Wow, congratulations Albania! From the aleancaLGBT press release (emphasis mine):
The Alliance Against Discrimination of LGBT persons enthusiastically welcomes the approval of the Anti-Discrimination Law and we consider the Law a powerful and solid legal instrument for the protection against any form of discrimination, direct or indirect.
As one of the categories that directly benefits from this law, we, the representatives of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, take the opportunity to express our gratitude to all the members of parliament who supported this legal initiative, as well as to the media that objectively covered it.
This Law is not simply a fulfillment of requirements that Albania has undertaken for EU integration and visa liberalization. Above all, this law is a victory for democracy and for human rights for all Albanians.
This law provides strong protections for all people against discrimination based on: gender, race, colour, ethnicity, language, gender identity, sexual orientation, political, religious or philosophical beliefs, economic, education or social status, pregnancy, parentage, parental responsibility, age, family or marital condition, civil status, residence, health status, genetic predispositions, disability, affiliation with a particular group or for any other reason.
UPDATE: Follow-up email from Mindy Michels at end of post.Amazing how willing governments become to protect their minorities when it will win them a prize like E.U. membership. Too bad we don’t have that carrot to dangle before the United States’ Congress.
Last year, Prime Minister Sali Berisha also mentioned his support for same-sex marriage, but so far his support has not led to any action. Regardless, the advent of this new anti-discrimination law is amazing, especially considering the severe anti-gay prejudice reported in Albania.
While the Albanian parliament decriminalised homosexual relations in 1995, more than a decade later gays and lesbians are still heavily stigmatised, and a majority hide their sexual orientation, fearing that if it is discovered their safety will be endangered.
Human rights reports on Albania concede that ingrained attitudes among the public leave Albanian gays and lesbians on the fringes of society. AHRG reports that Albanian homosexuals face “intolerance, physical and psychological violence – often from the police – and discrimination in the workplace.”
Last summer, Rex Wockner provided this insight into Albanian LGBT life and state of activism:
[Mindy] Michels, an American, said that for the first 2 1/2 years that she and her partner lived in Albania as open lesbians, “we met only one gay Albanian man, and he emigrated shortly after we met him. We knew there had to be other people, but we couldn’t find them,” she said.
Until this past February. “We met a few GLBT Albanians who wanted to work on changing things,” Michels said. “And they have done a tremendous amount in a short period of time. Day by day, through word of mouth, through the Facebook group, through media coverage, through lectures at universities … they are finding other people, creating community, and building a group of people who want to try and make a difference. I cannot begin to tell you how inspired I am by them. The steps are small, and there is a long way to go, but something has started.”
In 2008, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, Thomas Hammarberg, told the CoE’s Parliamentary Assembly and Committee of Ministers that gay Albanians face routine intolerance and violence. “An open discussion regarding homosexuality remains taboo in Albania,” Hammarberg wrote. “LGBT persons are routinely subject to intolerance, physical and psychological violence and seen by many as persons suffering from an ‘illness’. … There have also been cases of mistreatment by the police.”
Keep tabs on the LGBT haps in Albania at gayalbania.org.
UPDATE: Just got this email from Mindy Michels, the American-in-Albania quoted above by Rex Wockner. She kindly answered a battery of my questions, providing more depth to the post. I was particularly curious to read what she said about the US Ambassador in Albania, John L. Withers, II.
Happy to answer more questions… and happy to have you curious about Albania. …my partner and I love it here and have really enjoyed our time. Albania is a lot of things, but it is never boring or uninteresting!
As for the law, it is a great step forward and we’ve been having fun celebrating.
[Regarding same-sex marriage], there was never anything in the [anti-discrimination] law about same-sex marriage, there was only the one comment of Prime Minister Berisha about his support for same-sex marriages. No law to allow same-sex marriages has actually been proposed.
After he made the comment there was intense public discussion about same-sex marriage, and because he made the comment at the same time as he voiced support for the anti-discrimination law, the two became very linked in public discourse and debate. Religious communities were very vocal in their opposition, the Gay-Straight Alliance Against Discrimination was vocal in its support for the law, as well as its suport for same-sex marriage. There was very little political opposition to the anti-discrimination law itself…there was only opposition to anything having to do with same-sex marriage.
As for what will happen with same-sex marriage now, it remains to be seen. The Prime Minister only made the one public comment. He never withdrew support, but he never brought it up again either. In order to actually change the law, a change to the family code would have to be proposed, and changes to the family code require 84 votes in Parliament. The opposition is currently boycotting Parliament, so there are only 71 Parliamentarians right now, making it impossible to amend the family code.
The main religious communities are Muslim, Bektashi, Orthodox, and Catholic; all of them oppose same-sex marriage. There are also American and non-American missionaries here. However, religion is not a powerful force in Albanian political or cultural life, and it is a very religiously tolerant place.
You asked about the Ambassador, and I cannot possibly say enough good things about him. Ambassador Withers has been personally supportive to my partner and me since his arrival at post at the end of summer 2007. In September 2008, he asked us about ways that he could provide support for LGBT people in Albania. Since that time, he has personally met with key LGBT group and human rights organization leaders, been the primary speaker for a public International Day Against Homophobia lecture, written an op-ed for an Albanian newspaper, and supported numerous other activities designed to build support for LGBT human rights. His actions and statements have been personally inspirational to us, and incredibly inspiring to the Albanian activists. One young Albanian lesbian involved in the new organization here said, “The Ambassador has been an important support and inspiration for our group from the beginning. I came out publicly for the first time at a meeting at the Embassy. He makes people feel comfortable with themselves and others, and is the best example of a man with a big heart and a great mind.”
Feel free to let me know if I can help out with any other information, and thanks for posting the website address of the Alliance in the post. Since this work has begun, we have been contacted by many Albanians living abroad who are so happy to hear about what is now happening in Albania. It’s been important to so many people to be able to connect and find each other.
And from a subsequent email…
Something else I should have added before, because people tend to speculate and make a lot of assumptions about what LGBT life might or might not be like in Albania…. There has not been a developed gay community here…at all. People are absolutely correct when they say that what exists legislatively may not at all match experience on the ground. And no one here believes that discrimination is going to suddenly disappear because there is a law on the books. But, the Gay Straight Alliance Against LGBT Discrimination, which formed less than a year ago, has been working to try and build visibility and create community. It’s been amazing to see people start to come together, be less isolated, and start to build a sense of community.
I’ve been really struck by what people have said to me since we’ve started this work: one couple talked about how they had been together for 6 years but didn’t know anyone else gay, and that “it was just the two of us and the four walls.” Another woman said, “The only lesbian I used to ever see was when I looked in the mirror.” And, of course there are hard stories about young people who are thrown out of their homes, etc; these things also happen in the U.S., but it can be more challenging here when many people live with families until they are married and where jobs can be hard to find and may not provide enough money to get an apartment.
On the other hand, for a country that has not had a movement, attitudes are sometimes more progressive than you might think. Though there are no publicly open people (yet!), when I have given talks at universities and high schools I have found much more openness than I originally expected. I strongly believe that Albania will ultimately move forward rapidly. Tradition is strong, but so is the openness and desire to move forward on a variety of issues. And many of the factors that create strong oppositional forces in many other countries (including the U.S.) do not exist as strongly here.
The people working here on this issue are brave and passionate, and I feel privileged to know them and have the chance to work closely with them. I never expected to have the chance to be on the ground at the start of a movement; and I cannot even begin to explain how lucky I feel to be here.