Declaration on the Equality of Sexual Identities
On the fifteenth anniversary of lesbian and gay activism in Serbia, we express our solidarity with every activist of this movement who, during and after the Milosevic regime, contributed to the development of civil society, promotion of democratic values and who permanently resisted war, militarization, nationalism, fascism and patriarchy.
Since 1991, lesbian and gay activists have shown their solidarity with all victims of the dictator’s regime in various ways, by transforming their everyday experience of oppression into creative acts.
However, today – even after the democratic government was established in Serbia – opposition by government, institutions, as well as by citizens, to the acceptance and appreciation of those who have different sexual orientations remains. The rehabilitation of the value system from Milosevic’s time, which asserted that ‘the other’ and those who are different were undesirable, also contibutes to the inequality of sexual minorities. Currently, there is insufficient political will to create an inclusive climate that accepts all lifestyles.
Therefore, we believe that:
- Attention to the problems of minorities cannot focus exclusively on national and religious minorities. Sexual minorities are also exposed to different forms of discrimination and regular attacks by nationalist, fascist and other right-wing groups.
- The exclusion and forced invisibility of any minority group that operates within the democratic framework and civil society leads towards further fascization of society.
- Refusal of the government and institutions to include lesbians and gays within society as equal citizens shows a lack of political will for making Serbia a modern European state founded on democratic values.
- The failure or refusal of the state apparatus to adequately protect people of all sexual orientations from violence leads to a deepening and increase of everyday violence.
- Some sensationalist media reporting and populist views of people of different sexual orientations deepen prejudices and makes the problems of these people invisible.
- It is known that relations towards minorities (which includes sexual minorities, according to European standards) is a litmus test for the democratization of a society. European integration is not possible until relations towards the gay and lesbian population changes.
Women in Black
Belgrade, November 25, 2005
Lesbianism and Political Responsibility
This year there were a few workshops which included plenty of laughter. This didn't happen during the war, then we had workshops where women either cried or they didn't.
This time we sat in a circle on the grass by a tree. There was a big paper on the tree where we wrote down notes so that we would have the topic in its entirety. Those notes are included at the bottom of this text.
Because the tape we used to record the workshop is a bit fuzzy in the middle, some parts have had to be paraphrased. The essence is still there. Here is what the women had to say about Lesbianism and Political Responsibility. The introduction was given by Lepa Mladenovic:
In order stimulate discussion on this theme, we will start with three theses which lead us to consider the political responsibility of women who love women, and thereby refuse the patriarchal role of women.
Firstly, all women present here are, in some way, involved in spreading the politics of peace. For most of us feminists, peace politics means advocating the ethics of diversity—i.e. continuously making reference to all forms of discrimination. In other words, in addition to working on the deconstruction of the institutionalization of nationalism, we have also worked with women from all other marginal groups. In ad¬dition to lesbians, this includes women with special needs, Roma women, etc.
The second thesis is the feminist starting point that the personal is political. We need to encourage ourselves and women around us to begin connecting their per¬sonal experiences with those of other women in order to arrive at the societal context in which our experiences are created and heard.
The third thesis is encouraging women who love women to accept their lesbian desire and to tell themselves and others that they are lesbians, something which is not always possible.
RIA—Women in Black, Lesbian-do-front, Belgium: Starting from the as¬sumption that the personal is political and that the political is what we do in our personal life, there are two aspects which are important for me. One is how to tell yourself and others that you are a lesbian (coming out), how we go through that process from ourselves, to a friend, and eventually, to the media. And why do we do it when it's not so easy...probably because one of our goals is to be treated equally. If we know that patriarchy is an institutionalized form of men's control over women, to preserve male dominance in history and in the world, then it's clear to us that society cannot accept lesbians because they depart from this system of control. The fundamental patriarchy is then brought into question. This means that society will not give us this equality for free; there must be many of us visible lesbians who can say at any time that we are les¬bians. When there are many of us who say that, then we encourage each other, and then society begins to realize that we exist. Why have laws concerning les¬bians and homosexuals in Western Europe and in the US started to change? Because they saw that there are a lot of us and that they cannot avoid us.
Secondly, in our little internal worlds, each of us feels that she is different from the majority—and that is the moment at which there is the possibility for politics. So I encourage all women who love women to start to think politically, about them¬selves as being different from others, and to work on reducing their own internal¬ized homophobia.
NATALIA, Spain: Why do all les¬bians have to be politically responsible?
RIA: Because I believe that the patriarchy wants to destroy us, and if we don't do something they will continually oppress us.
NATALIA: It worries me that there are many people who don't care about the oppression in which others live, or that they do not even recognize their own. Here we are, a small number of us, keeping an eye on all types of oppression. I believe that our awareness about our own oppression makes us political, and that too encourages us to realize that if we work on eliminating one form of op¬pression, then we are working on eliminating all other forms of oppres¬sion, because they all have their starting points in patriarchy.
WENDY—Labris, Novi Sad/Great Britain: I agree that the process of be¬coming a visible lesbian is a long one, that it is important, and that it is an act of political responsibility par excellence. In addition, it is important that we sup¬port each other whenever possible, that we organize social functions where we can meet and talk.
LAURENCE—Women in Black, Belgrade/New York: For me it is difficult to live as a lesbian and not be political be¬cause everything around us is against us.
The personal is to always be sensi¬tive and listen to what I feel and think. And to recognize patriarchal as¬sumptions and values that I have ab¬sorbed, which harm me. These values which I have to unlearn in order to dis¬cover the true values that I want to live by, values that have nothing to do with domination.
