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In Serbia, Orthodox priests ‘exorcise’ streets after this year’s Pride Parade

Despite Serbia having legislation designed to protect LGBT communities from discrimination and hate speech, the influence of the country’s Eastern Orthodox Christian Church, which is strongly supported by far-right groups, is still proving an obstacle to equality in this Balkan state of some seven million people.

The latest demonstration of faith-based hatred occurred in September after Belgrade staged its third Pride Parade. Incensed that the march was allowed to proceed, a group of Orthodox priests moved in afterwards to “spiritually cleanse” the streets along which the revellers had passed by chanting hymns and sprinkling holy water. They also carried anti-gay banners, one of which showed a homosexual being driven into the fires of a EU hell by a figure bearing a cross.

Nevertheless, the parade served to demonstrate that matters are improving in Serbia, mainly because numerous politicians and diplomats lent their support to the event. Belgrade’s mayor Sinisa Mali also joined the parade, alongside Bojan Pajtic, leader of the Democratic Party, and Cedomir Jovanovic, President of the Liberal Democratic Party.

The head of the EU delegation to Serbia, Michael Davenport, and the German ambassador to Belgrade, Axel Dittmann, were among those from the international community who took part.

But the woman who excited most interest by joining the parade was Ana Brnabic, one of six new ministers in the Serbian government and the first openly gay minister to serve in any Balkan country. The 40-year-old Brnabic speaks English and Russian. She was educated in the United States and United Kingdom. An expert in public administration, she established the National Alliance for Local Economic Development (NALED) in 2006.

Ana Brnabic

In 2013, she was declared businesswoman of the year in Serbia.

She made headlines around the world in August as  she prepared to be sworn in as the first openly gay minister in Serbia. Speaking to reporters during a parliamentary recess on August 9, Brnabic expressed hopes that the public attention would eventually fade after she is sworn in.

“Hopefully this will blow over in three or four days and then I won’t be known as ‘the gay minister.’ I’ll be known as the minister of public administration and local government,” she told reporters.

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who made the appointment, was singled out for praise by members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in Serbia.

According to the Belgrade based Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), choosing Brnabic as a minister is historic because it raises the hope that Serbia can become a society in which everyone has equal opportunity. “It’s important to recognize the skills and qualities of people in high positions regardless of their sexual orientation,” the GSA said in a statement.

Among the first to react was Boris Milicevic, the first LGBT activist to enter politics in Serbia. He is a high-level official in the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), the junior partner of Prime Minister Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) in the new government. He sees the Brnabic appointment as important for the entire LGBT community.

“I hope that the Prime Minister’s decision will encourage more LGBT people to take part in politics, as well as encourage many who already hold positions in the government to come out,” Milicevic said.
Serbia is still struggling to become a more inclusive society. Homophobia is widespread, as in any Balkan society. Belgrade has been under pressure since the start of its EU-accession talks to improve its protection of minorities, including the LGBT community.

Memories of the violence surrounding the 2010 Pride Parade are still fresh. Hard-line nationalists and radicals attacked participants and clashed with police, wounding 150 people. Because of security concerns, the parade was cancelled for the next three years. Last year, the Pride Parade went ahead without incident, although there were more police officers than members of the LGBT community in the streets.

There are still many influential voices preaching discrimination. When Serbia was hit by heavy floods in the summer of 2014, Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Irinej proclaimed the disaster a clear warning from God just as Belgrade was getting ready to host another pride parade, which in the Patriarch’s view was “something that is against God and the law of nature.”

Earlier, in a written statement issued in 2012, Patriarch Irinej denounced that year’s march as a “parade of shame.” He said it would threaten Serbia’s centuries-old Christian culture and the model return heterosexual family as the foundation of humankind.

Asked about the Brnabic appointment, Vucic claimed that he was simply being faithful to his promise to put together a government that would deliver results.

“Her personal choices do not interest me, she is welcome in the Serbian government”, the Prime Minister told a press conference. “I told her that what interests me is the work that she can do.”

