Belgrade LGBT Pride: Then They Came for Me

As a writer, one needs to find an almost perfect balance of objectivity while staying true to one’s experiences and opinions. Whether amateur, blogger or professional author, every writer knows this is never easy. For days I have kept quiet about the upcoming Belgrade Gay Pride Parade. I decided to make this blog about the history, culture and everyday life in Belgrade. I’ve known for weeks that the Parade was something that merited a post of its own as it has much to do with culture. It has been one of the main topics in local and international media lately. So why didn’t I? I’ve been avoiding the subject because, to me, this is a very personal issue. I am an active bisexual and have known of my sexual preference since I was 14.

EuroPride London, 2006

EuroPride London, 2006

This isn’t exactly my coming out of the closet. Most of my friends and family know this. I’m sure my colleagues at work suspected but I never made it clear and I believe most will be surprised if they read this. I’ve always left room for those who may want to pretend they don’t know. I don’t flaunt it and I don’t hide it. It is what it is. Let me make myself clear, I don’t really like any kind of parading or flaunting. I’m pretty conservative when it comes to public displays of affection, whether homosexual or heterosexual. And I deplore the chaos any kind of parading creates in downtown Belgrade. I’m also not a feminist and I don’t see the point of the institution of marriage at all in the 21st century, much less of a same sex marriage. Commitment is not about a signature on a piece of paper and equality is attained through work, time and sweat, not parading and asking for this and that.

However, the Belgrade LGBT Pride Parade scheduled to take place on Sunday, September 20th, brings up some local and international issues that need to be brought out in the open. This too is never easy. There have been several threats made by different conservative organizations (all speaking in the name of the “Serbian people and society”), individuals, warning by the Serbian Orthodox Church and a “guarantee” for the safety of those participating in the Parade from Serbian authorities. Several Serbian actors, musicians, artists and other prominent figures have shown public support for the Belgrade Pride Parade and the LGBT community in general lately. I salute them. In modern day Serbia, some are literally risking their careers by doing so.

I am a Serb, both by heritage and nationality. I am a law-abiding citizen of my country. I am a woman. I am a bisexual. First and foremost, I am a single mother and, although I don’t flaunt my sexuality, there is a certain fear that comes with living my life the way I do. I know that it’s a little different for bisexual women, but we are no more truly accepted in society in the Balkans than gay or bisexual men. Anywhere. Much less so in Serbia.

Just recently, my mother, who has been referring to my sexual preference as my “experimental stage” for the past 12 years, flat out told me that she is afraid my son “will be a faggot” because of my “deviant lifestyle”. Yes, she said faggot. Yes, she called me deviant. Yes, my own mother. She followed that will a consoling, “Don’t worry, sweetheart. You know we’d love you even if you were a murderer or a thief.” Wow. So that’s where I stand in society? With the murderers, thieves, and other scum of the earth? Good to know.

Let’s set aside the fact that this is my mother. This comes from a woman who grew up in Belgrade in the late 50’s and was involved in student protests here in the early 60’s. This comes from a feminist homemaker who insisted that her husband put her name on every account he ever opened or piece of property he ever bought since the day they were married in 1966. This comes from the woman who first showed her naked breasts on Yugoslavian film in 1961 (DR. by Soja Jovanović, first banned and released in 1963). This comes from an educated woman who has seen half the globe, speaks four languages and has lived in several countries. This comes from the daughter of a woman who had two university degrees before women had the right to vote and spent her life as a working mother of three. That’s what pisses me off. Not the fact that she’s my mother.

My father (78), on the other hand, doesn’t talk about it much. In fact, he’s not much of a talker at all. His family is his life. He doesn’t say it but he has spent a lifetime showing it. All he’s ever said on the subject of my sexuality is that he worries about my safety. But the occasional wink sent my way or comment about a good looking woman passing by that I get from him means the world to me. My father is living proof that commitment, love, and acceptance don’t come from words but from actions and with time.

The opposite pretty much describes Serbian society’s general view on LGBT rights at this point in time. It’s all on paper, but you don’t exactly feel the love around here. Male homosexuality was illegal in Serbia from 1977 until 1994, with Vojvodina revoking that ban as an autonomic region from 1978 until 1990. Female homosexuality was never legally addressed at all until 2006. I’m guessing the good ol’ boys didn’t mind seeing some girl-on-girl action every now and then.

