Monday, April 22, 2013

LGBT Activists In Albania Meet With Prime Minister

Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, Centre with
LGBT Rights Activists Xheni Karaj, (L) and Kristi Pinderi, (R)

By Brody Levesque | TIRANA, ALBANIA -- Albanian Prime Minister, Dr. Sali Berisha, in a historic first for this tiny Balkan nation, met Monday with two LGBT activists to express his full support for LGBT Equality Rights and Same-Sex marriage. Berisha, who is seeking a third term as Prime Minister, told Xheni Karaj from the Aleanca Kunder Diskriminimit LGBT (Alliance Against LGBT Discrimination) and Kristi Pinderi, Executive Director of United for the rights of LGBT in Albania, that he appreciated the hard work they and their organisations had performed to advance LGBT rights in the country.
Berisha himself had announced in July 2009 that he would support the recognition of same-gender civil marriages.
“I have carefully followed all your actions and I think that you have, so far, responded in a very good way whenever that has been necessary,” the prime minister said, adding that “it is important to believe in the cause you represent. 
[…] To tell you the truth, [in the beginning] I have felt sorry when the debate about LGBT issues was going on and no one from the community was able to go publicly and defend the cause. So, I really appreciate that you both have appeared on television and have brought the LGBT issues to public attention,” Berisha said. 
Albania decriminalized homosexuality in 1995 and LGBT persons in Albania are protected under a comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation passed in February of 2010 by the Albanian Parliament. The law banned discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in all areas, including employment, the provision of goods and services, education, health care, and housing. Albania is one of few European countries to explicitly ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The law also exceeds EU minimum standards, which require that employers refrain from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Even with those protections codified in law, Albania is still being called the most homophobic European country with 53% of participants in a March 2013 European Social Survey of 1200 Albanians saying that they are opposed to homosexuality.
Some prominent Albanian officials have previously expressed their opposition to LGBT rights such as when in 2010, the Albanian Deputy Commissioner for Labour, Social Affairs and Health, Tritan Shehu, declared that "homosexuality should be treated by medical staff as hormonal disorder, as well as psychological."  More recently, Vice-Minister of Defense Ekrem Spahiu said in December of 2012, “What remains to be done is to beat them up with a stick. If you don't understand this, I can explain it: to beat them with a rubber stick.”
Berisha criticised Spahiu in today's meeting with Karaj and Pinderi saying;
This kind of declaration is unacceptable not only for a vice minister but for everyone.” He also added, "that every politician in this country should have a public stance on LGBT issues and should face them without fear or complexes."
The two activists also asked the Prime Minister about the recently proposed amendments of the penal code, amendments that are still in the process of approval in parliament. The amendments would include the criminalization of intentional harassment of LGBT people through digital medium such as social media. Berisha stated that he is carefully following the procedures and discussions for these amendments adding that he is fully supporting them. 
He suggested not to have a confrontational attitude whenever homophobic statements are made. The activists replied by stating that it's time for the LGBT movement to raise its activism to a more political level. “We want now to communicate with the main political actors in the country in order to solve our problems,” Karaj and Pinderi confirmed.
The Prime Minister guaranteed Karaj and Pinderi that his government will fully support the rights of assembly of the LGBT community, citing the Tirana Pride 2013 that was announced by the LGBT organizations to be held during this coming September.