Following the violence sparked by the 2010 parade which saw thousands of young people rioting on the streets, throwing stones and missiles, injuring police officers and setting alight buildings and vehicles, Pride marches were banned between 2011-2013, as authorities said they could not protect the participants.

But one unnamed Orthodox monk, in an Internet post, said that neither the Pride parade nor the priests’ counter-demonstration, were needed because the “abomination” of homosexuality is a non-issue in Serbia. He argued that that there are so few homosexuals in Serbia that they don’t merit either religious or political consideration.

“The visible gay community in Serbia is tiny, and most of the people in it are foreign, of only partial Serb ancestry, or otherwise just kind of elite/foreign-minded – definitely not average Serbs by any stretch of the imagination.
“It is largely due to this that Serbs feel pressured into accepting something they don’t want. The parade almost certainly came about due to foreign influences and not from a request from Serbs themselves. Serbs are generally not interested in and not tempted by this particular aspect of Western influence.”

He added: “In Serbia I have met exactly two openly gay people. I have met about as many who at least openly state that homosexual acts are acceptable.

“The general culture is very openly against homosexuality. So how can anyone say with a straight face … that the troubles which have befallen Serbia are due to punishment from God for allowing gay pride parades, when every day in Serbia thousands of children are murdered through abortion, and no one really cares?”

He is certainly correct that “the general culture is very openly against homosexuality”. According to Wikipedia, research carried out in 2012 showed that 48 percent of Serbs believe that homosexuality is an illness.

Victor Pemberton completes his epic Arctic Adventure, by Barry Duke

In the summer issue of the Pink Humanist I reported on an incredible journey about to be undertaken by gay screenwriter, novelist, actor and humanist Victor Pemberton, 84, who decided earlier this year to drive solo from his home on the Costa Blanca in Spain to the Arctic circle to raise money for the UK-based charity, Help for Heroes.

Several days before his departure, dozens of supporters gathered in Benidorm’s Old Town to give Victor, best known for his involvement in the Doctor Who series, a rousing send-off in the form of a joyful street party and a buffet dinner hosted for him by the proprietors of the Italian Twist restaurant, Flavio Ascione and his partner Nino Peschiera. Hundreds of euros were raised on the night for Help for Heroes.

Victor Pemberton pictured with a cake made for his send-off by the Italian Twist team in Benidorm

The charity’s mission is “to deliver an enduring national network of support for our wounded and their families. We will inspire and enable those who have made sacrifices on our behalf to achieve their full potential.”

When I spoke to Victor earlier this month, he said that his trip across central Europe, through Denmark to the Arctic region of Norway, hopefully will have raised more than £4,000.

“Donations are still being counted, and, at a recent wedding I attended, guests were asked to contribute to the charity rather than spend money on gifts for the newly-weds.

“I should also point out that my Just Giving page is still taking donations for Help the Heroes.”

During the course of his journey, Victor recorded a number of YouTube videos. In his final video, filmed in France and posted on August 28, he described the trip as “quite an ordeal”, but that he’d seen some stunning sights along the way. “It seems incredible to me – especially at my age – to have travelled to the Arctic circle, and I can hardly believe I’ve actually done so,” he said. “I have done some incredible things in my lifetime, but this was exceptional.”

He said he spent many hours in his car, asking himself “why am I doing this?” His answer: to do his bit to help people who have suffered life-changing injuries, terrible alterations to their their lifestyles and the humiliation of no longer being able to do things as they once could.

“When I get home,” he said, “this will not be the end of my Arctic Adventure, just the beginning. I want it to go on and on.

“These men and women went out to hostile countries to fight loathsome killers on our behalf. Many did not come back, and those that did suffered terrible injuries both physical and mental, and it up to us to continue to support them.”

Victor, as I pointed out in my first article, is very much the party animal, and when I spoke to him he informed me that he was planning on hosting another celebration in Benidorm, his 85 birthday.

Is the tide turning in Africa against Western hate preachers?