Which brings me to a few more examples from my personal experiences as a bisexual woman in Serbia. Most men in this country, like most anywhere, are initially pretty open to it. Unless they’re in a serious relationship with you. Plural and possessive are two quite different things that people often confuse.  If it’s just a passing fling then we’re fine, but if I’m “their” life partner, woman, wife, mother of their kids – they expect a prim and proper example of a Serbian woman. My ex husband, while we were still dating, became extremely angry when he realized one evening that my sexual interest in women wasn’t a “phase”. We worked it out and our relationship went on. I later found out that he “accepted” to work it out beacuse he thought, once we were married, I would forget about my need to be with women. Last year, I ended up romantically involved with a longtime friend. Months into this new relationship, he told me he understood my need to be with women. He said he knew it was because I never got what I really needed from the men in my life. He saw it as a form of rebellion on my part. Oh, and of course he knew just what I needed and would “convert” me in no time. I ended the relationship as peacefully as possible some days later and haven’t spoken to him since. I told him to give me a call once he grows a pair of balls. He hasn’t. Called, I mean.

My mother, ex-husband, and above mentioned ex-boyfriend were all born in Belgrade. They have all attended university. They have all traveled and speak more than one language. They are prime examples of the urban, middle class population of Serbia. And they all believe homosexuality is an illness.

I’m sick of being seen as either fascinating or diseased because of my personal preferences and what I do on my own time. Live and let live.

As @Blogowski wrote in his recent blog post on the subject, even the controversial and conservative Martin Niemöller wrote:

“First they came for the communists,
and I did not speak out– because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists,
and I did not speak out– because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I did not speak out– because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews,
and I did not speak out– because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me– and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Note: Comments that are verbally abusive, threatening or promote violence of any kind will simply not be approved for publishing. Don’t bother.


19 responses to “Belgrade LGBT Pride: Then They Came for Me

  1. LjUbAzNiKoMsIjA

    This is a nice post. I`m from Serbia also. I`m straight, and I don`t have anything against Gay people, but I`m strongly against any parade and public revealing of intimate sides. Straight people don`t go around and parade for being straight …
    One thing also, Serbia was under Otoman (very primitive at that time) empire, and this is hard time for our people to change, because they have complex of identity. Nowadays they are trying to reverse time, and be something they haven`t been.
    And more, if you want to be accepted (I`m not telling this from my view, but from people around me), you have to just be you, and do whatever you think is normal. And you are going to be accepted. But parading is some kind of putting on nose someone else what you are, and what you believe, and “by force” trying to make him accept the facts. That`s my opinion, and I hope that some day, every single person will be accepted, and can live normal life. But pleeeease … no parades.

  2. I have to agree with you on the parade thing. Downtown Belgrade has enough of a traffic problem as it is, whether it be on workdays or weeknds and we’re all a bit sick of it. I think there are perfectly good ways of organizing parades in areas where there is less or no traffic.
    On the “be yourself” note: I was lucky enough to realize and accept myself (including my sexuality) early on thanks mostly to my environment. However, the being myself thing doean’t really work when others around me have to pay a price for it. What would my son have to deal with if I came to pick him up in school with my girlfriend? What will my parents have to deal with when I come to spend the weekend in their summer house in small town Serbia with my girlfriend? I’m not big on public displays of affection but it won’t take anyone long to see how I’m looking at this woman that’s with me or how I touch her, maybe hold her hand or move a strand of hair off her face. “They” will know and I wouldn’t really give a damn but for the fact that my loved ones will have to take the heat for it.
    Thanks for your comment. I would really like to hear everyone’s views on this in such civilized fashion.

  3. Parade is on Sept. 20th not 19th 😛
    Otherwise great article even though I’m sick of absolutely everyone talking about this for the past few weeks as if its the most important thing in the world.

  4. A brave and brilliant post. I will not be in Belgrade this weekend, but if I were, I would be there to show my support for Belgrade’s LGBT community and for human rights in general.

  5. I stand corrected 🙂 Thank you! Serves me right for writing this at 3 AM…
    Good to know I wasn’t just being paranoid in thinking everyone around me is talking about it. Let’s hope some good comes of all the talk.