The political is to dismantle the foundations of patriarchy where the other basic forms of discrimination lie—class, race….Therefore it's important for lesbians to support all other movements to overcome patriarchy.
ANNA, Spain: I live in an alternative community, in a squat house where there are different men and women. I realized that there is no neutral space. What they call neutral means heterosexual. For ex¬ample, now that there are a few of us les¬bians who publicly say that we are les¬bians, the place is no longer as heterosexual as it was in the beginning. For example, my experience is that at parties where women who love women are not visible, those parties are totally heterosexual, but when there are visible lesbians then the atmosphere is dif¬ferent. Lesbian visibility changes the meaning and the sense of a place.
MRSA — Women's Studies, Belgrade: One form of oppression which society carries out is exerting pressure on those who are different to hide them¬selves. For example, there are many Jews who have had to change their Jewish names in order to survive. Likewise, many Roma people in our country take local names. If those who are different hide, then society says that there is no oppression, and the op¬pressed pretend that they are not op¬pressed. One of the first steps to oppos¬ing oppression is to resist hiding, be¬cause societal mechanisms pressure people to hide and to be silent. Many les¬bians live in silence, hidden. My method in Women's Studies is to talk about all forms of discrimination, and about les¬bianism. This is how we started Women's Studies.
The second important thing is for us to accept differences among lesbians. We should not expect all lesbians to be politi¬cally responsible. There are many les¬bians who are nationalists, who have beauty salons, etc. It is necessary that we consider those differences and that we try to find a common goal.
HAYA—Women in Black, Jerusalem, Israel: I have had experience in the past two years as an activist in two movements—in the women's movement and the gay and lesbian movement. In both movements we have to work on ex¬panding lesbian human rights. In the women's movement it is important to constantly say that lesbian rights are women's rights and that there are les¬bians in the women's movement. In the gay and lesbian movement we have to constantly say that lesbians and gay men are not on the same societal level, but that women, just because they are women, experience discrimination on one more dimension than men. Recently the Israeli parliament has been talking about legalizing gay couples, but on these occasions in the media there are only gay men.
ERIKA, Romania/USA: I am a teacher and researcher in an American university, and for quite a while now I have been a visible lesbian for all those at the university: for other faculty and for male and female students. I teach History and the Structures of Power; in these classes we talk about various forms of discrimination and about lesbianism. I have worked in Russia and Romania. In Russia I spoke with many lesbians, and they told me that they absolutely cannot be out lesbians, that this is impossible because societal pressures are un¬bearable. It is important that we know that there are very diverse societal and political contexts for lesbians.
L.P., Europe: I live in a situation where oppression is visible and everywhere around me. If I were to talk about it, i.e. about the political situation, I would put my private life in danger. If I were to talk about my private lesbian life, I would put my political work in danger. Like lesbians in Russia. My dilemma is how to change this. As far as global solidarity, this is wonderful; but in the end I feel like a patient in a hospital, and the rest of the lesbian com¬munity becomes intravenous drops which are feeding me all the time. They feed you, but you are unable to do any¬thing. How do you find a way to do something in line with the conscience of your political responsibility if you cannot find even one societal loophole to advantage of? What do you do if there are no conditions for you to do anything?
JUDITH—Labris, Budapest: I have been thinking all this time about the question of responsibility, which is linked to everyday responsibilities. It is impor¬tant for us to be able to lean on each other, to be responsible in relation to one another, especially here in Eastern Europe, because there aren't too many of us.
HAYA: Mrsa says that we have to ac¬cept lesbians who are different and not politically responsible. I agree but that doesn't mean that I, as a feminist, won't try to change them. As a feminist I want to change the whole world and every part of it. Yes, we should accept all of them, but as a feminist I'm going to do my job.
ELSA—Center for Male Violence Against Women, Bologna, Italy: My question is how to be what you really are in every context? How can lesbians exchange their experiences with heterosexual feminists, for example in the workplace? Our exchanges should enrich one another. My experience is that there is very little exchange, as if there were a danger zone between us, so many things are not shared. When we get to the point of no longer sharing our existential differences with heterosexual women, then we stop being political. I work at the Center for Male Violence Against Women, and this is my political involvement. In addition I support heterosexual women and lesbians creat¬ing situations in which they can ex¬change their experiences.
Summary of the notes on the tree:
Reasons for lesbians' political responsibility:
1. the oppression of lesbians, which each of us feels in our lives
2. feeling responsible for all other types of oppression
Aims of lesbian responsibility:
1. to be treated equally, as full citizens
2. to change laws and local legislation
3. to make more spaces for lesbians in society
4. to dismantle patriarchal foundations in ourselves and in everyday life
5. to create new value systems
6. to eliminate internalized homophobia
7. to understand the silence and the hiding of differences
8. to identify mechanisms of oppression
9. to accept differences between lesbians
10. to end all kinds of discrimination
1. kissing your girlfriend on the streets
2. making lesbian parties, video clubs; developing lesbian culture
3. coming out, being visible
4. supporting each other, being able to rely on each other
5. organizing lesbian groups
6. organizing Lesbian Studies
7. lobbying for lesbian rights in the women's movement and in gay/lesbian groups
8. including your lesbian existence in your professional life
9. creating safe spaces for exchange between lesbians and heterosexual women in the workplace
10. starting a Lesbian Avengers (direct action group) where you live