Archives for posts with tag: LGBT

…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.

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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.”

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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.”

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I’m catching up with news before we enter 2014 and wanted to share some quick work updates from the land of the eagle and ancient Skampis.

Elbasan Youth Council
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This year things have been going really well with the Elbasan Youth Council and highlights include:

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1) Meeting with the Mayor, the head of the Prefecture and the Qarku: EYC youth met with heads of the different government offices.  They had a chance to ask questions about city functions and operations, plans for the future, and the role the youth council could play.  The group loosened up by the time they had their second meeting with the mayor but for anyone working with groups, try to prep them as much as possible and prod them with the kinds of questions they should ask.  Otherwise you’re in a really quiet room.

2) Deciding projects for the year:  This was mostly fun for me and a chance to use a new interactive facilitation tool I learned from USAID.  Through the process the group selected 4 project areas that they will be working on. Those are
– Arts and Culture
– Youth Spaces
– Equity
– Anti-Drugs
All of these are pretty broad, but we’ve started to work on winnowing down to specifics and having the group understand that these are big problems and obviously won’t be solved by them, but they can (with limited time and resources) focus on a small part of the problem and have a real impact.  We learned about SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) in December and we’ll see what the new year brings.

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3) Christmas Spirit:  As I’ve noted before, this year is all about transitioning the project lead to the local staff.  This year, staff took it upon themselves to plan a visit to the local Balashe center, a city run day home for elderly and special needs people, to where we brought food donations, a violin quartet made up of EYC members and friends and sang some Christmas carols.  A few days later – EYC Christmas Party!  (and yay capacity building!)

With Respect

As part of a  USAID, Small Projects grant (SPA), I have partnered with two human rights organizations in Tirane, Pink Embassy and Alliance Against LGBT Discrimination.  Early on in my service, I read a report about high levels of homophobia among youth in Albania, and unlike other minority or disenfranchised groups in the country, the LGBT population is an invisible minority. Despite positive legal changes protecting there is very little education and awareness, not just about LGBT, but about concepts of diversity, individual and group identity, human sexuality, and human rights.  The leaders of the groups have been trying to expand their reach beyond Tirane, and over the last few months that is what we have been doing.

15 sites were self-selected by Peace Corps volunteers who, with their counterparts, expressed an interest in having a presentation made to their groups.  These groups are largely teens or young adults and are part of classroom, after school, extracurricular or community programs supported by volunteers. These sites vary in many ways; they are urban and rural, large and small, north and south, majority Muslim or Christian, religious or not, etc.

Our presentation is ambitious, and because of the diversity of the crowds and the level of knowledge about the issue, we try to ease into the topic focusing on identity, bullying and harassment as forms of acting our prejudice, facing stereotypes we have and then defining LGBT, understanding human sexuality and tying it all back to human rights. Still a lot, I know.

As of December we have presented in Shkoder, Korce, and Gjirokaster, and 4 sites to present to in January.  There have been a few hurdles, and I’ll say more about the project in a part 2.  We start each session with laying some ground rules, and like we tell everyone who comes – “We’re not here to change your mind, or force an opinion on you. We’re only here to give you the information.”  Happy to share the resources I’ve pulled together on this or have the discussion.

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New Year 2014

I’m in Bulgaria! More on that later.