miletic from Civil Rights Defenders, the organiser of Belgrade Pride.

"Some of the people passing by stop and comment. They say, 'faggots' and then they leave. That is a step forward - some people don't like what they see, but we are still here. It is a small, but a significant step forward."

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionFor Serbia's LGBT community, everyday life is still marred by wide-spread homophobia

Talking to Belgrade's Pride magazine, Ms Brnabic said that not supporting the gay march would be hypocritical.

"For me, this is a way to make an active contribution to dealing with stereotypes and prejudices," she said.

For the organisers of Belgrade Pride, having the head of government in the front ranks is a way to show the LGBT community that the country is changing.

"Politicians have to be part of the parade and send the message that 'gay is ok'," Mr Miletic told the BBC.