Tony Miller poses the question

For years, Western evangelicals have been ecstatically welcomed into African countries, where they have been allowed to drum up hatred against LGBT communities. They have even succeeded on leaning heavily on governments to enact draconian legislation against homosexuality or to strengthen archaic colonial laws.

But what happened in September this year to Arizona preacher Steven Anderson, above, may be an indication that attitudes are hardening against Christians who promote homophobia.

When South Africans learned that Anderson, of the Faithful Word Baptist Church, was scheduled to embark on a “soul-winning” crusade in their country, pressure was immediately put on the authorities to bar him from entering the country, mainly because the Arizona-based preacher had caused worldwide outrage with remarks that followed the gay nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida. He said immediately after the atrocity that “there’s 50 less paedophiles in this world”.

An online petition, calling on the authorities to bar him, attracted 60,000 signatures, and the Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba lost no time in declaring the preacher a “prohibited person”.

Malusi Gigaba

“If we find him at any of our ports of entry, we will detain and deport him,” said Gigaba. “We don’t want him in this country.”

South Africa is one of the few countries in Africa that recognises gay rights and the only one that allows same-sex marriages.

Gigaba acted swiftly against Anderon after it was brought to his attention that the preacher had insulted one of South Africa’s most admired figures.

In an interview with a Cape Town radio station, he had attacked Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu. He branded Tutu – a vocal supporter of the gay community whose
daughter is lesbian – a “pervert … who goes around in a pink dress”.

As debate raged in South Africa about whether he should be granted entry, Anderson described Gigaba as a “wicked sodomite”, a “joke” and “backward” after he met with gay rights groups over the issue.
Gigaba said a dossier handed to him of Anderson’s remarks confirmed that he was guilty of hate speech and “promoting social violence” and should therefore be banned under the Immigration Act.

“These interventions will not be the panacea to our own social shortcomings, of prejudice and discrimination,” he said. “They will however provide us an opportunity to learn, or better unlearn, our own bigoted views and hateful beliefs.

“South Africa has its own mending to do, we do not need more hatred. Steven Anderson will be advised that he is not welcome.”

Responding to his ban in a Facebook post, Anderson said: “I feel sorry for people who live in South Africa.” But he announced that his planned trip to neighbouring Botswana would be going ahead.

That didn’t go well either. Shortly after the preacher and 20 of his flock arrived in Botswana Anderson was slung out of the country.

Cape Town-based pastor Oscar Bougardt, a supporter of Anderson who travelled to Botswana to give him moral support, told a South African newspaper that he saw immigration authorities putting Anderson on a plane out of the country.

Pastor Oscar Bougardt

Bougardt, of the Calvary Hope Ministries in Strandfontein, said he believed the deportation “happened because of an influence from a neighbouring country”.

Bougardt said he asked Anderson if he had really called for homosexuals to be executed after 49 people were gunned down in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in June.

“He said that he said he didn’t feel sorry for them dying in the shooting, but that the media turned his words around.”

In another interview, before Anderson was barred from entering the country, Bougardt, said that, although he did not agree with Anderson’s viewpoint that gays should be killed, Anderson was “a man of the cloth and is only preaching the gospel”.

When he learned that a number of hotels were refusing to accommodate Anderson, Bougardt promised his fellow preacher that he would help him find places to stay. Spur in Festive Mall, Kempton Park, Wimpy and the Premier Hotel at OR Tambo International Airport – all venues Anderson had made bookings with – had banned Anderson after learning of his hate-preaching.

Bougardt himself has been in trouble with the authorities over his anti-gay preaching. He had been reported to the SA Human Rights Commission several times for hate speech, including for statements including: “Bishop Desmond Tutu is mentally sick who has his own religious beliefs that says it is OK to be homosexual.

“He is… leading all homosexuals straight to hell.”

However, the Strandfontein preacher insisted he would “cut myself off” from Anderson if he starts preaching that gays should be killed.

During a radio interview. Anderson insisted his journey to South Africa was not about preaching against homosexuality, despite calling gay people “abominations”, “filthy” and “violent” in interviews.

