Lesbian Organization Rijeka LORI was founded on 19 October 2000. The aims of the organization are to inform and sensitize the public to accept sexual and gender minorities (LGBTIQ1), to eradicate prejudice and homo/bi/transphobia, to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender/sex identity and/or gender expression, and to achieve full equality under the law.
Our activities are focused on:
- informing, supporting and empowering the LGBTIQ community;
- promoting and protecting LGBTIQ rights and increasing the visibility of LGBTIQ persons;
- conducting campaigns and undertaking projects that aim to raise public awareness and point to problems of, the forms of discrimination against and violence towards sexual and gender minorities;
- informing and educating professionals about LGBTIQ issues and LGBTIQ rights;
- informing and sensitizing the public to accept LGBTIQ persons;
- reducing prejudice against and stigmatization of LGBTIQ population;
- creating a more tolerant environment and a society that respects the rights of all citizens.
The LGBT discrimination ban (relating to discrimination based on sex orientation, gender identity and gender expression) and the protection of certain rights of LGBT persons are regulated in the Republic of Croatia by a number of laws and regulations. However, the awareness of the existence of anti-discriminatory legal framework in the national legislation is still extremely low, both among the general population and within LGBT community. The implementation of national and international regulations is not successful enough because of the high degree of homophobia and transphobia in the society and the widespread institutional homo/bi/transphobia.
Institutional support in combating transphobia and homophobia is not satisfactory. Although some public officials express their strong disapproval of homophobic violence, these expressions are often not followed by real and concrete steps and measures taken in order to end this kind of violence. Political parties in the Republic of Croatia do not have a separate chapter in their programmes dedicated to LGBT rights, policies and issues, and just a few parties mention them in their publications, but only superficially.
LGBT persons are often subjected to marginalization and psychological and physical violence in the workplace, at school or university, as well as within their own families. Research done by independent bodies and organizations of civil society show that sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression are among the most common grounds for discrimination and violence in Croatia2. Despite the efforts of LGBT organizations, and of some political actors and media in the last ten years or so, homo/bi/transphobia is still deeply entrenched in the society. Negative attitudes, stereotypes, prejudice and hate facilitate the unwillingness of authorities to dedicate themselves decisively and continuously to combating homo/bi/transphobia and improving the status of LGBT persons and the protection of LGBT rights.
According to the 2013 Research on Discrimination, Hate Crime and Violence Against Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexual, Transgender, Transexual, Intersexual and Queer (LGBTIQ) Persons in the Republic of Croatia3, as much as 73.6 percent experienced some form of violence on the basis of their sexual orientation, sex/gender identity and/or gender expression. The dissatisfaction with living in Croatia is indicated by the fact that every other person (54.9 percent) would emigrate given the chance.
Reducing and eliminating the unequal status of partner and family unions of LGBT persons in relation to marriage, cohabiting heterosexual couples (known in Croatia as extramarital unions) and heterosexual families should be one of the priorities of the Croatian legislation4 in the following short-term period. LGBT individuals and couples are not treated equally and adequately in accessing public health and social services, as well as many other economic, social and cultural rights afforded by marriage.
Progress in ensuring the freedom of public assembly for LGBT persons is visible, and the authorities combat occurrences of extremist violence more adequately. However, the LGBT persons’ freedom of assembly is threatened by unconstitutional activities engaged in by violent extremist groups and their open invitations to violence against LGBT persons.
Legal protection against homophobic and transphobic hate crimes has been improved in recent years. The new Criminal Code, which entered into force on 1 January 2013, prescribes more severe punitive measures for a hate crime committed on the basis of the victim’s gender identity, as well as on the basis of her/his sexual orientation. Improvements include the drafting of the Hate Crime Protocol, as well as the training of police officers that has been carried out by LGBT organizations. Of course, these forms of education should be intensified and institutionalized. The continuing problem are the occurrences of hate crimes where the police, instead of bringing criminal charges, charge perpetrators with a minor offence at a minor offence court, although all conditions for bringing criminal charges have been met. The perpetrators are then convicted for a misdemeanour and punished leniently, which has no effect on LGBT persons’ feeling of safety. In addition, such punitive measures do not act as a deterrent against other potential perpetrators.
