LGBTI Equal Rights Association for Western Balkans and Turkey
ERA's Regional Annual Conference, Strategic Planning Meeting and General Assembly
"Towards a Sustainable and Resilient LGBTIQ+ movement in the Western Balkans and Turkey"
20-26 September 2021, Belgrade, Serbia
ERA’s Fifth Annual Conference
Delayed by one year, the ERA’s Jubilee Fifth Annual Conference is marking a significant milestone of ERA’s dedication to acceleration of the accesses to rights, justice and equality for LGBTIQ+ people in the region of Western Balkans and Turkey (WB&T). The past six years, since the establishment of ERA, mark significant progress both internally and externally. ERA, once established by 25 organisations, now is a family of 70 LGBTIQ organisations from across the region.
In the past 10-15 years the LGBTI movement in the region has recognized remarkable progress. New legislation which decriminalized homosexuality has been passed and significant legal protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and in some rarer cases gender identity has been provided. The main promoters of such changes have been LGBTI people themselves organized firstly into groups and later on many of them transforming into large, professional LGBTI organizations with varied programs and projects focusing on lobby and advocacy, research, education, capacity building, community empowerment, awareness raising etc. The biggest contributors to these changes have been friends and allies of LGBTI people across the western world. Many countries have assisted LGBTI organizations and groups with funds and political support. EU integration also has significantly impacted reforms and human rights have steadily taken a stronger role in the process of negotiations. Often the above dynamics have been speeded up by the significant increase in presence and access to technology and the internet, by the proliferation of international programs and networks assisting LGBTI organizations in their capacities and of course by the integration policies of the countries in the region.
The Covid-19 pandemic showed us once again how fragile human cohabitation is and how reliable we are on existing models of mobility, organizing and planning. The pandemic forced us all back to our “roots”, denying to our network the connectivity, mobility and spaces that we desperately need, but also rely on for our survival, activism, success and well-being. At the same time, the pandemic showed how creative and resilient we are: Many of our members rolled up their sleeves to be a source of solidarity, help and assistance for the community. Laws, policies, conferences and panels became secondary and most community leaders started to look more inwards and to those closest to them: friends, family and community. This was definitely not easy for many community leaders and even less so for the majority of LGBTQI+ people. Many have spent years away from their families or hometowns, living with their families of choice and self-created safe-spaces. This opened up old wounds and traumas and made life difficult in more than one way. The pandemic decreased physical connectivity which was replaced more and more by a digital one. All these changes, the isolation and adaptation, hasn’t come without a big impact on our physical and mental wellbeing and hasn’t been very kind on our anxieties about life and the future. Our community is burned out. Activists and community leaders across the region have for years externalized these issues, but now, due to the pandemic, not only have they amplified, but have also taken new shapes and forms. We are humans, we adapt, but the cost of such change is yet to be seen. That is why our conference theme this year is “Towards a sustainable movement in the Western Balkans and Turkey”. It is high time for us to unload not only ERA’s 6 years long path, but also what has happened (and hasn’t happened) these last two years, and to look into the future, possibly and hopefully, with a clearer and brighter perspective. The world has always changed fast, but now it seems it is changing even faster. Our community and movement cannot stay apart from all that is happening in the world, yet at the same time it cannot help the world change for the better if it cannot help itself first. What does our future look like? How will we ensure that our human rights, freedoms and dignity are protected as the world faces even greater challenges such as climate change, weakening of democratic institutions and checks and balances, increased authoritarianism and strengthened anti-LGBT forces? Our future, just as that of the world, is not always clear, but that has been the case in almost every chapter of human history. So instead of taking this as a discouraging offset, we can all think of it as an opportunity for evolution, growth and greater change for the better. We are all looking forward to this annual meeting and conference and are certain that on September 26th as we pack our bags to return to our homes, a feeling of hope, more clarity and optimism will prevail.
For additional information on this event please send an Email at [email protected]