Hostility toward gays still rife in the Balkans

When he told his parents that he was gay, Djordje was kicked out of his home in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia.

"You will not live like this under my roof," his mother told him, recalled Djordje, a young man with blue eyes, brown hair and a short beard. "Either you change yourself or leave this house."

Djordje, 23, later lost his job at a publishing company after the owner saw holiday photographs of him and his partner that he posted on his Facebook page.

When he said he was beaten by an unknown youngster screaming anti-gay insults last year, Djordje, who would not give his full name, immediately went to the police, but the attacker has yet to be found.

Podgorica to host gay parade on Sunday

Djordje's story highlights attitudes toward gays throughout the Balkans, whose highly conservative societies are largely intolerant of sexual minorities.

Various surveys have shown that up to 70 percent of the Balkans' inhabitants believe that homosexuality is a disease and should be treated.

A Belgrade-based non-government organisation, the Gay Straight Alliance recently reported that a Serbian family had hired people to kidnap a 29-year old man from a house he shared with his partner.

The alleged kidnappers took him to neighbouring Montenegro into "a religious place to get him back on the right track and bring him back home," the group said in a statement.

The man was eventually released by police and left to live with his partner in an another town.

Hostility toward the gay community usually rises ahead of any announced gay pride parade, still an event of the highest security risk throughout the region.

Last month Serbia banned a gay march for the third consecutive year following threats of violence from far-right groups. The one in 2010 ended in violence, leaving more than 150 people injured.

On Sunday, the first gay parade is to be held in the Montenegrin capital Podgorica amid high security.

Police said they would deploy some 2,000 policemen after the first such march in July in the coastal town of Budva was marred by violence, forcing police to evacuate participants by boats.

Gays 'live in fear'

A man who would only give his name as Petar has lived with his partner for more than four years in Podgorica, but in secrecy.

"We live in fear and we have to hide but at least the pride has provoked a public debate on our rights," he told AFP.

In neighbouring Macedonia, just the hint of a possible gay parade this summer has prompted a heated debate and calls for a constitutional change explicitly banning same-sex marriages.

Activists also say that official procedures do not exist for a change of personal identity numbers for those who undergo sex-change operations, leaving them in legal limbo and without basic human rights.

"It is not easy at all to be a gay in Kosovo," said a 27-year Pristina photographer who only identified herself by initials M.G.

She said she lost her job in the fashion industry because she was gay, while her family forced her to leave home.

Kosovo human rights activist Myrvete Bajrami said "two members of the gay community (in Kosovo) have been killed and more than 20 have been physically assaulted since 2005." The perpetrators have never been found.

In Bosnia, the only attempt to hold a gay parade in 2008 ended in violence that left eight people injured after dozens of hooligans and Islamist radicals attacked marchers before the event.

Only in Croatia, which in July became the 28th EU member state, have gay rights gradually been improving.

Although a highly conservative and religious country, mainly Roman Catholic Croatia has made a step forward preparing a law on life-long partnerships that would allow gay couples to register.

In Belgrade, Djordje and his 31-year old partner Isein say they "can only dream about" registering their two-year relationship.

It took Djordje's parents three years to come to term with their son's homosexuality.

"His parents now accept me, we regularly visit them, but if there is somebody else there, I am presented as a friend," Isein said.

"By no means would they admit to their neighbours or friends that their son is gay."

Isein himself had to leave the house he shared with his sister and her boyfriend after telling them he was gay when he was 18.

"They refused to eat at the same table with me... (they) even separated cutlery from ours fearing a 'contagion,'" said Isein, who since then had no contacts with the family.