…Why can’t we give love that one more chance
Why can’t we give love give love give love give love
Give love give love give love give love give love

Because love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the (People on streets) edge of the night
And loves (People on streets) dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves”

– from “Under Pressure” by David Bowie and Freddie Mercury

press release for the With Respect project.

In terms of the legal rights of persons identifying LGBT; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans* (transgender, transsexual, transvestite, etc), Albania has come a very long way in a short amount of time.  Since homosexuality was decriminalized in 1995, the criminal code was amended to include hate crimes against sexual orientation and gender identity, and a bill is being drafted to introduce same-sex marriage.  Despite the sweeping reforms, public opinion is still very negative towards the LGBT community.

In the fall of 2013, Peace Corps volunteer, Luis Vivaldi, working with representatives from Aleanca Kundër Diskriminimit LGBT (Alliance Against LGBT Discrimination), began work to raise awareness about the LGBT community, dispel myths and stereotypes and challenge prejudice. Funded through a USAID Small Projects Assistance grant, the message of the With Respect project traveled to 12 cities throughout Albania: Shkodër, Korçë, Gjirokastër, Kukës, Lezhë, Kuçovë, Çorovodë, Rubik, Vlorë, Fier, Prrenjas and Elbasan.

DSC_0057

250 youth were introduced to concepts of identity, stereotyping, prejudice and bullying, and LGBT bullying.  They shared stereotypes of the LGBT community, and with the facilitation of Aleanca leaders, Xheni Karaj, Sidita Zaja and Elvis Hoxha, participants got to talk openly about the issues and challenges faced by the LGBT community and leave with the message that all people deserve respect.

After the presentation kids who maybe had never met a gay or lesbian person wanted to have their pictures taken with the speakers, and many have signed up for the organization’s facebook page and have personally messaged the speakers.  After the conversation in Çorovodë, one student told her local PCV, “this morning when I woke up I realized that everyone is free to love who they want, and I like this, I did not think that yesterday, and now I do.” A student from Fier said to her volunteer, “I think I am a bully. I want to go apologize.”

20140403_151051

The work of Albanian Peace Corps volunteers has been the work of many people and on May 17, International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, Peace Corps Albania and Peace Corps volunteers were among those awarded “Ally of the Year” for 2013.  Accepting on behalf of Peace Corps, Luis Vivaldi said, “I accept this on behalf of the Peace Corps and the work of volunteers past, current and future. I see this award not only as a mark of the work we have done for the LGBT community with our partners, …but also as a mark of the work to come.  Thank you very much.”

10272633_806879499323404_6405050817417315434_o