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Profile 04 Oct 17

Marching for Pride, Living for Progress

Human rights and LGBT activist Goran Miletic talks about being openly gay in a homophobic society, and how the prime minister attending this year’s Belgrade Pride was a positive signal.

Siri Sollie

Miletic felt able to be open with his parents and the people surrounding him about his sexual orientation, but many other LGBT people in Serbia feel they have to conceal their true identities. Photo: courtesy of Goran Miletic. 

It is difficult to separate human rights lawyer Goran Miletic’s professional life from his personal one.

“When someone asks me what are your hobbies, I say human rights. Human rights are my true passion,” Miletic says.

Miletic has been the Director for Europe at campaign group Civil Rights Defenders in Serbia since last year, and an organising committee member for the Belgrade Pride Parade since 2011.

He is also openly gay, which makes him stand out in a society where homophobia is widespread – and fuelled his urge to fight for “the right to be different”, he says.

This year’s Pride Parade made international headlines because it was attended by Serbia’s first-ever gay prime minister, Ana Brnabic, which Miletic describes as a “step forward”.

“This is the first time that the prime minister of Serbia has participated in Belgrade Pride. Moreover, a good message is that two other ministers were with her, as well as the mayor of Belgrade. This is very good and clear signal to the community and citizens,” he explains.

“Of course, nothing will change overnight but commitments were made and we need to insist that they [politicians] do their part of the work. It is a step forward comparing to previous years, but we would like to see results,” he adds. 

Miletic grew up in a small town in central Serbia, and was an active participant in various organisations as a young man.

But he felt that his hometown was just too small for him, and brought his engagement and passion to the Serbian capital, where he moved to study law at Belgrade University in 1991.

“In 1992, I was a member of the protests against [Serbian leader] Slobodan Milosevic, I was involved in some media activities and so on, I was also [a part of] one of the first LGBT organisations, Arkadija. So that time I was starting with activism and that has been following me for my whole life,” he recalls.

Coming Out

Since 2011, Miletic has been one of the main faces fronting the Pride Parade in Belgrade.

But he says he doesn’t have a “sad story” to tell about coming out, as he had a supportive family.

He felt able to be open with his parents and the people surrounding him about his sexual orientation, but adds that many other LGBT people in Serbia feel they have to conceal their true identity.

“Some of them commit suicide, they are entering into forced marriages just to hide their sexuality, they are trying to be ‘normal’ and ‘straight’ and when they are 45 and have two children they are exploding… I think that is still a problem in Serbia,” he says.

“In Belgrade it is a bit different, less difficult… you have many clubs and cafés and so on.”

Public reaction to LGBT people on the streets of Serbia can also be harsh, he adds, particularly compared to Sweden, where he often travels for work, as Civil Rights Defenders has its head office there.

“No one in a subway in Stockholm, if you are different in any way, they will maybe look at you and just turn around. Here, everyone is commenting, laughing, maybe they will attack you, beat you, whatever, just because you are different,” he explains.

He considers himself to have been lucky however, as he sees himself as a stable and pragmatic person who can deal with difficulties in life.

“My reactions are not that emotional, I don’t have time for depression, I had two cancers in my life, and I had many other medical problems, but I faced with all of them… it is just a part of life. That’s it.”

Being a public figure and an outspoken gay man is not necessarily an advantage in terms of finding a partner in his home country, however.

“I don’t have the perception that I am a public figure in Serbia, but the perceptions of people, from taxi drivers to everyone, they say, ‘Oh, you are from TV,’” he says.

“And then you are gay and you are single and you want to find a partner, and everyone knows that you are on TV, and in such a homophobic environment, I mean, people say, ‘Oh you are from TV, I don’t want to be seen with you.’ It is not a country where I would want to find a partner, definitely.”

Legal Advances

Comparing life for LGBT people in Serbia today with the past, Miletic says that legal advances have eased the situation.

“Until 1994… [if] two adult men had anal sex, they would be prosecuted and put to jail up to one year,” he says.

Despite the decriminalisation of male homosexual intercourse in 1994, the period until 2000, when Slobodan Milosevic was deposed, remained harsh and “extremely conservative”, he says: “There was no protection for LGBT during that period.”

After that, a democratic government took power and a law against discrimination was adopted in 2009.

After that, the Pride Parade started to become a major issue. It was banned in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013, but since then has been held in central Belgrade each year, albeit under protection from a heavy police presence with the city streets cordoned off. 

“But the pace of change is not adequate, it is a very slow change and I think we need more change,” Miletic adds.

He is now engaged in human rights work all over the Balkan region, travelling 250 days a year as well as working on his PhD thesis on discrimination in civil proceedings; he certainly keeps himself busy.

He says that he wants to defend as many people as possible – “journalists that are attacked or maybe people that are victims of torture or victims of war crimes, or Roma people and so on”.

For Miletic, the work is not only important and interesting, it’s the path in life that he has chosen.

“It is my future,” he says.

This article was published in BIRN's bi-weekly newspaper Belgrade Insight. Here is where to find a copy.


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