Despite widespread homophobia and transphobia, LGBTI groups have become more visible in the Balkans. Activists point to some progress in recent years.
Luka, a 30-year-old citizen of Croatia, came out on his Facebook profile during a visit to the US. He felt uncomfortable returning to a small town in Gorski Kotar where he lived, but the reactions of his family, friends and neighbors surprised both him and his American boyfriend.
Back home, he didn’t face any problems and no one treated him differently than before, Luka told researcher Nicole Butterfield, who has recently published a study on non-normative sexualities in small towns and rural communities in Croatia.
Not only Luka, but most of the other participants in the study, told Butterfield they faced no negative consequences after coming out to their families.
Since LGBTI rights have not been a political priority in Croatia and other Balkan countries, ignorance and bigotry towards LGBTI persons are widespread. A 2015 NDI public opinion poll demonstrated that most respondents do not believe LGBTI people should have equal rights.
Yet, it seems that homophobia and transphobia are not that prevalent any more and Luka and other LGBTI people can now live more freely in the Balkans than a couple of years ago.
In October last year, Kosovo activists organized the first ever official LGBTI Pride and they intend to make it an annual event, even though, according to the NDI poll, Kosovo is the region's most homophobic country, where the scale of the discrimination of LGBTI persons is alarming.
Luckily, their public recognition is becoming stronger, especially as some celebrities and public figures, including Kosovo's president Hashim Thaçi, supported the event.
Some LGBTI activists in Bosnia think it might be too early to organize a parade in Sarajevo, but they believe their visibility can -- and does -- grow in other ways.
The community closely follows and reacts to the country's policy development related to LGBTI issues. They also organize occasional protests and marches. This month, Sarajevo will host Merlinka International Queer Film Festival for the sixth time.
That is why a group of activists complained to the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) about their article "Bosnian LGBTs Remain in Closet to Stay Safe" published in October last year.
In activists' opinion, the article stuck to negative examples thus diminishing the positive steps taken during the last decade.
“Some days we celebrate victories, some other days we face walls. But we are moving forward, and the situation today is much better than it was in 2008,”
the authors of the letter claimed. Their response was to the article mentioning that, ten years ago, Sarajevo based "Q" association planned to organize a four-day long cultural festival, which was canceled due to violence.
"We know people who are afraid to reveal their families or the names of their gay colleagues. But there are also many brave people who live their lives openly, thus contributing to the visibility and social acceptance of the community. For them, it is not a problem to say out loud that they love their partners," the letter reads.
It is great that LGBTI activists are reacting to media reports because their social situation is often presented overly negatively. It is official -- LGBTI groups in the Balkans are not weak and vulnerable any more.