Monday, September 22, 2008

Rutgers student speaks out on behalf of Bosnian LGBT activists

A Bosnian LGBT organization vows a planned festival will take place this week in spite of objections from a number of local political and religious leaders.

The Queer Sarajevo Festival is scheduled to begin in the Bosnian capital on Sept. 24. Members of the Sarajevo-based Association Q have organized the festival as a way to highlight LGBT culture and to raise awareness of homophobia its members contends remains entrenched throughout Bosnian society, but local newspapers quoted at least two imams and other Muslim politicians who oppose the festival because it takes place during Ramadan. A number of Serbian and Croat officials in the country echoed their opposition.

Flyers calling for the execution of festival organizers have also appeared across Sarajevo in recent weeks. An Association Q member told Amnesty International local activists remain afraid.

“We do not feel safe for ourselves or for our families,” the activist said. “Our dogs are our best protection at the moment.”

Association Q member Senka Filipovic, who is a graduate student at Rutgers University in New Jersey, spent three months volunteering for the organization in Sarajevo this summer. She denied accusations from those who contend local activists purposely scheduled the festival during the Muslim holy month.

“This wasn’t an intentional overlap of Ramadan and the festival to create some sort of provocation that Association Q has been accused of,” Filipovic said. “Ramadan is being used as a smokescreen behind it. There’s this huge amount of homophobia in general and this is just an excuse to express it in an outrageous way.”

Filipovic said she and other Association Q members received threats after someone hacked into the organization’s president’s e-mail account. She added she feels long-standing societal norms have only contributed to the controversy.

“Bosnia has always been a fairly traditional and patriarchal society, and that has definitely persisted into current times,” she said.

The country continues to recover from the civil war that killed more than an estimated 100,000 people between 1992 and 1995. Bosnia’s constitution prohibits gender and sexual orientation-based discrimination, and the country has emerged as a potential European Union candidate. Filipovic contends, however, the war’s legacy continues to have an adverse impact.

“The war had a lot to do with the fact we haven’t been able to advance too much as far as issues, such as LGBT issues, go,” she said. “The country experienced setbacks in almost every aspect of society. And it’s not surprising we’re lagging this aspect as well.”

Despite this controversy, Filipovic remains optimistic the festival will go on as scheduled. And she applauded organizers for working “under incredible stress.”

“They are so determined and brave in so many ways and have absolutely not allowed [the] negative response and the threat of violence to deter them from going ahead with the festival because it’s so important for our society—especially in this time,” she said.

No comments: