Political participation of LGBTI people still an impossible reality

Tirana, 4 February 2020 - Open Mind Spectrum Albania (OMSA) in cooperation with theMinistry of Health and Social Protection of Albania and supported by the European Union and Council of Europe joint Programme ’Horizontal Facility II for the Western Balkans and Turkey 2019-2022” hosted a launching event on civic engagement of LGBTI people which aimed to present findings of a research on political participation and discuss the issue of political participation and representation of LGBTI people. 

The event, which was attended by many state representatives, highlighted the existing gaps in advancing LGBTI rights in the country and the steps that need to be taken to make such changes. Vasilika Hysi, deputy speaker of the Albanian Parliament recommended a closer cooperation and engagement of civil society with Parliament as a tool to influence legal changes. She put emphasis on the need to combat the endemic hate speech and to improve school curricula. Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, Mr. Robert Gajda commended the work done so far but emphasized short comings, such as the lack of institutional cooperation and coordination. He also made particular mention of hate speech as an alarming phenomenon which his institution will now start to monitor closely and report on. Etleva Sheshi from the office of the People's Advocate also criticized the lack of institutional cooperation and of institutional response to hate speech which gives strength to public officials and other individuals to persist with their homophobic and discriminatory speech. 

Amarildo Fecanji from ERA raised concerns about the effectiveness of the National Action Plan 2016-2020, with special regards to the lack of proper budgeting and funding as well as lack of institutional responsiveness. He expressed doubts as to whether a new Action Plan would be effective, keeping in mind Albania’s financial situation following the earthquake of 26 November 2019. Donors, institutions, organizations and allies should strategize on how to best achieve the future goals that should improve the lived realities of LGBTI people, without risking to leave everything on paper, once again. Danijel Kalezic from Queer Montenegro and ERA Steering Board member shared the experience of advancing the LGBTI agenda with state institutions and other stakeholders in the country, highlighting the need for dialogue and understanding which involves a change in perceptions on LGBTI rights. 

OMSA Executive Director, Arbër Kodra, mentioned the importance of political participation of LGBTI people in Albania by emphasizing the importance of the implementation and the respect of the human rights of LGBTI people and to advance towards equality. Also, Kodra mentioned that "We want to make it clear that politics can benefit from a greater diversity within their structures, to understand that supporting equality for LGBTI people does not mean losing votes."

Representatives of the international community demanded more concrete changes, which included dialogue with society and more awareness. Too many good laws, are doing nothing but creating a greater gap instead of serving as tools to make social changes. 

Regional similarities

A regional research on political participation, conducted in March 2018 by Subversive Front, found out that a major challenge in consolidating democracy in the Western Balkans is the persistent gap between civil society and political parties. There is an urgent need to create a culture of cooperation and trust between such entities, whereby civil society organizations can shape politics and policy and the dialogue is normal part of political and social life. There is a need also for raising awareness and capacities of both sides on the importance of cooperation. Needless to say, the will of political parties to devote time and effort to LGBTI rights is directly linked to the state of LGBT rights in that country. The research notes that in the Western Balkans political parties of the left as well as right are equally engaged in LGBTI rights and that no political capital has been lost from that engagement. A common denominator is the invisibility of LGBTI people in politics and positions of power, which is of course a sign of homophobia and transphobia in politics and political life of the country. 

In a statement for ERA, Luis Abolafia, Director of International Programs at the Victory institute argues that “stigma and the fear of backlash from religious conservative groups together with high levels of dissatisfaction towards democracy” make it challenging for political participation of LGBTI people. 

Albania research

A similar research, conducted by Open Mind Spectrum Albania on political participation of LGBTI people in Albania found out that the major political parties (Socialist Party, Democratic Party and Socialist Movement for Integration) maintain a politically correct position on LGBTI rights, and support anti-discrimination legislation and policies but the right wing party is ideologically opposed to marriage and adoption while the left wing parties, even though more supportive, consider such changes "too premature for Albania". Inclusion and visibility of LGBTI people in political parties and political discourse is non-existent and all of them showed very poor knowledge and understanding of the needs, issues and demands of the LGBTI community. 

Recommendations: Dialogue, representation, inclusive language and condemning discrimination

The research recommends for political parties and their youth forums to make their views public on LGBTI rights, to open debates beyond the ever-consummated same-sex marriage and to diminish “politically correct” or artificial/populist language in favor of open and productive debates. The recommendations are stronger on the Socialist Party of Albania and the Socialist Movement for Integration Party, which as associate/members of the European and International Socialist Bodies, should make their positions clear and public and to clarify in which ways are they similar and different from them. Parties are encouraged to hold frequent dialogue with LGBTI organizations and communities, to bridge the gap, increase understanding and enhance cooperation. They should be better informed on the current legal and institutional framework for LGBTI rights and they should become active contributors to the work aiming to advance them. 

State institutions, and equality bodies such as the Albanian Ombudsman and Commissioner for Protection from Discrimination should monitor and condemn the endemic phenomenon of hate speech against LGBTI people, which is particularly problematic during Prides and other public events. 

Luis Abolafia from Victory Institute recommends that “keep working to open the gates of democracy and let everyone participate and bring their ideas and opinions inside institutions. While we have seen a revolution on how we consume and create news, politicians are trying to keep the framework from the 19thcentury untouched. We need to work to increase diversity and inclusion in politics, from lGBTI people, to women, national minorities and youth. We either break the current mold constraining democracy or the system will suffocate to death”

LGBTI organizations are recommended to encourage and support LGBTI persons to express their interest to be part of political parties. Political leadership workshops should be organized frequently for LGBTI people to use civic engagement as a tool to advance equality.