Arber's story

I am happy to be a part of a generation of people who do not wait others to make change

Albanian LGBT+ activist - about the journey to self-acceptance, about how to turn pain into force and how LGBT activism began in post-communist Albania

My name is Arbër Kodra, I am a 33-year-old gay man and a vivid LGBT+ activist in Albania. I have been part of the LGBT+ movement here since its genesis. Currently I am executive director of Open Mind Spectrum Albania (OMSA).
Gay (homosexual)
a homosexual man who is experiencing sexual, erotic, romantic or/and emotional attraction to the members of his sex or/and gender
LGBT (LGBT+, LGBTIQ, LGBTIQ, LGBTQIA)
The abbreviation "LGBT" stands for "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender". The term "LGBT +" is now considered more correct, because it includes by default all possible orientations and identities that cannot be covered by one abbreviation. Also there are abbreviations LGBTI, LGBTIQ, LGBTQIA, where I is intersex people, Q is queer, A is asexuals.
Open Mind Spectrum Albania
an NGO focused on the advancement of LGBT+ rights in Albania through the means of artivism, education program on parents, political participation of LGBTI+ people etc.
THE SELF-ACCEPTANCE CHALLENGE
Since I was young I had understood my sexual orientation
But the moment that I became fully aware of it was around the puberty age (approximately 12-13 year old). How I understood it was by flicking through some pornographic magazines, which I had in my closet. While flicking through, I paid more attention to boys rather than girls. I got scared at first because I knew that this was wrong in a heteronormative society like ours. Since then, I rejected my sexual orientation.

During elementary school I was bullied due to my "fragile" character. Even later on, when I started high school, again I encountered bullying from my schoolmates. I registered in a private school but still I was not feeling safe there.
Heteronormativity
the belief that heterosexuality, predicated on the gender binary, is the norm or default sexual orientation. It assumes that sexual and marital relations are most fitting between people of opposite sex
Sexual orientation
more or less constant emotional, romantic, sexual or erotic attraction of a person to other people of a certain sex and/or gender
Soon I started to withdraw from a lot of people and I was labeled as an introvert. Due to all these factors, I started to smoke, to drink alcohol and to go out more during nights
I did this because I had a wealthy family. My parents purchased me a car, but unfortunately I was surrounded by bad influences. I started to experiment with drugs. To me drugs were a way how to escape from the grimy reality. Through drugs usage I could suppress all my inner feelings. I reached that point in my life that I started to stay out of home most of the time.

One day I realized that I was tired from this lifestyle - the drugs affected me a lot and one of the worst side effects were anxiety, which lasted for a long time.
A NEW BEGINNING
I started to ask for help, and therefore I requested my parents to provide me with psychological treatment
After some time, my parents managed to find the right therapist. My treatment lasted for 4 years. Due to paranoia, I could not go out and I was not able even to meet people. Despite everything, I had this inner strength which was not letting me down. After 4 years of intense treatment, I fully recovered.
Nonetheless, I was between two paths: either I had to kill myself because I was a gay man living in a patriarchal society, or I had to stand up for my myself. Actually not only for my myself, but also to raise the voice for all of them that suffer in silence just as I did for many years. I chose the second path, because I wanted to fight for my rights, to fight for who I am and to be the change that I want to see in the future.

Afterwards, I met someone in 2007. Together, we started a relationship. One day he told me that he had met a lesbian girl, who had invited him to join an activity on raising awareness for the World HIV/AIDS day. The girl planned to go there after midnight and stick posters in many public spaces in Tirana.

At first I did not accept because I was afraid. However, I decided to go together with my boyfriend and 7 other people to this guerila action. Most of us were LGBT+ individuals and we sensed the big joy of finding others that come from the same community as you. For this reason we stayed together until 6 o'clock in the morning. After that action, my activism for LGBT+ issue started.
Lesbian
a homosexual woman, that is: experiencing sexual, erotic, romantic and/or emotional attraction to the people of her sex or/and gender
COMING OUT OF THE CLOSET
I think that my mother knew right from the start for about my sexual orientation
I think that a mother always understands this for her child. Anyways, I came out to my mother in 2010. It all dates back to one night, when she followed me with her car. That night I drove home my boyfriend and at one moment I saw my mother behind my car. Then, I immediately understood that she had followed me. She just drove away and we never spoke about it, even though the relation between us was becoming more and more tense.

Later on, I was staying at my boyfriend's house when the phone rang. It was almost midnight and I saw my mother's number. She asked where I was, and I replied back: "Why do you need to know?"

She hang up and called my boyfriend, whose number she had because I had introduced him as a friend. He answered the call and she immediately asked him if he was with me. My boyfriend immediately said no. But my mother persisted: "Why are you lying to me? I just passed by your house and my son's car was there". Then she hang up, and everything was clear to me. My mother was suspicious, and she was checking on us.
After the call, I was shaking. I took my clothes and ran to the car. I knew that I could not keep it a secret anymore. I had to tell everything to my mother. When I arrived home, I called her. She was laying in bed. I asked her to come downstairs because we had some serious talk to do. At first she was reluctant, but then she came downstairs. Together we got into the car and I drove her near a lake in Tirana. When we arrived there I asked her "What would you like to know?". But she told me that she already knew everything, and that she was waiting for me to tell her.