  6. Pisaću na srpskom, jer moje poznavanje engleskog nije dovoljno dobro za priču o ovako osetljivoj temi.

    Krenimo od početka, zašto se organizuje povorka? Iz istog razloga zbog čega svi ljudi protestuju. Protestuju jer smatraju da su im ugrožena ljudska prava. Sa druge strane, postoje manjinske grupe koje odriču ta prava, i čak smatraju da je njihovo pravo na silu (koje u našem zakonu imaju samo Vojska i Policija u tačno definisanim slučajevima) veće od prava protestujuće grupe. Postojanje grupa koja smatraju da imaju pravo na silu je loše po državu jer predstavljaju pretnju po ostale građane. Svaki put kad bi im se progledalo kroz prste, nasilne grupe bi sami sebi davali za pravo da nastave sa nasiljem.

    Možemo govoriti o radnicima i kapitalistima, gradjanima i korumpiranim zvaničnicima, ali i seksualnim manjinama i tzv “patriotskim” organizacijama.

    Za mene je bitna Povorka jer mi je to dokaz da je država spremna za borbu protiv nasilnih grupa. Da je spremna da zaštiti mene. Lično ne odobravam masivno promovisanje, i smatram da je pametnije ljubav iskazivati u spavaćoj sobi, ali Parada (ili Povorka) Ponosa ima jednako pravo da se održi kao i litija. GLBT imaju jednako pravo postojanja kao i gladni radnici Zastave -elektro. Sloboda izražavanja ljubavi je jednako važna kao i sloboda izražavanja, sloboda glasanja i čini jedno od fundamentalnih ljudskih prava.

    Ono što meni predstavlja problem je izveštavanje medija. Ima utisak da organizacije i mediji naklonjeni LGBT zajednici prizivaju incidente, da bi se pokazalo kako je ostatak Srbije stoka i nespreman za “Evropu”, ma šta “Evropa” značila. Ali, to je deo neke naše dnevne politike.

    Gavni argument “Običnih Srba”, koji nisu ekstremisti, da ljudi trebaju da drže privatnost u svojim sobama. U tome i jeste problem. Postoje grupe koje ne dozvoljavaju ljudima da drže privatnost u svojim sobama. Ne poštuju njihov izbor, ugrožavaju im život. To nema veze sa patriotizmom, to nema veze sa pravoslavljem. To je obrazac kojim su fašisti i nacisti došli na vlast.

    Nasilje nema veze sa pravoslavljem. Upravo je hrišćanstvo postavilo načela mirne borbe. Mirne odbrane svojih verovanja i ubeđenja. Dovoljno je pročitati Novi Zavet. Nasilje nema veze ni sa patriotizmom. Nasilje stvara podele i mržnju unutar države, uvodi nestabilnost. Takođe, patriotom ne može da se nazove neko ko do 30te godine nije se zaposlio, nije oženio, nije izrodio decu, i izbegao vojsku.

    Nama nije potrebna Parada da bi se promovisao homoseksualizam, niti mislim da je to cilj organizatora. Nama je Parada potrebna da pokazali šta mislimo o sebi, koliko smo jaki i koliko smo dalekovidi. I koliko nam je stalo do one slobode zbog koje se ponosno busamo u grudi.

    Niki, da li si ti bi, gej, hetero, mene ne bi trebalo da se tiče. Ono što treba da me se tiče, da li si ti, kao pojedinac srećna. Samo srećan pojedinac može da doprinese društvu, u kući, na poslu. U jebenom saobraćaju.

    Uf, zapetljao sam se u društvenu teoriju i ne mogu da se izvučem, a verovatno je moglo da stane sve u jednu rečenicu.

  7. Bravo, na svemu što je u komentaru rečeno.
    “Za mene je bitna Povorka jer mi je to dokaz da je država spremna za borbu protiv nasilnih grupa. Da je spremna da zaštiti mene.” Baš to je bila poenta ovog teksta, bez obzira na moju ili tuđu seksualnu orijentaciju. Iskreno, danima sam razmišljala kako da napišem tekst o povorci a da ne pomenem svoju seksualnost. Nije išlo. Ne bi bilo fer ni prema meni, ni prema drugima, jer takva izbegavanja su upravo srž problema u našem društvu, pa i u svetu.
    Hvala puno na detaljnom komentaru! Ne, nije moglo sve da stane u jednu rečenicu. 😉

  8. Jonathan, thank you for the compliment and your support. This is something I’ve thought long and hard about and found I had to be no less than candid about.

