An unnamed 29-year-old gay man from Serbia was recently taken from his home by a far right group that then attempted to “cure” his homosexuality by performing what has been described as a religious ritual.
This was done at the request of the young man’s family who, according to reports, had attempted to conceal the young man’s whereabouts when questioned by police. Needless to say the ritual failed, and fortunately the young man was not physically harmed — he has understandably been left in a state of “constant” fear, though.
GSA, a Serbian gay rights group, has said this must be a wake up call for authorities to use the full scope of the law to tackle such crimes: “GSA urges all relevant state institutions and officials to commit to systemic decreasing of homophobia as soon as possible.”
The need for action becomes even more pressing with the frightening statistic that almost one in ten gay teens in Serbia have contemplated suicide — that’s according to a new study that even Serbia’s gay rights-wary administration surely can’t ignore.
Widespread Discrimination Pushes Gay Kids to the Brink
The study, conducted by Srdanovic Marsh at the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in Novi Sad, found that among a national sample, 9% of young people self-identifying as homosexual report contemplating suicide, while 4% have even gone so far as to make a plan for how they would take their own lives. The research also found that more than 60% of the gay people surveyed had suicidal thoughts during their lifetime.
Globally, studies repeatedly demonstrate that LGBT people are at much higher risk of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts than heterosexuals, with research showing that up to 30% of suicide attempts may be made by someone who is or could be classed as LGBT. This is often due to feelings of stigma, discrimination, bullying and perceived or actual isolation — all of which are risk factors for depression and suicidal tendencies.
Indeed, Marsh’s survey notes that more than 72% of gay youth reported discrimination, while just under a third reported that they felt they were not accepted by their school peers.
Crucially, the study also identifies factors that can prevent suicide risk, key among them being family support and governmental backed support initiatives that can offer advice and, if necessary, medical intervention for at risk youths.
Unfortunately, and as a spokesperson for the only dedicated suicide prevention helpline for LGBT people, LGBT SOS, points out, there is a strong distrust for any government backed initiative due to the way that, of late, Serbia’s administration has been woefully missing in action when it comes to protecting LGBT rights.
A Matter of Pride: Why Won’t the Serbian Government Protect Gay Rights Demonstrators?
The administration has repeatedly moved to ban Pride events, despite the fact that police authorities have said they are adequately prepared to deal with any backlash, a move that has been widely condemned by European officials and campaign groups.
“As in previous years, threats by counter protesters have been used by the Serbian authorities to ban the peaceful Pride March,” Brian Sheehan, member of the Executive Board of ILGA-Europe, is quoted as saying shortly after the September 28 Pride event was prevented from going ahead. ”If Serbian authorities are serious about EU integration, they have to stop giving into threats by hooligans and show in practice that Serbia is committed to ensuring fundamental democratic freedoms.”
That the state has routinely hidden behind public safety concerns so as to ban Pride events might at first appear curious: Serbia has, over recent years, moved to pass inclusive anti-discrimination laws, and while the country explicitly bans same-sex marriage and does not yet recognize same-sex partnerships or adoption, there is scope for partnership recognition in the form of civil or domestic partnerships. On the books, its laws are by no means perfect but it isn’t as hostile as many other nations. Yet social stigma surrounding LGBT identity persists and often with violent consequences.
The second Belgrade Pride event that was held in 2010 produced what was later reported to be 150 injured and a 20,000 strong, violent protest. The government’s reticence to allow Pride events to go ahead might not be surprising, then, but it amounts to victim blaming, putting the burden on gay rights groups by curtailing their freedoms and showing a distinct unwillingness to deal with the violence the LGBT population potentially faces every day.
Clearly action is needed and, bringing us full circle, only strong advocacy from Serbia’s administration and a true will to tackle its complex problem with the far right will prevent LGBT kids within the country from falling prey to suicide, or prevent more young men and women being taken hostage by far right groups seeking to cure them of their sexuality. Unless the government can commit, then, all the laws on Serbia’s books mean absolutely nothing.
Fortunately, Serbia’s president has vowed that next year’s Pride event will be allowed to go ahead. LGBT rights activists remain skeptical though, as the administration had vowed much the same for this year’s event. However, with Serbia having been warned by both the EU and the UN over its failure to meet its human rights commitments on this issue, next year could be one for progress.
As the suicide study all too starkly demonstrates, progress is something that young LGBTs in the country desperately need.
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