Although discrimination in the workplace and in the labour market is prohibited, research and informal complaints made by LGBT persons to LGBT organizations indicate that this type of discrimination does exist. As in the cases of discrimination based on other grounds, one of the main reasons for LGBT persons’ using few or no protective mechanisms is the fear of losing their jobs, of decreased salaries, of the tyranny of their superiors and so on. In most professions, therefore, LGBT persons tend not to express their sexual and/or gender identity in public, which negatively affects their dignity, work results and personal development in general.
The Ombudsman’s Report on Occurrence of Discrimination in 2010 states (in section 2.1.6. Sexual orientation) that, among other things, the non-existence of systematic civil education, that is, human rights education on all educational levels, contributes to an environment that is discriminatory towards LGBT individuals. It stresses that, considering widespread prejudice and discriminatory attitudes on grounds of sexual orientation, there is a need for an encompassing educational programme for combating discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. What is mostly needed, the report states, is the direct implementation of such educational contents in the school curriculum.
Different forms of homo/biphobia and transphobia are present in Croatian schools. There is also the worrying presence of peer violence and/or bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. This was confirmed by the recent Research on Opinions and Attitudes Towards Homosexuality in Secondary Schools in Zagreb (A. Hodžić and N. Bijelić, 2012, Zagreb, sample of 322 pupils and 117 teachers), where almost a third of secondary school pupils reported using verbal and/or physical violence against a person because of their alleged sexual orientation. Although national policies and programmes recognize the importance of protecting children and youth from bullying, there are no programmes, guidelines and regulations that directly address sexual orientation and/or gender identity and fighting against homo/bi/transphobia in schools. Educational institutions should insist on using affirmative language on an every-day level and oppose hate speech and discriminatory comments made by staff and pupils. Furthermore, it is necessary to implement education by LGBT organizations in schools in order to raise awareness among professional staff and pupils about LGBT issues, as well as to ensure various available sources of psychosocial support for individuals who have experienced violence because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
In late 2012, the Health Education programme was introduced into primary and secondary schools in the Republic of Croatia, which in its Gender/Sex Equality Module also attempts to cover LGBT issues, albeit very marginally and insufficiently. Attacks by clerical and conservative organizations on the Health Education programme threatened its systematic implementation. In the revised syllabus from September 2013, the primary-school education about LGBT rights was left out5. The Handbook for Secondary School Teachers and School Counsellors, additionally stigmatizes LGBT individuals and families, and disseminates incorrect and homo/bi/transphobic information6. The Ministry of Science, Education and Sport and the Education and Teacher Training Agency should become aware of these inappropriate and incorrect contents and publish additional instructions for schools and, in the future, remove these contents from the Handbook.
The need to create a comprehensive national plan for combating homophobia and transphobia has been under discussion for years. For now, however, there is no visible political will to begin creating such a strategy and it is therefore necessary to work on sensitizing political parties and government bodies in order to raise awareness about its importance and necessity.
Visible is the shift in the field of the protection of trans rights. Since 2013 Criminal Code has also recognized gender identity as one of the grounds for committing hate crimes, and a positive novelty is that under the new Personal Name Act (Official Gazzette No 118/12) transgender individuals are able to change their “old” name into a gender-appropriate one more easily, without having to complete their sex transition process including surgery. Also, under the new Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages Act a person living in another gender identity is now able to change her/his legal gender in the Register of Births. The Extract from the Register of Births no longer includes the entry on gender change or name change, and is issued with the new name (only noting that the name has been changed).
There are still problems with changing legal gender in official documents. The existing Regulations on Collecting Medical Records (OG No 121/11) stipulate that the change of legal gender is entered in the Birth Register based on the opinion of the National Health Council. The National Health Council, in its turn, considers the Regulations not clear enough and will therefore neither comply with them nor consider applications for gender change that have been submitted to it.
Inadequate is the protection of transgender individuals who do not wish to go through the whole transition process, but want to, for example, live in another gender identity and take hormone therapy. It is necessary that laws and regulations recognize these individuals in the system and provide the issuing of necessary documents and adequate health care, acknowledging their real gender identity and not the sex ascribed at birth.
There are no laws in Croatia relating to the process of gender reassignment (transition), which is an additional obstacle for all transgender and transexual individuals, limiting their human rights and not providing the health and legal care they need.
