Love: Act of Resistance, Act of Life
LGBT*IQA Association Okvir, Bosnia and Herzegovina
People of Bosnia and Herzegovina are heavily post-traumatized by the war, queer persons included – internal dynamics still interwoven with imprints of memories of loss. Violence has become relativized, the boundary between life and death blurred in what is now a survival as a mode of life: economic, psychological, physical, social. For generations of 1980’s and 1990’s no memories are recorded and no practice is visible enough of what should resemble stability and security: a stable and firm base that enables one to grow, reach one’s potentials, connect to oneself and reach out to others, receive compassion and give compassion – is poorly visible or practically non-existent. Space of affirmative and collective action is tight, as the skeletons of unresolved mass slaughter, genocide, war crimes and war criminal are in closets safeguarded with hands of ethnonational leaders – war profiteers perpetrating the state of crisis, the state of divisions as a source of power, a source of profit. The land, the people, our genders, our sexualities, our bodies, our/his/her stories, our factories, our childhood playgrounds, our holding hands and our kisses on the street, our memories, our desires – our lives are being exploited, commodified, regulated, silenced, medicated and modified – with borders imposed in between, disconnected from ourselves and each other – as we are politically dangerous once we speak against injustice, united.
The lover and the beloved, the oppressed and a rebel, a writer and a survivor – live, name and tell of the realities, of the wounds, of memories, of desires, of finding meaning and sense in environments of systematic destruction and collective disconnection in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In living, naming and telling: we transform our experiences, we move together. In moving: we create bonds of love, bonds of solidarity, bonds of the different, bonds of negotiation – becoming a threat bridging the cleft, becoming power in our bridges. That is what justice means on an everyday level: connecting with oneself and connecting with others based on our conscious choices to reflect, to name, to transform, to heal, to create and act, and in such way – love indeed is the strongest political, collective and personal power, in this day in BiH – becoming an act of resistance, an act of life.
As Okvir we stand for protection and promotion of LGBT*IQA human rights, identities and culture in Bosnia and Herzegovina. During past five years we have been building bonds within and beyond our queer community based on justice, solidarity, responsibility, compassion, non-violence and mutual inspiration. Our guiding principle is that each person has the right to a dignified life free of violence and each person has the right to self-determination free of any discrimination.
LGBT*IQA persons are faced with discrimination and violence on social, economic, psychological and institutional levels in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is due to the constant presence of institutionalized and domestic violence, lack of awareness and education on LGBT*IQA issues, as well as hate crimes and hate speech in both public and private spaces. The authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina passed Anti-Discrimination Law in 2009, including gender identity and sexual orientation based discrimination (with both terms undefined) yet there is lack of political will, public awareness and institutional strategy to implement the law on all levels in Bosnia and Herzegovina. As a consequence, there is a general lack of trust of LGBT*IQA persons towards the state mechanisms of protection, with most individual cases of HR violation unreported. Additionally, there is a lack of safe public space for affirmative promotion of LGBT*IQA human rights, identities, culture and art in Bosnia and Herzegovina where everyday violence is a practice of regulation and restriction of freedom.
In 2013 we organised a ‘Coming Out Day’ press conference, publicly presenting our creative work: digital stories and two short documentaries of LGBT*IQA activists, mobilizers and HRDs. The press conference was interrupted by a group of 5 men making open threats in case we ever again organize such an event, exclaiming: Sarajevo is not a city of tolerance! The case was reported to the police authorities, yet no further developments followed. In 2014, seven of us were physically assaulted and verbally attacked by a group of 10-15 men near the Presidency building in Sarajevo. The men besieged us, shouting: ‘’Death to faggots! Half faggots – half foreigners! Slay the faggots!’’ and attacked us physically. The police intervention unit refused to treat it as hate crime based on gender and sexual orientation as hate crime amendments haven’t been accepted, nor recognized on the level of Federation of BiH. CCTV recording of the attack is up to date made unavailable, regardless of our inquiries and external pressure.
Having testified to violence that was happening against our community members, ourselves targeted as well, we started participating in various trainings on post-trauma and rehabilitation and finally, we initiated series of trainings for women counselors, psychologists working with women and lesbian, bisexual, trans* and queer activists on principles and practice of feminist counseling in 2014. It was two years ago that we established LGBT*IQA peer counseling as a form of community-based psychological support for each other in BiH, led by the need of our community members and learning from our own experience.
Throughout these years of doing peer counseling (now fully structured with supervision and therapy referrals included), we have intervened in various situations: sexual, physical, economic, emotional and on-line abuse based on gender and sexuality; violence in LGBT*IQA intimate relationships; difficulties due to coming out or staying in the closet; physical, verbal and emotional violence in public spaces; discrimination and exclusion in peer environments; difficulties of persons living with HIV. Sometimes this means staying on-line at midnight and talking to the person who has suicidal thoughts and tendencies, at other times it means months of regular peer counseling as to empower the person, sometimes it means offering temporary accommodation if the person relocates from the place where they have been a victim of violence, and at times of public visibility – it means mobilizing and gathering in a safe space a group of persons who have survived physical violence in public space as to collectively discuss, exchange and decide on our security strategies.
In solidarity beyond borders,
& for a safe and visible IDAHOT* 2016,