by: Filip Kocevski
edit: Amarildo Fecanji
On Saturday, April 14, Group COME OUT opened its office and community space in Novi Sad, the second biggest city in Serbia. For the first time, since the establishment in 2010, COME OUT has its own space, where staff members and volunteers can work on promoting, protecting and enhancing the human rights of LGBTI people and other vulnerable groups in Novi Sad and Vojvodina, and involving other members of the LGBTI community in its activities. Even though the road has been long and difficult, active and dedicated work of staff members brought the organization to the point where it is possible to have a place in Novi Sad, which is dedicated primarily to the LGBTI* community. The establishment of the office is co-funded by the European Youth Capital - Novi Sad 2019, through the project "OUR PRIDE" (NAŠ PRAJD), which has a clear aim to strengthen the LGBTI community in Novi Sad and Vojvodina and to organize a first ever big scale Pride Parade by 2020.
Having a safe space in the city center, where anyone can feel free to share their stories, fears, hopes, ideas, thoughts, etc. represents a huge step for the LGBTI community in Novi Sad and Vojvodina. COME OUT's community space is envisioned as a support point to all those LGBTI people going through difficulties based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, sexual characteristics, etc. It will be used to gather the community, strengthen their capacities, jointly develop programs and activities aiming at both LGBTI people and the general population. In order to lower the social boundaries between the general population and marginalized groups, this space will be opened for all vulnerable groups of society to have their activities in, to connect, to talk and to interact with one-another.
COME OUT believes that change in society can happen only if we act together with those who share our same problems, and those who understand us and the everyday problems we are facing. With inter-organizational and interpersonal cooperation, we are looking forward in creating a strong human rights critical mass that will stand for each other, while protecting their human rights and working on their promotion and visibility.
Being outside of Belgrade - as a center of everything in Serbia - is difficult for everyone, especially for LGBTI people who have really no places to get to know each other, support and help each other, to work together and to address issues affecting them and other members of the community. This is why such spaces are needed in Novi Sad and other parts of the country. As a decentralization effort, this is a considerable step forward for the LGBTI movement, giving a strong and encouraging message that similar community spaces can be established in all regions of the country.
Group COME OUT is itself an example of a group which initially consisted of several individuals meeting up to provide peer to peer support to gay and bisexual men. It slowly evolved to provide psychological and social support to LGBTI people and their parents. Later on, the group started to advocate for LGBTI rights at local and provincial level by establishing good cooperation and partnerships with local government, public institutions. It established also relations with organisations and other stakeholders in Serbia, Balkans and beyond. COME OUT is also one of the founding members of ERA and contributed considerably to its establishment and strategic planning. Understanding the value of solidarity, networking and cooperation COME OUT initiatied in 2016 the creation of the Pannonian Human Rights Platform which now consists of 10 organisations and many individuals working on the protection of human rights of different minorities and vulnerable groups in Vojvodina. Among other things the platform has organized two times the OUR PRIDE events around Human Rights Day. This year, the third, and hopefully, larger event will also take place in Novi Sad, involving a bigger number of LGBTI persons and those who are willing to stand next to them and support their road towards exercising their human rights.
Cooperation with local government and public institutions, members of local Network for prevention of discrimination and support to LGBT people of Novi Sad, provides the opportunity to build an effective advocacy program that will lead to legislative changes and enhance the understanding of problems that the LGBTI community is facing.
Group COME OUT's office is located in street Šafarikova 7/10 in Novi Sad, opened from Monday to Friday, from 10am to 6pm, while the community space will be available for the activities organized by COME OUT or proposed by community members or other organizations throughout the week.
Picture copyright: Group Come Out