By Lejla Huremović
The announcement of the first Pride March in Bosnia and Herzegovina has brought about great visibility and engagement of many people. All of a sudden, LGBTIQ people are a topic of discussion and it seems that the silent crowd is waking up, the one that doesn’t oppose this event but still usually seems passive. They are waking up, because they cannot stay still while somebody spreads hate speech and incites violence.
While I observe this awakening, I wonder: What is the power of the act of strolling itself?! I am wondering, filled with excitement waiting for September 8, when the first Pride March will take place in Sarajevo.
Behind us are activists who have decided to join the organizational team, with many decades worth of experience in the field of fighting for a better life and the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersex persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina. So many discussions, workshops, trainings have been conducted, dozens (if not hundreds) of meetings with institutions held.
By means of activism, we have managed to influence changes and amendments to many laws dealing with the rights of the community.
LGBTIQ people, in comparison to their status 10 years ago, today have the possibility of becoming part of different kinds of activities in safe spaces throughout Sarajevo, Tuzla, Banja Luka and Prijedor. There are free services for legal, peer and psychotherapeutic support. The space is being created for younger generations who are growing up in a society in which they no longer know a time when not a single organization was active, when not a single activity was held.
We, the older ones, have experienced such a time, and we know how difficult it was to grow up without support from activists and organizations.
LGBTIQ people investing courage and resistance
This year, the Zagreb Pride March celebrated its 18th birthday — 18 years of painstaking struggle for an authentic life, a life worth living. This year, hundreds of teenagers in Croatia are turning 18, those who have grown up alongside the Pride March.
Several dozen activists have managed to bring about drastic changes, improving the daily lives of LGBTIQ people in Croatia. This is exactly what the Pride March has contributed to.
As for the Zagreb Pride March, they say that it is the longest resistance and protest movement in Croatia (which is true). Activists are saying that many struggles have been won, but the LGBTIQ community are still living in fear of violence.
Well, imagine then how the LGBTIQ community’s life in Bosnia and Herzegovina looks, in a state that has yet to organize a Pride March.
By means of this perennial activism, I have had the opportunity to meet hundreds of LGBTIQ people living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, facing all kinds of pressure, blackmail, harassment, peer and domestic and street violence. People living in fear.
I have met LGBTIQ people who are not involved with organizations working in the field of protecting their rights, mainly due to fear of being outed. I’m familiar with this feeling, because I felt it during my teenage years. I know that this fear is justified, and I know that it is awfully tormenting.
However, individuals from the LGBTIQ community, people I’ve met, who I’ve cooperated with and hung out with, are demonstrating exceptional courage in resisting and fighting for their lives on a daily basis in their own environments. I am proud of them.
I am proud because they are not giving up, even when cornered.
This is why I am genuinely convinced that it is due time to go out on the streets and loudly proclaim that we are also part of this country, part of this society, and that we will no longer be silent about the violence we are suffering.
It is time to loudly say: Enough is enough! Enough with the blackmailing, enough with the harassment, enough with the violence.
Two years of preparations
Some two years ago, an initiative started growing among activists to become part of this venture. There are two years of activist contemplation behind us, and a year of intensive planning for the first Pride March. For me, this is important to emphasize.
Activists from the entire country have contributed to this story in a serious and responsible manner. In the last year, we have worked a lot with activists from Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, who have organized the first Marches in their own countries. We are thankful for the experiences they have helped convey, and for all the advice and support we have gotten from them.
We have mostly been occupied by the organizational aspects of such an event, which we are currently working on. We are aware that the organization of the first Pride March cannot change everything, and that this is only the beginning of a new, more difficult struggle toward a society meant for all of us. A society that could be more free and more respectful of diversity.
It is not just a saying when we claim that this activist movement has enormous power and the potential to jolt society and bring about changes, as we have learnt from our neighbors.
What we have been discussing through the Pride March preparations is the fact that by getting so much visibility, the community is becoming more exposed. This has also been the experience of the other LGBTIQ communities and Pride organizers in the region.
However, in order to be able to live more freely and safely, we need to become more visible. In order to change attitudes and behaviors, above all those of the people closest to us (family, friends, colleagues), we must stand up for ourselves.
We must be loud when declaring that there is no other way to live one’s life, except to live the one life we have within our body. That we cannot live other people’s lives, and that not a single human being was born to subsequently suffocate themselves within themselves.
This will not be achieved by organizing a single Pride March, but it might launch an avalanche of people “coming out of the closet,” of leaving the four walls.
I am convinced, as history has shown, that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s LGBTQI community may expect to see more people coming out and living more authentic and happy lives in the years to come.
Questioning the concept of freedom
Never before have I questioned the issue of freedom as much as in these past two months. Often, the talk about freedom remains a part of some abstract notion. However, this period — starting with the official announcement of the Pride March in September — has given a face to this liberty.
I wrote the other day that I have never felt freer than now, and that I have managed to become what I am in all aspects of my life, but that I can’t truly be free while those around me are not.
I can’t be free while I feel the chains worn by my women friends. While I feel the pain from their impossibility to freely walk the streets. It is that famous sentence that I feel in every inch of my body: Nobody’s free until we all are.
This is why I feel that I have even more energy for the fight. This is why I think that it’s necessary for us all to unite, because the Pride March is not only an issue for LGBTIQ people. This is an issue for every person who wants to exist in this society with the ability to be different without fear. Without fear of being assaulted, blackmailed, fired, or not getting a job because they are different or don’t fit into socially proscribed norms.
I wish to live in a society where all women — and everyone else — are welcome: Those who cover themselves, lesbians, Roma — all persons, no matter their identities. I want and I will fight for such a society. However, I cannot do it on my own.
This is why I invite all of you, of us, to unite, because this is the only way in which we can free ourselves from the chains imposed by the nationalist and fascist structures that have been in power for decades.
Author is a member of the BiH Pride March Organizing Committee. This article was originally published by Kosovo 2.0