Six years ago I was invited to Tirana, Albania’s capital, to meet with human rights activists who told me stories of rampant homophobia and a dire lack of legal protections for LGBT people.
Yesterday, Albania took an important step forward combatting both.
With an overwhelming majority, parliament approved a resolution “On Protection of Rights and Freedoms of persons belonging to the LGBT community in Albania.” The resolution recommends legal reform based on the 2013 Action Plan launched by the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities; pushes the Ministry of Education and Sports to train teachers on LGBT rights, and encourages the Ombudsman to monitor LGBT rights violations.
While Albania’s record on LGBT rights has been mixed, the government’s involvement in promoting respectful public dialogue has made a difference.
In 2010, for example, parliament passed an anti-discrimination law that protects Albanians from all forms of discrimination, including on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
However in 2012 Deputy Prime Minister Ekrem Spahiu, when asked about LGBT activists’ plans to hold a parade, said “What remains to be done is to beat them up with a stick.”
That same year, the first ever European Social Survey conducted in Albania found that it had the highest rate of respondents in any European country who said “gays and lesbians should not be free to live life as they wish.”
But in 2013, an amendment passed adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of classes protected by the country’s hate crime law. And thanks to Council of Europe training, Albanian journalists are learning how to cover LGBT issues more respectfully. Last year’s International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia celebration (IDAHOT) featured a bicycle rally, and a documentary billed as “LGBT community members appearing for the first time with their faces and names.”
This week, in advance of IDAHOT 2015, the parliament’s resolution has set out an important policy roadmap for the government to follow.