17 May is IDAHOBIT, International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. While there are many special days to mark throughout the year, this is an important one to me personally.
Last September, my wife Martina and I took part in the first PRIDE march in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This was a happy day for us, and the many others that joined the peaceful walk through the centre of Sarajevo. It belonged to all of those citizens of this country who organised and participated in it, despite a small but sometimes hostile group of opponents during preparations.
Why was this PRIDE, in the last country in the region to hold one, important? Because it was a message of support to all LGBTI brothers and sisters, that they did not need to hide their identity, that they were valued and welcome members of society. And this matters because so many of them live with daily experiences of prejudice and discrimination. That is why each and every PRIDE matters, and why Martina and I felt lucky to be here.
That message takes on extra meaning in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is significantly affecting all of us. Because their homes and families are not always safe places of acceptance and support, the lockdown has often been especially tough for LGBTI members. LGBTI people are more likely to face discrimination in the workplace, and social isolation in their homes, made worse in a time when many are losing their jobs.
The theme of this year’s IDAHOBIT is ‘breaking the silence’, and I hope many more will speak up in solidarity and compassion, at this difficult time. All governments need to pay particular attention to more vulnerable groups, including LGBTI, victims of domestic violence, and others, to make sure no one is left behind.
The rights of LGBTI people in BiH have been moving forwards, in some parts of the country more than others, but there is still more to do. This year I hope we will see a comprehensive LGBTI action plan, and a breakthrough in recognition of same-sex partnerships. It is not special treatment, but the same treatment as everyone else.
Human rights are universal, and denial of them to even one person should matter to us all. The safest and strongest societies are ones where all citizens can live without fear of violence or discrimination. An open and welcoming BiH can attract people from around the world, to visit and do business. I am proud to join my voice in breaking the silence, speaking up for all members of our community, and I hope that you will too.