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Belgrade LGBT Activists Plan Pride, While History of Violence Looms Large



Belgrade Pride has a history replete with violence and disruption and yet, planning proceeds while a newly elected right-wing government struggles to form a majority in parliament


On June 27, members of the LGBT community in Belgrade gathered to commemorate International Pride Day. They carried banners and balloons in the street and publicized the slogan “Silence will not stop us.” A rainbow flag waved from the office of Serbia’s ombudsman, who is tasked with protecting human rights. Yet this was not Belgrade’s official Pride parade. That is scheduled for September 30-October 7 and will include, in addition to a parade, workshops, fashion shows, debates, and exhibitions. Indeed, planning for the event is in full swing.

Yet the event sits against a bleak historical backdrop. Prides in Serbia have been among the most controversial and violent in the world. In 2001, at the first Belgrade Pride, parade participants were attacked by football hooligans and right-wing groups in a terrifying display of homophobia.  Another Pride would not be planned until 2009, but that year’s event was canceled due to threats of more violence and a lack of cooperation from the police.

The parade went ahead in 2010 and was again besieged; police tasked with providing security for Pride clashed with hundreds of anti-gay protesters, who also attacked government and media facilities. And last year, the government again canceled Pride in the name of security, just 48 hours before it was scheduled to take place. So high-profile has Serbia’s Pride become that, in late 2011, a local director released the movie Parada (“The Parade”), a comedy-cum-drama in which a Serb ex-combatant from the 1990s agrees to provide security for a Pride organizer.

What will happen to Belgrade Pride 2012? Given the historical context as well as a newly elected Serbian president Tomislav Nikolić, who is more right-wing than his predecessor (he was once an ally of Slobodan Milosevic and Vojislav Seselj), it is a critical question for the LGBT community.  So I put it, along with other queries, to Boban Stojanović, a member of the Belgrade Pride Organizing Committee.

NCRM:  Did you face any protests or other backlash on June 27 when you held Pride Day events?

Stojanović: No. It was strange, most people were very positive.

NCRM: Why do you think Belgrade Pride has faced so many obstacles and threats from some people in Serbia?

Stojanović:  Because we are young democracy. We don’t have clear rules about anything, we cannot decide are we want to be pro-EU and pro-USA or pro-Russian. As a society, when we decide this [our orientation toward the world], we will have idea what to do with human rights.  Until then, we will give support to human rights but to nationalists and fundamentalists also.

Also, criminals and hooligans are connected with the state. During the 1990s, most of the politicians [today] were connected with war criminals, leaders of paramilitary troops, criminals, and narco dealers. … This is the base of hate toward LGBT in Serbia. … [People] need enemies.

NCRM: Belgrade Pride was banned by the government last year due to threats of violence. What did you, as organizers of Pride, think about this decision? How did you respond to the decision?

Stojanović:  Banning of Pride last year was the result of unstable state policy, and it just encouraged us to insist on our rights. The announcing of Belgrade Pride 2012 is more than a clear massage to this banning.

NCRM: Have government authorities and police been cooperating with the 2012 Pride organizers? Do you worry they might cancel Pride again?

Stojanović:  We don’t have a new government yet, after elections in May of this year. Tomislav Nikolic, a nationalist politician, was elected president and is still forming a new government.] But we are prepared and we will start with negotiators immediately. There are some positive things: Even though we are still a conservative society, there is some recognition about the importance of joining to EU [which requires meeting certain human rights benchmarks]. Also, because the election has passed, there is less tension than before. As for whether Pride will be banned or not, it is a state decision. We … deeply believe that Pride will happen.

NCRM: What do you think Nikolic’s election will mean for LGBT rights and issues in Serbia?

Stojanović:  Not so much. Until we have educated and professional people in important decision-making positions, things will be same. …. A general problem with Serbian institutions is some kind of pink-washing: a lot of words and promises but no concrete results. Last year, during the preparation of Pride, when some journalists asked some politicians, “Do you support Pride?” their answer was, “Violence is unacceptable.” And in 2010, an ex-minister for Human and Minority Rights, after so many meetings and big support to Pride, asked us, “Well, what exactly does the acronym ‘LGBT’ mean?”

NCRM: Are you concerned about the security of participants in the 2012 Pride? Or about how the events might affect members of the LGBT community in their daily lives? If you are concerned, what steps are being taken to protect individuals?

