Pride month for LGBTIQ+ people in the sign of growing intolerance and clericalization of society

Pride month for the LGBTIQ community should be a month in which we celebrate the richness of diversity. Instead, LGBTIQ people even today go out into the streets in Montenegro fearing how much it will cost them to hold hands, hug or kiss a homosexual partner, and how much it will cost them just to walk down the street and perhaps appear “faggotish” to someone. For heterosexual people (that is, those whose gender coincides with the sense of gender) there are no such fears, that is, as the activist community says – “to them, it’s a parade every day throughout the whole year”. We who are in the minority have to be constantly on guard, and lately especially by young people whose heads have been filled by parents and religious leaders, that being homosexual or transgender, or queer in any way, means being an inferior, less valuable person. Some of these young people go so far in this orchestrated hostility that they attack the premises where LGBTIQ people gather, as well as the LGBTIQ people themselves.

On the one hand, the price of non-acceptance of LGBTIQ people paid by LGBTIQ people themselves is the insults and outbursts of hatred they suffer, as well as physical blows. On the other hand, those who target LGBTIQ people or the places where they gather, from those court processes, which drag on, come out without punishment or with a fine or a warning, and often these cases live to become outdated. It is an understatement to say that LGBTIQ people are not satisfied with the scope of justice in Montenegro and that they do not have the confidence to report violence and discrimination to the competent authorities, and they have a basis to do so – the current approach to sanctions has not proven to be dissuasive for perpetrators of crimes.

So what do we celebrate during June – the Month of Pride? We celebrate the fact that, despite attacks, discrimination and violence, we remained visible, and consistent with ourselves, that we did not give up the fight for a better position for ourselves, but also for a society in which diversity is respected. As a queer person, I can say that I celebrate that the rhetoric of intimidation and threats did not stop me from contributing to the fight for equality and full acceptance of all LGBTIQ people in Montenegro. In our struggles, we had many allies and we are grateful to them all. However, over time it has become clear that more work needs to be done on adequately positioning this issue among teaching staff, psychologists and pedagogues, then within police organizations, including those officers who work on issuing personal documents, as well as among health personnel, and finally among young people as bearers of the future culture of human rights.

The CCE research indicates that young people have the highest intolerance towards drug addicts, alcoholics and homosexual couples, putting homosexuals in the same rank as those addicted to alcohol and psychoactive substances, which are vices that people choose while sexual orientation is not chosen because it is an integral part of identity certain persons. This is clear to us human rights activists, to us who are queer ourselves, and to everyone who supports us. But, it cannot become clear to that part of the general population who is raising children to hate Marko and Janko because they love each other. They scandalize it, interpret it as something that is against family values. As an activist, I often wonder when it will become scandalous and devastating for us that corruption eats away at every pore of the system, that politicians think they are allowed to do anything to get or keep their seats and the privileges that come with it, that the education system is so degraded that it becomes “normal” for children to steal exams instead of learning the materials, etc.

Young people are not the only ones to blame for the fact that we are experiencing a regression when it comes to respect for diversity, especially for those in rainbow colours. The anti-human rights trend is of a broader character. Human rights seem to be no longer “in”, which is one of the consequences of the strengthening of conservative and right-wing forces, and it has not bypassed us in Montenegro either. There is no civil emancipation and necessary qualitative changes in society if they are led by the right-wing, and in our case dominantly by the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), whose narrative has already had a strong negative effect on the rights of women and the rights of LGBTIQ persons in Montenegro. That narrative was useful for certain political actors in terms of their positioning, but backward for human rights because the SOC positioned itself as an important authority and socio-political factor whose hateful rhetoric is used by many as justification for their hateful attitudes and actions.

When we scratch a little deeper into the core of the problem of reducing support for LGBTIQ people, black soutanes emerge. The fact is that the Litija protests had a strong influence on the results of the elections in 2020, and it was specific that a religious organization, as an example of a dogmatic, traditional set of values, played a practically revolutionary role, but also imposed further clericalization of society, with the full support of those who helped them come to power. It is also worth reminding of the period 40 years ago in the Islamic Republic of Iran, when the organizational structures of Shia Islam established Sharia laws after the Iranian revolution, that is, they transferred religious rules into state laws. We who are human rights activists point out the danger of clericalization of society precisely to avoid a similar scenario. Unfortunately, it seems that the political winners of the 2020 elections do not think about this, but even today remain dependent on the church, ignoring the threat to human rights by that same church. Religion has suddenly become extremely important to young people, and the worrying findings are that the majority of young people state that they would not marry someone of a different religious or ethnic affiliation.

More than that, the SOC took upon itself the defence of the so-called family values by organizing a moleban (prayer) against the tenth jubilee of Montenegro Pride in 2022. However, moleban sounded so pastoral and meek only in its name. In question was a calculated protest against LGBTIQ people, the day before Pride itself, on which the clergy of the SOC, its believers and some high-ranking state officials, using hate speech, came out in “defence” of what they established as a framework of family and tradition. The question remains – what did they defend against, and who attacked them? Why didn’t it occur to them to apply the advice they constantly give us, which, translated to their situation, would be: “You can hate LGBTIQ people – but within your own four walls.”.

We have not seen molebane, litije, or even a single address by a dignitary of the SOC when some roughneck kills a woman just because she is a woman, or because of those terrible statistics of domestic violence. I think that this threatens family values much more than the fact that LGBTIQ people feel brave enough to walk proudly through several streets of Podgorica for one single day of the year.

Those who think that this action of the SOC in the “mission” against gender equality and the rights of LGBTIQ persons does not affect them are living in an illusion. I am afraid that this interference in all the pores of our lives, through the management of the political system and the establishment of new social “values”, will not stop without other numerous consequences that many others will feel.

What the SOC pastors and their flock should keep in mind is that there are believers among LGBTIQ people, and that there are supporters of the LGBTIQ community among believers. What is then the use of the harsh hate speech of representatives of the SOC? Is it some calculated political strategy worth collecting points over our backs again, which we hoped we had absolved with the long-ago slogan of Montenegro Pride.

We can not allow ourselves to be incited against each other by those who prefer to engage in socio-political engineering rather than their primary mission – spirituality and caring for the afterlife of their believers. We need to respect and appreciate each other, regardless of whether we support someone’s identities and lifestyles, no matter where we come from, who we believe in and what our values are because this is the only way we can build a society that is acceptable for everyone regardless of differences.

Željka Ćetković, Active Citizenship Programme Coordinator