The Republic of Serbia elected a new prime minister on June 29 of this year, and a glass ceiling was shattered in the conservative Balkan country. Ana Brnabic is Serbia’s first female Prime Minister, and she is also the first openly gay person to hold the position. The New York Times printed a story about the landmark election, which mentioned the opposition to her and the accusation by some that her nomination was a “degenerate Western plot.” This is no surprise, given that homosexuality is still perceived as an illness in that region.
Many news outlets have shared this story, but what we wanted to do is speak with someone from that part of the world who could provide more insight into living in Serbia as a gay woman. We received an email from Maja Misic, who is a native Serbian and an out lesbian. She offered to provide her commentary on this important political development from a native perspective. With her permission, that email is printed below.
I come from a country, in fact an entire region, that is hostile toward the LGBT community, not to mention traditionally nourished male supremacy and chauvinism. Serbia has participated in more wars than the Olympics in the past 25 years. In that state of public mind and struggling LGBT rights, Serbia didn’t have much of a chance to evolve and raise awareness of itself. For instance, just to make the picture more clear to you, during the first Pride Parade in Belgrade (2010), 5000 police officers secured the attendees, and 500 of them were severely injured at the end of the day. In addition to that, this is a part of the world where the majority of people (70% to be precise) perceive homosexuality as an illness. I have personally encountered numerous educated men and women who share that belief.
Furthermore, the Serbian Orthodox Church, with its massive influence on public opinion, overtly expresses its repulsion toward gay people. For goodness sake they had their clergy march the streets of Belgrade after almost every Pride to “pray away the gay.”
Gradually, the situation is improving, I have to admit. We have a new Law Against Discrimination (sexual minorities included) and a Domestic Partnership Law is in development. Serbs have this quality of being open to changes and accepting all things new and modern (particularly when competing with neighbors). So even when they disagree with something (having a lesbian PM for instance), if that means they will be better than other countries in the region or pioneer in any aspect, they will go for it.
Perhaps now you can begin to understand why electing a lesbian PM is a big deal.
That being said, you can imagine how, regardless of the inner struggle one has in the process of discovering and pursuing their true nature, this kind of environment can make that journey more difficult. I have been lucky to be born in an open-minded family and raised to respect and cherish diversity, so my coming out to family and friends 10 years ago wasn’t that big of a deal. I mean, it wasn’t a picnic either (as I believe no one’s coming out is, anywhere in the world), but being situated in the Balkans, it was just fine.
To this date I really haven’t had any inconvenience when expressing my sexuality; quite the contrary. I guess people here find it exotic, especially given my appearance. They have this image of a masculine, androgynous lesbian (butch if you will), so when I, with my full makeup, high stilettos and manicured nails, tell them I’m a lesbian, they find it amusing and intriguing I assume.
Maja Misic ia a 32-year-old single, successful, empowered gay woman, fighting windmills of male-predominant society in the “land of honey and blood” (origin of the name Balkans).