The 17th of May, in Kosovo and worldwide marks International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), to emphasize the dignity of all individuals, regardless of who they love, or regardless of their gender identity.
The marking of this day represents a moment that seeks to draw the attention of the public, decision-makers, local authorities, media, and opinion leaders towards injustices and challenges that LGBTI individuals face, with the hope of bringing social, economic, and political justice.
Over the years, Kosovo's governmental and public institutions have taken some positive steps in addressing human rights issues, including the rights of LGBTI individuals.
According to the World Bank's research on the life experience of LGBTI individuals in the Western Balkans, published in September 2018, Kosovo Police enjoys the most trust from LGBTI individuals, compared to other institutions. During 2019, the Courts of Kosovo have issued two very important decisions in favor of transgender people regarding the right to change the name and gender/sex mark in civil registries and public documents. In the past few years, the institution of the Ombudsperson has been more vocal in promoting LGBTI rights and addressing cases of discrimination against these people. Also, the Office for Good Governance at the Office of the Prime Minister has drafted a three-year work plan aiming at promoting and protecting the rights of LGBTI individuals in Kosovo. The Ministry of Health, in cooperation with civil society organizations, for more than ten (10) years has been providing some necessary and more specific health services to LGBTI individuals. In addition, the Ministry of Health in its sectorial strategy plans, has identified the LGBTI individuals as target groups for the provision of health services, equally as for other groups in society.
Despite these positive steps that have taken place, we cannot say that LGBTI individuals enjoy equal rights with other citizens of Kosovo. Although the Constitution of Kosovo, existing laws, other bylaws and strategies or work plans of Kosovo's governmental and public institutions guarantee equal rights for all, in practice these rights in most cases are unfortunately not respected. Hate speech, hate crime, discrimination in the workplace, harassment of children at school and violence by family members, which is based on and motivated by their sexual orientation and gender identity, still prevails in Kosovo.
For all of us, there is still a lot of work to be done to combat homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia. In many places in Kosovo, LGBTI individuals are forced to deny and hide their identity from the fear of being persecuted and being victims of verbal or physical violence.
The COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to having unexpected effects on everyone's daily lives, has particularly hit LGBTI individuals. Due to the state of emergency and restricted movement and isolation measures, many young LGBTI individuals have been forced to return and live with their families, from which they have fled as they may not have been accepted due to sexual orientation or gender identity. Because of this rejection, there is a risk that some of them will be left homeless, and this may affect their employment. The obligation to remain isolated within a family that does not accept an LGBTI individual has increased cases of domestic violence. Also, these individuals, due to the inability to meet with their supporters, have been left alone, without any support, and this can lead to mental health problems.
Due to the pandemic and the closure of borders, transgender people do not have access to hormone therapy and other health services over the transition, such health services that are not provided in Kosovo. According to WHO guidelines and the European Commission, ongoing therapy insurance is included in essential health services for the transgender community.
CSGD and CEL believe that leaders in Kosovo, whether politicians, members of civil society or media executives, have a duty to lead Kosovo towards a democratic and liberal order. A fully democratic order is one that abandons the policy of hatred and intolerance; it is one that abandons unfair discrimination against any group, whether during the normal situation but also during emergencies such as the current one.
We encourage decision makers, political leaders, media and the public to contribute to the advancement of the rights of people affected by violence and discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. We encourage the Government of Kosovo to design policies that will protect its citizens from domestic violence, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. We encourage law enforcement agencies to commit to protecting the rights of LGBTI individuals in accordance with the legislation in Kosovo that would affect the creation of a safe and convenient environment for all citizens of Kosovo, without distinction.