Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

IWPR Roundtable Tackles Homophobia in Bosnia

Young people need more awareness of LGBT issues, participants say.
By Aleksandra Tolj, Mladen Lakić
  • Participants of the round table - students of the Faculty of Philosophy in Eastern Sarajevo, departments of journalism and sociology. (Photo: Mladen Lakic)
    Participants of the round table - students of the Faculty of Philosophy in Eastern Sarajevo, departments of journalism and sociology. (Photo: Mladen Lakic)

Participants in an IWPR roundtable in Sarajevo agreed that homophobia was still a troubling issue in Bosnia and Herzegovina and called for more open discussion of the subject.

The discussion on May 25 was led by IWPR-trained journalists Mladen Lakic and Aleksandra Tolj, whose special report on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, LGBT, community in BiH was published on May 3 (See Bosnia: Living in Anonymity.)

Students of journalism and sociology at the University in Eastern Sarajevo in Republika Srpska, one of Bosnia’s two administrative entities, took part in the debate.

The article’s authors emphasised the need for professional and ethical reporting on minority issues, and presented a short overview of LGBT activism in Bosnia. Since activists often want to avoid media coverage, Tolj and Lakic offered the students some useful advice on finding appropriate interviewees and approaching them in the right way.

They also highlighted some alarming findings from a study called “Homophobia in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, the result of a survey of attitudes among high school pupils carried out by the Kosmos youth centre in Kljuc last December. Of the 439 pupils who took part, one in five said verbal violence against gay people was justified, and 50 per cent saw homosexuality as a form of illness. Another 35 per cent said they would stop hanging out with friends if they found out they were gay.

Organisation Q, a group that supports the rights of Bosnia’s LGBT community, high levels of homophobia are a feature of the education system. It says hate speech, prejudice, stereotyping, social exclusion and insulting jokes are common in educational institutions at all levels, while teachers and lecturers rarely address these issues with their students.

“We have never discussed this topic at school,” roundtable participant Slobodan Todorovic, studying journalism at the University of Eastern Sarajevo, said.

Other students said reporting on minority groups did come up during their Ethics in Journalism course, but only briefly and in general terms.

“I think the LGBT community isn’t mentioned specifically on the course because it’s still a very sensitive subject in our country,” Todorovic said.

Explaining the importance of talking about these issues, Todorovic’s classmate Milos Sarenac said, “We are studying journalism. We’ll probably go on to exert great influence on public opinion one day, and yet we aren’t aware of how much damage we can inflict on our society if we have the wrong attitude toward minority groups, including the LGBT community.”

Sarenac said he had tried to bring more of his fellow students to the roundtable event, but they refused to come.

“The sad thing is that gatherings like this are usually attended by people who are really interested in the issue and who already know a lot about it, while others avoid them,” he said.

Aleksandra Tolj and Mladen Lakic are IWPR-trained reporters in Eastern Sarajevo.



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