Health and psychosocial services – from psychiatric evaluation through hormonal therapy to gender reassignment surgery– are not systematically available and regulated. Health practitioners have no adequate expertise and, at this moment, the care for transgender and transsexual individuals is reduced to the personal and professional interest of individual medical professionals, with great administrative and health-care confusion in the system. It is necessary to educate and sensitize health-care providers to the issues of trans persons and improve the existing health and psychosocial care so that it does not discriminate against these individuals.
The Lesbian Organization Rijeka LORI believes in the right of every individual to create and shape their identity and/or identities in accordance with their heterogeneity, guided exclusively by their individual sexuality and gender – rather than by given heteronormative rules and the binary system – and enjoying all the rights they are entitled to. The vision of LORI is to ensure a democratic civil society in which persons are not discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity and expression; a society dominated by the values of non-violence, equality and acceptance of difference, which promotes the freedom of living and expressing one’s sexual and gender individuality.
The aim of the organization is to promote and protect the human rights, identity and culture of the LGBTIQ population, to inform and sensitize the public to accept the LGBTIQ community, to eradicate prejudice and homo/bi/transphobia in society, to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, and empower and ensure support for LGBTIQ persons.
Strategy of activity
Activities of the Lesbian Organization Rijeka LORI are focused on:
- Education and empowerment of the LGBTIQ community through projects and activities as well as through meeting their needs
- Education and empowerment of lesbians, bisexual and transgender women through projects and activities as well as through meeting their needs
- Ensuring and protecting LGBTIQ human rights
- Informing and raising awareness among the public in order for them to better understand and accept LGBTIQ persons, reducing prejudice and stereotypes that exist in society, and increasing the visibility of LGBTIQ community
- Education of professionals (psychosocial workers, teachers, workers in the media, etc.) about LGBTIQ problems and the rights of LGBTIQ persons
- Development of LGBT activism and organizational capacity building
1 LGBTIQ – lesbians, gay men, bisexual, transgender, transexual, intersexual and queer persons.
2 In the 2008 research by the independent agency Puls, which was carried out on a sample of 800 people, 49 percent stated that homosexual persons should not be allowed to work in the public sector, that is, in public services and national health services; 67 percent stated that LGBT persons should not be allowed to have access to children and especially should not be allowed to work with children as teachers in kindergartens and schools. Only 28 percent of the respondents did not express negative attitudes towards sexual and gender minorities.
According to the 2010 research carried out by the GONG organization and the Faculty of Political Sciences, 46 percent of secondary school pupils believe that homosexuality is a disease, while 64 percent think that homosexual persons should not be allowed to appear in public.
In Croatia, 47.1 percent of LGBTIQ persons have experienced some form of violence at least once during their lifetimes, with not less than a third of these being hate crimes. This is shown in the 2007 research by the Lesbian Organization Rijeka LORI, carried out on a sample of 592 respondents.
3 This field research was carried out by the Zagreb Pride organization in collaboration with the Lesbian organization Rijeka LORI and Queer Sport Split on a sample of 690 persons.
4 Persons living in marriage enjoy over sixty different rights, while LGBT couples, in terms of the Same-Sex Unions Act, only enjoy two rights.
5 Teachers in the seventh grade of primary school are advised to, in case that homosexuality is mentioned in class, offer only a short explanation to students, which helps to develop homophobic and transphobic attitudes in children of primary-school age.
6 In the Handbook for Secondary School Teachers and School Counsellors, within the topic of Marriage, the notions of same-sex marriages and families are, in an inappropriate and discriminatory manner, called a “controversial issue” (p 227). This is especially unacceptable if we take into consideration that according to the Life Partnership Bill, as announced, the life unions of lesbians and gay men would be put on a par with marriage and extramarital unions in most rights; in this way their status of family would be acknowledged. The Handbook states that “in some countries there are families in which parents are of the same sex” (p 228), inferring that there are no such families in Croatia, which provides inaccurate information to children and stigmatizes in advance same-sex parent families with children. The very topic of homosexuality (intended for secondary school third-graders, ages 16-17; p 237 and below) is dealt with in such a way to encourage pupils to exchange different opinions, putting on a par worldviews and ideological views on LGBT identities with laws and scientific insights, and relativizing the whole legislating framework of the Republic of Croatia, international-law instruments of protection and scientific achievements as such.