• Wednesday, June 13, 2012 U.S. Embassy Tirana
    The Jefferson Institute gathered lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activists from South and East Europe for mid-June’s landmark Stop the Violence: LGBT Rights are Human Rights conference in Tirana, Albania. The two-and-a-half day work-shop conference brought together leading LGBT advocates from across southeastern Europe to share their experiences and best practices at promoting LGBT rights in their home countries. 
    Southeastern Europe has seen numerous gay pride and LGBT rights parades over the past several years, however, they have often been restricted due to security concerns, canceled, or delayed, and almost always subjected to intolerance and threats of violence. These challenges have indicated that the region still suffers from a strong homophobic sentiment and that LGBT people are rarely afforded the same rights as their compatriots. Many LGBT people are at best marginalized and at worst severely threatened under persistent discrimination and abuse. They face discrimination not only from right wing extremist groups – such as Obraz in Serbia and Neo-Nazi factions in Croatia – but also from politicians and policymakers who rarely hesitate to publicly denounce the LGBT population and fail to uphold their constitutional rights.
    Youth activists are attempting to change the status quo and, building on positive movements in the United States and other developed nations, break the taboo of speaking on LGBT issues by publicizing a cause that has long been silenced and denounced. The conference in Tirana was the first U.S. government-supported LGBT event on foreign soil. It aimed to solidify U.S. government statements that  “LGBT rights are an integral part of the larger human rights agenda.” President Barack Obama and Vice President, Joe Biden have both recent spoken on the topic. And Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, recently proclaimed “gay rights are human rights.” 
    At the conference, regional LGBT activists discussed methods of dealing with law enforcement, communicating through social media, and advocating for equal rights of all LGBT people in the region.  Sanja Juras, a project coordinator for Lesbian Group Kontra and the Iskorak organization in Croatia, shared her advocacy efforts at creating numerous bills and amendments to laws and legal documents in regards to LGBT and women’s rights. Those bills and amendments were eventually adopted by the Croatian Parliament. She explained that small steps may often go unnoticed or seem futile, but that in the long run, they can add up to make a difference. The meeting was a first, but very valuable, step at building a regional LGBT constituency of activists, helping them collaborate as they continue to tackle common problems and elevate their dialogue to a more visible, if often threatening, public space.