HATE SPEECH DOESN’T STOP AFTER PRIDE MONTH

All this brings us to the question: can LGBT people feel safe and protected by the state authorities in North Macedonia?

As has been often the case in previous years, this third Pride parade that took place in Skopje was, unfortunately, met with a lot of hate speech on social media. The posts on the media reporting on the Parade showed dozens of comments with humiliating speech on how homosexuality is “unnatural,” including calls for violence against the LGBT community and derogatory language. Counter parades were also held in Skopje and Bitola and they opposed the Skopje Pride.

Although the counter parade in Skopje practically cannot even be qualified as a parade because it did not include more than a few dozen attendees, in Bitola the counter parade had a larger presence, which is a significant indicator showing how much the LGBT community is still not accepted by many people in our rather conservative environment.

According to Bitola News, Dragana Spasovska said the following at the Bitola event on behalf of the organizers of the parade:

[The goal is to] raise our voice clearly and loudly against the perverted human values ​​that are imposed on us through the traditional media outlets, social media, legislation, including education, and later about education, textbooks, sexual education, questionnaires…

Since this event took place in Bitola as a reaction to Skopje Pride, it is very clear what Spasovska considers “perverted values”. These parades are probably shown as a way to protect families and children, but are actually physical manifestations of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. People who organize such counter parades talk about “family values” being threatened by the LGBT community and this “concern” can easily turn into hate speech. This same “concern” also leads to a moral panic on how the LGBT community “threatens” the traditional family, marriage, increases promiscuity, reduces the birth rate and with all this destroys the society.

This narrative twists the positions of power – the LGBT community is portrayed as a powerful minority imposing its values on the heterosexual majority, which is a narrative that resembles the anti-Semitic stereotypes where the Jews are those that are “secretly” controlling the society, although they are religious and ethnic group that has been historically oppressed, marginalized and even murdered by the dominant majority in various countries.

The reality is that the LGBT community is not a powerful minority but rather a marginalized group that does not have many essential rights in North Macedonia. Same-sex couples do not have the right to marry (which denies them other rights such as inheriting property, hospital visits, etc.), nor the right to establish their own family by adopting children.

Transgender people are particularly marginalized because we do not have a law on gender recognition through which trans people could change their gender marker and align their identity documents – currently, trans people are exposed to discrimination, harassment and sometimes even violence because of non-aligned documents.

All these things refer only to the legal obstacles the LGBT community faces, that is, many of them are also socially isolated, rejected by their families, targets of speech and acts of hatred, discrimination at jobs and many other social issues that are a result of queerphobia.

Anti-gender movements

Facilitated by easier access to the Internet, the attacks on the LGBT community are now even more common in the digital space of social media, rather than physically. In the last few years, several Facebook pages and groups have been actively spreading queerphobia through misinformation about comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), the LGBT community, and transgender people in particular.

Some of these groups are somewhat known to the public, especially the association “Od nas za nas” touting itself as an “Association of citizens for the protection of human rights” and often as a group of “concerned parents” that are independently organized. However, they mostly spread hate speech against the LGBT community, anti-vaxxer propaganda, and misinformation about CSE and civil society organizations that advocate for CSE and LGBT rights.

Photo: Natalia de la Rubia/ Shutterstock

“Od nas za nas” is part of the so-called “anti-gender movement” – an academic term referring to movements across Europe and around the world that oppose the concept of gender and believe only in “biological sex”. That is, by arguing that there are no socially constructed gender roles, but only biologically based gender, anti-gender movements oppose groups of people and activities they consider “unnatural,” such as same-sex relationships and transgender people.

Recently, a website has appeared that brings together various organizations sharing certain right-wing values: Coalition for Protection of Children. “Od nas za nas” is on the list of organizations, associations and social media pages that are part of this coalition. Also included on this list are the transphobic Facebook page “Prezemi odgovornost”, the political party “Rodina Makedonija” and “Lidija srce shto chuka”, which is an organization that opposes the right to abortion.

This Coalition undoubtedly spreads homo/bi/transphobia and demonizes the LGBT community, presenting it as dangerous to children. The Coalition, of course, presents itself as simply being “concerned” about children.

It must be noted that it is highly unlikely that common “concerned parents” are behind this Coalition since the website itself says that the main partner of the Coalition is Family Watch International (FWI), an American organization that opposes CSE, LGBT rights and the right to abortion. The Coalition is also supported by the transphobic Scandinavian organization Gender Identity Challenge Scandinavia.

Although it is still unclear whether this Coalition directly receives funding from these two far more influential organizations, especially the FWI which has only been around since 1999, these connections must not be ignored. The rhetoric used by the Coalition is very similar to that used by these two international organizations. For example, the Coalition says the following:

We believe that every child deserves a safe and carefree childhood. (…) Unfortunately, that peaceful childhood began to be disturbed by the introduction of various ideologies in education, the most frightening of which is the (trans)gender ideology, which promotes the idea that gender is changeable, and men can become women and women can become men.

Hate speech over a colourful bench?

The anti-gender movement so far and especially this Coalition have been creating a narrative that scares the parents about how their children will be “indoctrinated” in the school system with “LGBT propaganda” and with that they are becoming an unsafe environment and they lose their innocence. This fear of “LGBT indoctrination” in education can be seen in a very absurd situation on social media that happened last week.

Dejan Slamkov was the target of hate speech because of a bench painted in the colours of the rainbow in his native village of Stojakovo. It was Slamkov who was attacked because of this bench, probably because he publicly came out as a gay person and he is a young activist for LGBT rights and hosts the LGBT-focused podcast Save Our Children.

Although it is not clear whether it was these movements that caused the incident with Slamkov, we must not underestimate the anti-gender narratives and their potential effects.

“Stereotypes followed by conspiracy theories related this bench with me. Somehow, a colorful desk at a school was associated by a common person with the LGBT+ Pride flag. He decided to share that “conclusion” on his Facebook profile so the people in the comments can declare me the “President of the LGBT community” who did all this and that “I call on young people to become members of the community”. I honestly did not know whether to laugh or cry at this”, said Slamkov explaining this incident to Res Publica.

“This post and all the comments that followed show that people have no knowledge of what it means to be part of the LGBT+ community, let alone understand our feelings and experiences. I received direct threats to my life and insults from people who are my neighbours – these are people who are coming from the same small place where everyone knows each other and those words now make me feel unsafe when I visit Stojakovo”, added Slamkov.

Slamkov reported this incident to the police for hate speech based on sexual orientation. Unfortunately, this type of speech is rarely sanctioned by the responsible authorities. As the anti-gender movement has rarely been punished for spreading hate speech, it is very likely that the threats against Dejan Slamkov will also go unpunished.

All this brings us to the question: can LGBT people feel safe and protected by the state authorities in North Macedonia?

Author: Elena Gagovska

Photo: Natalia de la Rubia / Shutterstock