After some moment of silence, I told her "What you already know is true". What I implied by these words was the fact that I am gay. Then I started to weep and shake because of fear...the fear of losing my mother. At the same time she was crying with me.
We cried for a long time. Even though I was crying, I felt that I got rid of a burden that I had inside me for a long time, the burden of being "in the closet" for a long time
«in the closet»
referring to the concept of coming out — it is a process of open and voluntary disclosure by a person of own sexual orientation or gender identity and/or the result of it. The expression comes from the well-established English-language expression "coming out", which in its turn comes from "coming out of the closet" (literally "to come out of the closet", the meaning is "get out of the dark, to open"). Possible spellings: coming-out, coming out.
After some time, I asked her to get back home. So we went back. Before opening the door she told me: "Wait!!! Before you leave, I want to tell you something. You are my child and I am very proud of you. I don't care about anything else. You will never lose my love. Regarding your father and brother, I will take care of them in order to understand the truth". I started to cry even more after these words. We had a long hug and then she went upstairs. It was 2 o'clock. I remember that I called my lesbian friend and told her everything. Then I called my boyfriend and the next day and I told all of my friends. A lot of my friends, who were part of the LGBTI+ community started to talk to my mother.

We forget that the process of acceptance in LGBT+ people is a long one, not only for us but also for our parents. I did not encounter any difficulty with my brother, because he was quite informed and well-educated. My father was also very open and he was constantly reading fliers from my car on LGBT+ issues. Indeed, I am really proud of my parents, they have always showed a lot of love to me. When I hear daunting stories of parents kicking out their children just because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, it makes me love my parents even more. Nonetheless, I have also encountered cases of being refused by my relatives (cousins, aunts etc).
THE ALBANIAN "STONEWALL"
For some time we started to hang out with a lesbian couple, who were working at the American Embassy
We were gathering at their house twice per week. In those gatherings, we brainstormed about how to start our activism and to set up an organization. It was a beautiful phase of my life, actually, one of the most beautiful! This sense of community that we had created, made us more energetic and excited to do more and more in the future.
The first organization that was established was Alliance LGBT (Aleanca LGBT). I started there as a volunteer. Later on, I became the coordinator of the center for a long time. In 2012, the American embassy organized the first regional conference "LGBT+ rights are human rights" in Albania.

At this conference, my mother had a speech. It was that kind of emotional speech that makes everybody cry. During this conference, the idea of creating the first informal group for support of parents of LGBTI kids was raised and gradually the group became more and more formalized. In 2013 we organized three education training with different parents.
Alliance LGBT
is an Albanian non-governmental organization that envisions a free, open and equal Albanian society that embraces diversity and is inclusive of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Aleanca LGBT had been created by a group of LGBT young people who had been working as volunteers this past three years to change the reality for LGBT people in Albania. Aleanca during this time has been organizing regular community events across the country.
I recall one meeting when we invited the Commissioner for Protection against Discrimination. She told me that she was participating not only on behalf of her institution, but also as a mother
The outcome of these trainings was producing fliers and educational tool kits for parents.

In May 2017 we were approached by a Christiano-Maltes group, where religious parents of a gay kid, established the European Network of Parents/ENP. These parents were invited in Malta, and meanwhile there were parents invited from all Europe. The network conducts its annual meetings. Last year the meeting took place in Portugal, and more and more parents are joining this network. Right now we are conducting this campaign called "I am your child", supported by UNDP. I currently have the position of a National Consultant.

Right now I am executive director at OMSA, and this organization was created to fit the needs of collaborating with parents, promotion of human rights, advocacy with political representative, business program and artivism. The idea of establishing a comprehensive organization was proposed by me, together with another activist. One of the projects that is the closest to my heart is artivism, which implies the promotion of LGBT+ rights, women rights and the gender equality through art.
Christiano-Maltes
Group of Maltese Christians, several of which were parents of gay children and later helped establish the The European Network of Parents of LGBTI+ Persons (ENP)
European Network of Parents of LGBTI+ Persons (ENP)
The ENP is an umbrella organization for Associations of Parents of LGBTI+ persons across Europe; as well as for parents who do not form part of an association. This Network gathers families that aim toward a more inclusive society; families that recognize that all persons should be treated with dignity and respect – free from any form of discrimination or oppression.
I think that politicians are not ready when it comes to embracing the LGBT+ rights. This comes as a consequence of the fear that they might lose their votes, hence the LGBT+ issues are not seen from the human rights perspective. On behalf of our projects, we have developed a research on the perceptions of politicians and political youth wings towards LGBTI+ rights - which is the first and only publication in Albania for the political participation of LGBTI people, and the engagement of this community in the political sphere.
Text, photo, translation: Kiki Milona. Editing: Bojan Stojkovski, Anastasiia Sechina. Illustration: Natalia Makarihina. Translation into Russian: Irina Galina
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