This past Saturday, 11/18/2017, at 12 am in the hall of the Municipality of Strumica, at the Army Hall, a discussion titled “Say no to the Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia in Strumica.” The goal of the discussion was to share the views of representatives of the local institutions regarding the rights of the LGBTI community living in Strumica and the experiences of the institutions about cases of violations of the rights of LGBTI people living in Strumica, discrimination, the cases of hate speech and hate crimes of based on sexual orientation and / or gender identity, homophobic and transphobic based violence and the will of the institutions in the process of improving the status of LGBT people and their protection.
Speakers at the discussion were representatives of local institutions from Strumica, as follows: Ms. Nela Masalkovska, representative from the Municipality of Strumica, as well as Coordinator of the Coordinative body for protection against discrimination and Coordinator of the Commission for equal opportunities between men and women; Mr. Slavcho Timov, Deputy Ombudsman in Strumica and representative of the Ombudsman, and Ms. Hrizantema Rendevska, representative of the Department of Internal Affairs in Strumica, as well as Head of the Department for Prevention.
The discussion was moderated by Nikola Velkov, one of the coordinators of the local LGBTI core group from Strumica. The introductory address of the speakers of the discussion was consisted of presentation of the institutions they represent.
Ms. Masalkovska opened the discussion by presenting the Coordinative Body for protection against discrimination, which functions within the Municipality of Strumica. As part of the project representatives from Municipality of Strumica have undergone training for better understanding of the concept of discrimination, and also organized a study visit in Utrecht, Netherlands to exchange good practices. In the framework of the project, a Protocol for Protection against Discrimination was developed. She said that until now the protection of LGBTI people from discrimination was very low and she hopes that the change of government this will change this situation. The body is currently working antidiscrimination action plan. Asked “Should the Municipality of Strumica support the organization of a parade in the Municipality of Strumica?”, Ms. Masalkovska replied that she could speak only on behalf of the Coordinative body for protection from discrimination and that she would do everything in their power to support of the LGBTI people in Strumica. She also stated that the Municipality of Strumica is currently preparing a project aimed at renovating an existing facility in order to provide space that can be used by non-governmental organizations.
Mr. Timov talked about the institution Ombudsman, the scope of the work of the institution and the which municipalities fall within the scope of action of the regional office of the Ombudsman in Strumica. In his address, he noted that the Ombudsman signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with the USAIDs LGBTI Inclusion Project and stated the willingness of the institution to protect the LGBTI community from discrimination, which is also one of the main components of activity of The Ombudsman. Mr. Timov explained the procedure for reporting cases of discrimination to the Ombudsman and noted that according to the new Ombudsman Law, the institution, besides protection of human rights, must also be promoter of the concept of human rights. His opinion is that the state institutions insufficiently protect the LGBTI people and appealed to the LGBTI community to report the cases in which there rights are violated. He appealed that the community should be openl and persistent in the struggle for freedom and equality.
Ms. Rendevska as a representative of the Department of Interior – Strumica, started her speech by saying that the Department works on a concept called “community policing” which focuses on improving cooperation and bringing police work closer to community members. She explained which municipalities are the responsibility of her Department and expressed openness for cooperation with CSOs working in the field of human rights and protection of LGBTI people. Ms. Rendevska noted that there has been no reported cases of violence based on sexual orientation and / or gender identity and that does not mean they do not exist but that we should work more to encourage LGBTI people to report these cases. To the question “If an openly gay person comes to the police, how will he be treated?” she replied that the police does not make differences of the citizens on any grounds and that they are equal in front of the police, and if a police officer is discriminating a citizen due to sexual orientation and / or gender identity, the person should immediately report the case to the Ombudsman or the Department for Internal Control, Professional Standards and Criminal Investigations at the Ministry of Interior. In the end, she once again stated that no one should discriminate and that in front of the police everyone is equal!
LGBTI people from Strumica and the surrounding area, representatives of CSOs from Strumica and the members of the LGBTI local core groups who are functioning within the LGBTI Support Center were present at the discussion.
The discussion was organized by the local LGBTI core group from Strumica, which functions within the LGBTI Support Center. The group more than a year is working hard on improving the status of LGBT people living in Strumica and already counts more than 20 people. The members of the core have already visited several trainings through which they are introduced to the basic mechanisms for legal and social protection, organize monthly meetings and activities through which they show solidarity with the other members of the community, and thus create safe spaces for socializing of the LGBTI community on local level.
The discussion is part of the USAIDs LGBTI Inclusion Project, implemented by the LGBTI Support Center, subsidiary of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of the Republic of Macedonia in partnership with the Coalition “Sexual and Health Rights of Marginalized Communities” and LGBT United Tetovo, financially supported by USAID. One of the most important components of this project is the decentralization of the LGBTI movement in the country and establishment of local LGBTI cores working on protection and promotion of the human rights of LGBTI people on local level, in municipalities outside Skopje.
Information about the discussion was communicated to the public by the local media TV Channel VIS, where the Program director of the LGBTI Support Center Kocho Andonovski gave his statement .