Bougardt said: “His idea is not to preach about homosexuality, he is going to do a sermon, a crusade on spreading the gospel. He is like me, when we open our mouths people think we are going to preach about homosexuality.”

“Let me be honest, the word of God says homosexuality is an abomination. If he comes here, and preaches the gospel, I will stand by him.

“If he says homosexuals must be killed, I will not stand by him.”

He said he was also ready to help Anderson establish a branch of his church in South Africa.

“He has indicated he wishes to open a church in Johannesburg, but I have told him Cape Town is better.

“I would also like to visit his church in America.”

In Cape Town, gay celebrities, former Mr and Miss Gay Cape Town, Errol Stroebel and his partner Kat Gilardi, slammed Bougardt for backing Anderson.

Stroebel said: “What pastor spreads hate instead of God’s love? Bougard’s licence needs to be revoked.”

Gilardi added that the gay community was united against Anderson: “By allowing Anderson to come here is to spread the hate, which can lead to other things, like what happened in Orlando.”

Gay Rights group Triangle Project say they are “not surprised that Mr Bougardt has embraced the hateful and distorted message of Steven Anderson”.

Spokesperson Matthew Clayton said: “Mr Anderson and Mr Bougardt must be afforded both their right to freedom of expression and freedom of religious belief, but neither of these rights should allow them to spew hate, especially where it places lives in danger.”

Pink Triangle Trust funding helps provide computer equipment for HELU

For the first time since its founding in 2009, Humanist Empowerment of Livelihoods in Uganda (HELU) the organisation has a computer and printer in its pre-school and vocational training centre – thanks to the latest donation it has received from the UK LGBT charity The Pink Triangle Trust,

In September, HELU reported on its Facebook page that the new equipment will help ease its office work “which was always a problem.” A power invertor is also in place to help protect the equipment, powered by solar energy.
HELU said: “This has been made possible through the generosity of The Pink Triangle trust, thank you so much PTT members.”

HELU is a Humanist community-based group established in 2009 to “promote Humanism, a life stance with human beings playing a central role in their own lives without depending on religion, culture and tradition but rather having compassion and upholding human rights.”

It is a member of the International Humanist & Ethical Union.

HELU’s programme has several activities that include: training in human rights and Humanism, teaching skilled crafts, hair styling, tailoring baking and confectionery and farming, especially animal husbandry that the beneficiaries use to create incomes to support their families, and a free nursery school promoting reason and science.

Here HELU’s Publicity Secretary Ayella Collins describes the organisation, its aims and activities:

Humanist Empowerment of Livelihoods in Uganda (HELU) is a programme established in 2009.

Its first project was to empower vulnerable girls, including rape victims and child mothers. The programme operates in Gulu, a district in Northern Uganda.

Gulu experienced war between government forces and a rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army for two decades, and since 2007 Gulu has been a post-conflict zone.

Post-conflict zone status birthed an idea to start up a humanist organisation in 2009. This was made possible through funding from a Norwegian humanist group.

The Empowering Vulnerable Girls project serves to teach girls skills that include tailoring, hairdressing, baking and confectionery, basic farming, training in business management and income-generating activities.
“A vocational training centre and a demonstration farm are in place to provide training and alternative shelters for those denied rights to own land. It also provides temporary shelter for any LGBTI discrimination victims and for those accused of witchcraft.

Most of the beneficiaries have children. To keep the kids busy while the mothers attended classes a pre-school was established.

In January 2015 an American charity KidsHeartKids provided funding for two classrooms. A third classroom in now being constructed with funding from the UK gay Humanist charity the Pink Triangle Trust.

We also undertake the following activities:

• Human rights and advocacy training.
• Training/workshops on Humanism.
• Training for business management and income-generating activities.
• Basic farming.
• Counselling and guidance and corporate social responsibilities.

The PTT’s first donation was made in 2015 to build a classroom for its nursery school and provide equipment for it.

Now it has funded the purchase of a variety of items for the school including the compuper equipment, play swings, goal posts. soccer balls, an open air feeding shelter for the children and office stationery.
In all the PTT has donated £3,600 to HELU.