Stojanović:  The police have good tools to protect participants… [and] as organizers, we make a list with suggestions of how any person can increase his/her security at Pride. It is something what is standard at these events in this part of Europe. Pride is [one of] the biggest issue for LGBT people. We can speak in so many debates, round tables, but Pride can open huge public discussion about LGBT existence and rights. Pride can open discussion everywhere: in the office, classrooms, street, in families. It is good. We hope for two results: encouraging people to come out and increasing the number of people, mostly young people, who are willing to register violence.

NCRM: What is the slogan of this year’s Pride? Why was it chosen?

Stojanović:  [I will] quote one wonderful author, Marcus V. Agar, who wrote in his article: “Love, faith and hope: three universal human values that Belgrade Pride organizers hope will encourage greater positive interest in the lives, rights and issues of Serbia’s gay community. Working beneath this banner, they intend to present Pride as a meter by which to measure civil rights, freedom and democracy in the country. In an effort to move forward from last year, when Serbia’s government slammed an internationally condemned ban on a proposed parade through Belgrade, Pride chiefs have opted for a more approachable Ljubav, Vera, Nada re-brand, hopeful that people from across society will come together to encourage understanding, allay hatred and reduce prejudice of LGBT people in Serbia.”

NCRM:  Why do you think it is important to host Pride, even in the face of dangers? What are hopes for and goals of this year’s event?

Stojanović:  You know, if you look back, only those people and groups who insist on their rights get rights. It is a process. Those people who produce fears, they only want to discourage us. I deeply believe that honesty and love can erase hate. Hopes? Well, to have a nice and colorful Pride and Pride Week, a lot of encouraged people and positive energy in Belgrade. Our idea is to put human rights in focus … to become a place for all LGBT people (and those people who support them) to do whatever they want in order to promote equality for all.


Seyward Darby is a freelance writer currently living in Kosovo. She is working for a local human rights group on LGBT and freedom of expression projects with support from the Coca-Cola World Fund and Kirby-Simon Fellowship Program at Yale University. Her organization receives some funding from the U.S. government. 


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‘Given My Experience’: Gaetz Waiting to ‘Render Judgment’ on Florida GOP Chair Accused of Rape



U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz is urging his fellow Florida Republicans to wait to “render judgment” on Christian Ziegler, the Trump-endorsed state Republican Party chairman accused of rape by a woman he and his wife allegedly had a consensual sexual relationship with.

“Given my experience I tend to wait for the facts to come out before rendering judgment,” Gaetz told Florida Politics. The far-right Florida GOP lawmaker has faced both DOJ and House Ethics Committee investigations into a variety of possible crimes, among them, alleged sex trafficking, alleged sex with an under-aged girl, illicit drug use, and public corruption.

Sarasota police are reportedly investigating Florida GOP chair Christian Ziegler after a woman he has known for two decades accused him of rape. Christian’s wife, Bridget Ziegler, told police she and her husband had a consensual sexual encounter with the woman who is now his accuser.

READ MORE: The Christian Ziegler/Moms for Liberty Scandal Could Hurt Ron DeSantis

“Christian Ziegler is also alleged to have secretly videotaped the sexual encounters between the couple and the woman, sources said,” the nonpartisan Florida Center for Government Accountability reported last week.

Bridget Ziegler is an elected member of the Sarasota County School Board and a co-founder of Moms for Liberty, which is a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated extremist group that opposes LGBTQ equality and has pushed for book bans. “Although Bridget Ziegler has officially left Moms for Liberty, she also still has ties to the group, having been a featured speaker at their national summit. She also helped develop DeSantis’ ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill that Moms for Liberty publicly advocated in favor of,” the SPLC noted in its report on the group.

“A search warrant shows Sarasota Police have footage of Ziegler showing up at the accuser’s apartment, where she told police he came in and forced her to have sex with him,” Florida Politics reports. “Christian Ziegler to date has rebuffed calls for his resignation, including by Florida Republican leaders including Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and Florida House Speaker Paul Renner.”

