Legal adviser, Coalition Margins
Guest blogger for UK in North Macedonia
Part of UK in North Macedonia
7th July 2020 Skopje, North Macedonia
Despite all the obstacles the fight for LGBTI equality continues
Last year, a Pride Parade took place in Skopje for the first time. The Parade was a protest and shall remain so until LGBTI people are able to enjoy all human rights and society is fully liberated. However, last year there were several reasons to celebrate. The Law on Prevention and Protection against Discrimination was adopted after long postponement, guarantying LGBTI people equality in every area of living. In addition, the Law on Criminal Procedure was amended with respect to hate crimes, thus providing LGBTI people explicit protection against violence and other hate crimes for the first time. The success was the result of the efforts invested by LGBTI organizations and their partners from civil society and the international public.
And yet, a year later, the dismissal of the Law on Prevention and Protection against Discrimination has set us back to ten years ago. The Law was already marked as an LGBTI Law, as though sexual orientation and gender identity were the sole discrimination grounds it regulated. This is common for other countries in the region due to the resistance to include LGBTI people in protection against discrimination, and consequently the refusal to recognize that the community’s identity is worthy of protection and equal to the heterosexual majority. The Law is important for all those living on the margins, suffering prejudices and stigma daily, all those you feel sorry for, that disgust you, those without equal opportunities for participation and success. The Law is of utmost significance for LGBTI people, Roma, sex workers, people living with HIV, people with disabilities, smaller ethnic minorities, atheists and members of non-majority religions, people who use drugs, i.e. for all those unable to enjoy privileges and lacking “connections”, common for exercising one’s rights but also unlawfully acquired privileges. The Law was to be the stepping stone towards creating equal and more humane society in which the same rules apply to everyone.
In the meantime, while we are waiting for institutions and political parties to adopt the laws and policies relevant for the promotion and protection of LGBTI people’s rights, the community is facing discrimination, violence and hate speech on a daily basis. A 2019 research of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) revealed that the situation with LGBTI rights in North Macedonia is among the worst in Europe. 60% of the respondents from North Macedonia, the highest percentage, replied of almost never being open about their sexual orientation and gender identity due to shame and fear of being prejudiced against, attacked and offended. North Macedonia has the highest percentage (19) of people who have experienced physical or sexual assault for being LGBTI. Contrary to these data, the Ministry of Interior registered only four hate crimes based on sexual orientation from 2018 to April 2020. Underreporting violence, hate harassment and discrimination is a key problem in Europe, particularly in North Macedonia. According to FRA’s research, North Macedonia is leading (with 54%) in not reporting physical and sexual assaults due to fears of homophobic or transphobic reactions on part of the police.
Research findings are always more troubling with regards to transgender people. Legal gender recognition in personal identification documents and services to medically modify their characteristics to better suit their gender remain crucial problems for the transgender community. The Coalition Margins was successful in representing a case before the European Court of Human Rights, X vs. Macedonia, in which the Court found that the country violated a transgender man’s right to privacy, a man has been unable to change the sex marker and the citizen’s personal identification number in accordance with his gender identity for almost a decade. The Office for Management of Registers of Births, Deaths and Marriages has been refusing to implement the Court’s ruling for a year and six months, which speaks of the transphobic foundations of the institution, the disrespect for the rights and dignity of trans people, the disrespect for the principle of the rule of law and the obligations assumed under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Despite the lack of reasons for celebrating this year, our struggle continues. We have no other option but to continue demanding that the institutions respect our rights and their obligations. In this pre-election period, we implore, once again, the political parties to adopt the Law on Prevention and Protection against Discrimination as the basis for our future fight for equality, justice and freedoms of LGBTI people, as soon as the Assembly is elected.
Note: British Embassy Skopje offers its blog platform for guest posts to members of organisations who are partner implementers of UK’s programme assistance to North Macedonia. The views expressed in the guest posts are those of the authors.