FACT SHEET: Strengthening LGBTI Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina

USAID stands at the forefront of the fight for full and equal rights for LGBTI people in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
USAID stands at the forefront of the fight for full and equal rights for LGBTI people at the first Pride Parade in Bosnia and Herzegovina.iH
USAID/BiH

Some say that, next to all the other social and economic challenges in Bosnia and Herzegovina, LGBTI rights are not a priority. USAID says human rights are always a priority. USAID stands at the forefront of the fight for full and equal rights for LGBTI people in BiH to ensure that the country’s LGBTI citizens and advocates do not stand alone. 

In September 2019, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) held its inaugural Pride Parade, to demand equal rights for persons who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI).  Sarajevo was the last city in the region to hold an LGBTI pride event, but this was the first pride march to be held in a Balkan country with no violence. This was not due to lack of opposition. In BiH, the LGBTI community continues to be a marginalized and nearly invisible group, and prejudice exists in both private and public spheres. Job loss, eviction, and social ostracism are just some of the risks that LGBTI persons encounter when their sexual orientation is revealed. Homophobic incidents include hostile remarks about LGBTI people by public figures, hate speech on social media, and acts violence. Fear prevents LGBTI citizens from reporting discrimination and hate crimes to the police. Incidents of violence are rarely reported in the local media. Many say that compared with the other social and economic challenges in BiH, gay rights are not a priority. USAID says human rights are always a priority. 

USAID ASSISTANCE

USAID stands at the forefront of the fight for full and equal rights for LGBTI citizens in BiH. “We at USAID are listening, and it is our goal to help you make sure others listen, too,” a USAID representative told activists in Sarajevo. Progress on LGBTI rights in BiH is often a matter of two steps forward and one step back, but USAID support ensures that LGBTI citizens and advocates do not walk alone.

PROGRAMMING AND RESULTS

USAID programming to support LGBTI human rights is described below.

 
  • In 2013, USAID/BiH illuminated the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo in rainbow colors for the first time on May 17, International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, as a bold all-night beacon for LGBTI rights.
  • In May 2015, USAID ‘colored the Internet’ by having the main local news portals display our ‘Love=Love’ rainbow banner on their home pages for a week and organized a very visible reception at which former U.S. Ambassador to BiH Maureen Cormack spoke out for LGBTI rights. “I want to be Ambassador to a Bosnia and Herzegovina that says violence, discrimination and abuse against LGBTI persons are no longer acceptable. A Bosnia and Herzegovina that respects the basic dignity of all people. A Bosnia and Herzegovina that does not allow its brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors to suffer in fear, suffer in silence, or to suffer in the shame of who they are or who they love,” Ambassador Cormack said.
  • In 2016, to increase visibility and send a stronger message about LGBTI rights, USAID illuminated the BiH History Museum in rainbow colors. We also arranged for the LGBTI rainbow pennant to be displayed for the first time on the building facades of Embassy Sarajevo and the Banja Luka Branch Office. 
  • Partnered with USAID’s mission in Kosovo, the BiH mission provided $22,470 to co-finance a regional assessment,Mapping and Needs Assessment of the LGBT Community in Kosovo and BiH,” to identify groups and NGOs that promote LGBT rights and potential areas for future programming. 
  • USAID awarded local LGBTI organization Sarajevo Open Center with a $34,200 grant to strengthen LGBTI activism in three cities – Banja Luka, Mostar and Tuzla. Through this activity, we established a regional center in each city to protect LGBTI citizens and teach the public about LGBTI rights (see story). Prior to this, there were no formal LGBTI organizations in any city outside Sarajevo. But these centers are more than safe havens from bigotry and hate. They organize intensive trainings throughout the year to teach local activists how to advance LGBTI rights, particularly how to lobby and advocate in an environment like BiH, where there is a lack of will among politicians for implementing human rights laws and conventions.
  • In 2017, USAID provided Sarajevo Open Center with a $35,300 grant to establish an institutional support network for LGBTI people in Sarajevo Canton, and to better inform local representatives and institutions about the rights and challenges of LGBTI persons living in the canton.
  • In Republika Srpska, USAID supported the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights to improve existing measures and introduce new measures for ensuring equal rights and treatment for LGBTI persons. The assistance supported and mobilized six local NGOs that promote LGBTI rights.
  • As a result of an internship through our media project, Mladen Lukic of Sarajevo decided to tackle media coverage of the challenges facing the LGBTI community in BiH and bring LGBTI rights into public conversation through his reporting. Lukic published a groundbreaking article on LGBTI rights, “LGBT Community in BiH: No Right to Human Rights,” on a local online news portal. The article won him the distinguished “Srdjan Aleksic” award for journalists who report on marginalized groups in BiH (see story).
  • In Sarajevo, USAID worked with partner Mediacentar to improve implementation of the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination to protect the rights of marginalized groups in BiH, including those who are LGBTI. Mediacentar led a USAID-supported coalition of CSOs that evaluated the existing legal framework and identified 16 major shortcomings and proposals for addressing them; the coalition then worked with the BiH Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees to draft amendments. Adopted by the BiH Parliament in July 2016, the law now explicitly covers sexual orientation and gender identity and improved procedures for the judiciary to implement it. BiH was the first country in South East Europe to provide anti-discrimination protection for intersex people in all spheres of life. USAID assistance also improved the capacities of local LGBTI CSOs to engage citizens as agents of change in the fight against discrimination.
  • On September 8, 2019, U.S. Ambassador to BiH Eric Nelson joined some 2,000 people in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s inaugural LGBTI Pride Parade. Media praised the U.S. government for supporting the event, which was witnessed and welcomed far beyond BiH's borders. The event was the culmination of years of work by the Mission, including USAID, to support the capacity of civil society to advocate for the full and equal rights of members of the LGBTI and other marginalized communities. USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) supported safety measures for the march and its organizers. In the lead up to the event, a specialist in digital media security safeguarded the social media accounts of the organizers and the march itself against hate speech and cyberattacks. OTI also provided funding for physical barriers to enhance security along the march route.

Last updated: October 17, 2019

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