Christian Ziegler on Saturday sent an email to Florida Republican Party members refusing to resign. “We have a country to save and I am not going to let false allegations of a crime put that mission on the bench as I wait for this process to wrap up,” he wrote, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

READ MORE: Speaker Mike Johnson to Be Keynote Speaker at Hardline Christian Nationalist Lawmakers’ Gala

On Thursday, Moms for Liberty posted then removed a statement supporting its co-founder, Bridget Ziegler. It later reposted the statement.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “Moms for Liberty and its nationwide chapters combat what they consider the ‘woke indoctrination’ of children by advocating for book bans in school libraries and endorsing candidates for public office that align with the group’s views. They also use their multiple social media platforms to target teachers and school officials, advocate for the abolition of the Department of Education, advance a conspiracy propaganda, and spread hateful imagery and rhetoric against the LGBTQ community.”

The DOJ reportedly told Gaetz’s attorneys earlier this year he would not be prosecuted, but the House Ethics Committee reopened its investigation. Gaetz has denied all accusations.


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‘Simply Nonsense’: Judge Shoots Down Rudy Giuliani’s Desperate Bid to Escape Liability



A federal judge peevishly shot down Rudy Giuliani’s last-ditch effort to avoid a jury trial in a libel suit brought by a mother-daughter pair of Georgia poll workers.

District judge Beryl Howell denied the former Donald Trump lawyer’s request by repeatedly noting that his attorney had missed deadlines in the case filed by Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, and she rejected his argument that mistakes by the pair’s counsel justified a shift from a jury trial to a bench trial.

“This is simply nonsense,” Howell wrote in a footnote to her order. “Giuliani’s counsel’s two-sentence email cited three out-of-circuit, non-binding cases, dated between thirty and nearly fifty years ago, without any express statement that Giuliani planned to seek a bench trial or that he would do so in reliance on this cited authority.”

Howell found Giuliani liable for defamation in a default judgment August and has ordered him to pay tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees for the two women, and she fined him more than $100,000 in September after he failed to comply.

The jury trial will determine Giuliani’s penalty for falsely claiming Freeman and Moss had engaged in fraudulent activities following the 2020 election, which he claimed had cost Donald Trump re-election and led to a deluge of violent threats toward the two women.

Giuliani is among 19 defendants, including Trump, who have been charged in a racketeering case in Fulton County related to efforts to overturn the ex-president’s election loss.


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On World AIDS Day, DOJ Says Tennessee Law Discriminates Against Those With HIV



World AIDS Day

The Department of Justice celebrated World AIDS Day by calling out a Tennessee law that discriminates against people with HIV.

The DOJ released a report Friday that the state’s aggravated prostitution law violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. A person arrested under the aggravated prostitution law is normally changed with a misdemeanor, and faces up to six months in prison and a $500 fine. However, if the person arrested has HIV, the crime becomes a felony, and if they’re convicted, they would face between three and 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

“Tennessee’s aggravated prostitution law is outdated, has no basis in science, discourages testing and further marginalizes people living with HIV,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “People living with HIV should not be treated as violent sex offenders for the rest of their lives solely because of their HIV status. The Justice Department is committed to ensuring that people with disabilities are protected from discrimination.”

READ MORE: Activists Arrested After AIDS Funding Protest in Kevin McCarthy’s Office

The law was originally passed in 1991. It classifies HIV-positive sex workers as violent sex offenders, according to WKRN-TV. This means that in addition to the sentence, those convicted are put on the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry, usually for the rest of their lives.

The DOJ advised the state—and particularly, the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office, which enforces the statute most frequently, the department says—to stop enforcing the law. It also calls on the state to repeal the law and remove anyone from the registry when aggravated prostitution is the only offense. If this doesn’t happen, Tennessee could face a lawsuit.

Tennessee isn’t the only state to have laws applying to only those living with HIV. In 1988, Michigan passed a law requiring those with HIV to disclose their status before sex, according to WLNS-TV. The law is still on the books, but was updated in 2019 to lift the requirement if the HIV-positive person has an undetectable viral load. The law now also requires proof that the person set out to transmit HIV.

Laws like these can work against public health efforts, according to the National Institutes of Health. The NIH says these types of laws can make people less likely to be tested for HIV, as people cannot be punished if they didn’t know their status. In addition, critics say, the laws can be used to further discriminate. A Canadian study found a disproportionate number of Black men had been charged under HIV exposure laws.

World AIDS Day was first launched in 1988 by the World Health Organization and the United Nations to highlight awareness of the then-relatively new disease. The theme of the 2023 World AIDS Day is “Let Communities Lead,” calling on community leaders to end the AIDS epidemic.

Featured image by UNIS Vienna/Flickr via Creative Commons License.

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