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From the streets of New York City to the townships of South Africa, the LGBT rights movement and its opposition are engaged in an unprecedented international battle. GlobalPost presents an ongoing series of reports from key locations at this pivotal time in history, telling highly personal, often overlooked stories from the fight.
Leadership would rather “keep sheep” than adopt progressive policy.
Filaret in presenting the award. “You had the manliness and courage to say, ‘Enough!’”
One month before his severe October beating, a group of young people stoned I.J. on the street, shouting, "Faggot! Faggot!" That time he escaped without injury.
“Harassment is nothing new for me,” he said. “I’m already accustomed to various forms of abuse since my childhood.”
I.J. said his painful memories date back to primary school, when as a 11-year-old boy he was sexually abused by a teenage male from his village. He kept the abuse secret for six years, considering it as a shame to his family. It did not end until the age of 17 when I.J. left his village for Novi Sad, Serbia’s second-largest city and the capital of the province of Vojvodina. Out on his own, he realized definitively that he was gay.
"I would not say that sexual abuse caused my sexual orientation,” I.J. said. “I would rather say it helped me to understand me who I am."
A few days after he was beaten on the street, I.J., lost his job at a textile company .
"I was sent home to relax after all I survived, but then I was informed that there is no need to come to the job anymore," said I.J., seeing his firing as an act of obvious sexual discrimination. He has tried to put himself into a bubble of anonymity.
"I have to hide my full name, the name of company where I am now working, but it is not just because of myself,” he said, a look of fatigue and sadness in his eyes. “I do not want my friends and my family to feel uncomfortable or to be attacked due to me, although all of them know about my sexual orientation. Nothing
will change me. I am gay, I like what I am and I will not have a skeleton in the closet."
A.Z., 24, also wanted to avoid secrecy about her identity, proudly showing that she belongs to Serbia’s LGBT population. It could have cost her life.
She said was attacked 15 days before I.J. was, in the center of Belgrade. A young perpetrator set out to kill her because she wore a shirt with an LGBT logo on it.
The attack happened at 4:15 a.m. as A.Z. headed home with two of her friends. Noticing the shirt, an attacker shouted at her repeatedly, asking whether she was a lesbian. Then he pulled out a knife and attacked, cutting the tendons on two fingers of her right hand. Doctors diagnosed a contusion on her head and multiple bruises throughout her body inflicted by the attacker's punches and kicks. Although the man was arrested soon afterward, the judge released him because he is a minor.
"I am bitter and angry that they released the one who wanted to take my life,” she wrote in a letter read at the protest Dosta je ("It is enough") held in front of the Serbian government headquarters in October.
Mary Warlick, the US Ambassador to Serbia, warned the country is a highly dangerous place for its LGBT population.
"The risk of violence against LGBT persons in Serbia is still high,” she wrote. “In last year's [Gay Straight Alliance] survey, 14 percent of respondents said that violence and beatings are legitimate ways to respond to homosexuality. Many members of the LGBT community who have been victims of crime are afraid to go to
the police, fearing it would draw attention to themselves and only make things worse.”
The Obama administration’s LGBT policy, which treats gay rights as human rights in matters of US diplomacy and foreign assistance, will be implemented by the US Embassy in Belgrade in the coming months, said press attaché Brian Stimmler.
But the policy will not threaten any of the approximately $50 million in aid that Serbia receives annually, much of it already directed toward political and economic reforms.
“The US approach to LGBT rights is affirmative, not punitive,” he said. “The United States is concerned with how to use all of its tools, including assistance, to most effectively advance