  9. Nice post, Niki, and very brave of you. Bravo.

    I support the LGBT march on Sunday and I find these violent threats really disturbing.

    Those who take part in the march are very, very brave and my hat’s off to them.

  10. Yes, brave and brilliant. Thanks for the post, Niki! (just the little detail that you say you are an anti-feminist disturbs me a little bit but anyway 🙂 …)

    I was happy to find your post as I don’t understand Serbian and it’s hard to find blog posts in English dealing with this topic.

    I am leaving Berlin tomorrow in the morning to come to Belgrade with a couple of friends to support the Belgrade Pride Parade and take part in the march!

  11. A very thought provoking post.

    If these public displays help even one young man or woman find hope or feel that they are not alone in a society that otherwise casts them as sick and perverted then it is worth it.

  12. Good post.
    One thing about the parading thing. We may argue now whether it’s a good move or not but that would be besides the point. What’s done is done and now you can either support it or not.

    About the public display of affection – people tend to forget that this doesn’t have to be a kiss or a hug, or holding hands in public. It also includes some things that straight people don’t even think about as PDA – in a situation when you present your partner to some friend you met on the street, a straight person won’t have a problem of saying “this is my girlfriend/boyfrined”. And what about a gay person? Imagine how it must feel for them to have to hide that fact and introduce them as a “friend” – if that doesn’t count as traumatic, I don’t know what does.

  13. Thank you, Adam. Like I mentioned before, I had a very encouraging environment while I was growing up. I feel for those that don’t have that. Ironically, my mother was a huge part of that free environment. I guess it turned out to be a “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” thing. 🙂

  14. Thank you, Petra!
    Let me elaborate on the anti-feminist point. I believe that men and women are different and always will be. No one is better or worse, but we are not equal. I am an anti-feminist exactly because I don’t want equality. I don’t want men to have the rights that I have as a woman, like bearing children, which modern medicine and technology will make possible eventually. If we ask for full “equality”, we will have to give it. I don’t want to give what’s mine and I’ll leave men theirs. That’s the choice I have without any laws or the feminist movement and I have made it.
    Please, stay safe and enjoy Belgrade while you’re here!

  15. Again, I very much dislike parading of any sort but I have to agree and this is why the Belgrade Pride Parade and any other representing basic human rights gets a thumbs up from me!

    The history buff that I am, I have asked people time and again to name one period in history or place where homosexuality didn’t exist. No one ever can. So how can something that has been going on forever and everywhere not be “normal”?

    Thanks for your support and comment. Every voice counts.

  16. Exactly 🙂 I have had full support from so many friends and a part of my family for so long and I still do the “don’t ask, don’t tell” thing. I’m not afraid for myself, but if I decided to live with a same sex partner for instance, chances are high that I would lose custody of my son. I shouldn’t have to think about that much less fear it.

  17. Slobodno prevedi delove koje mislis da su interesantni

  18. Hey Sis! Very powerful and self revealing post. Good for you. I support you and love you unconditionally! I am all for the parade…then again, I’ve lived close to NYC for over 25 years, have seen quite a few Gay Pride Parades and have many gay friends…Serbia needs to come join the Western world when it comes to equality, but then again there is so much ignorance and lies. Lies that breed ignorance, hatred and fear. The gay Pride parade is one way to combat that and show the world that the GLBT community is just like the rest of us.

  19. Thanks, bro 🙂 I’m going to have to be fair here, since I mentioned Mom and Dad… I think that the way we were raised has more to do with the fact that all 3 of our parents’ kids aren’t homophobes. Not so much NYC. But… like I mentioned in a previous comment, it turned into a “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” deal for Mom when it turned out one of her own kids put her open attitude to work. Heh. Except I’m sure she would’ve prefered I brought home Sidney Poitier instead, age difference and all! Thanks again for your support. Love you.