From Orlando to Sarajevo, hate is not welcome here.

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Today I had the pleasure of representing Heinrich Böll Foundation at a conference at the EU Delegation to Bosnia & Herzegovina entitled “Enhancing LGBTI Rights in BiH in Line with EU Standards,” hosted by Sarajevo Open Center (Sarajevski Otvoreni Centar, SOC). We heard from some epic human rights warriors, Massimo Mina from the EU Delegation, and Goran Selanac, a lecturer from Zagreb Law School and pioneer of LGBTI policy reform in Croatia. The discussion centered on international law and the pragmatic challenges facing ECHR in implementing reforms in existing EU member states when the only legal power ECHR has is the power of strong suggestion.

Yes, it’s the EU Delegation building and security was naturally tight, but the metal detector and multiple armed guards at the entrance held a special significance considering the issue at hand. The following is from SOC’s Pink Report 2016:

“On Saturday, 1st February 2014, at 3:15 in the afternoon, at the beginning of a discussion on the topic “Transsexuality in Transition,” a group of 14 masked men forced their way into Art Kriterion Cinema in Sarajevo, with the aim of attacking those present. Most of the visitors managed to hide in the emergency exit passage, where they remained for about 20 minutes. In the meantime, the organizer of the festival from Belgrade, the moderator of the discussion and other person were attacked. The attack lasted less than a minute, [luckily] resulting in minor physical injuries, but it [caused] significant psychological consequences. The attackers escaped without a scratch.

Sarajevo Open [Center] had announced the event to the police 20 days prior, emphasizing the need for protection, and the police were informed of dates and times for each festival event. The police were present on Friday evening, during the opening of the festival. However, on Saturday, the police were not present and for that reason failed to prevent and stop the attack. The police arrived only after the fact and after the perpetrators had escaped…two years after the attack, no one has been indicted and the police investigation had focused only on one suspect out of the 14 people who [attacked] the Art Kriterion Cinema. The crime itself has been characterized as violent behavior, which is only a misdemeanor according to the Criminal Code of the Federation of BiH. The homophobic intent behind the attack and the fact that the crime was predetermined have been ignored (http://soc.ba/site/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Pink-izvjestaj_2015_za-web.pdf).”

During the Q&A session, a woman suggested that LGBTI couples should be required by law to take a class prior to having or adopting children so that they can “properly prepare” [translated] them to navigate life. (Don’t worry, the entire room, which included select Bosnian MPs and police officers, turned and stared in shock.)

The moderator, Saša Gavrić of SOC, responded that 68 percent of Bosnians feel that LGBTI individuals require medical treatment to “cure” themselves. She began defending herself, and he cut her off mid-sentence: “This is the 21st century, and that kind of attitude has no place here [translated].” The entire rest of the room, especially the police officers, erupted into applause.

I’m proud to report that even though he’ll have even fewer rights there, Saša and his partner are moving to Albania to keep fighting hate with another NGO.

HEAR ME, bigots, misogynists, homophobes, racists, terrorists. Your time is over, and though you may have a frightening amount of popular support in a number of countries regardless of their level of wealth, reach, and socioeconomic development, people like Saša, his team at SOC, law enforcement, and elected officials will never stop advocating, loudly, for humanist values. You can attack us, you can pull our funding, you can spread hate in the streets and over social media, but you will NEVER convince us that a human being doesn’t deserve the right to love whomever they choose and experience the joy of rising children with the person they love. From Orlando to Sarajevo, we will beat you, because love provides more endurance than hatred.

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