Blert's story

A positive outcome on my case will mark a historical momentum

One of the first open transgender from Kosovo — about its rebelliousness, fighting with the bureaucratic machinery and slowly changing public awareness
My name is Blert Morina, I am 29 years old, I come from Gjakova, Kosovo and I am a transgender man. To me, gender identity used to be innate. Having been born female, I have always felt like a man. Although my physical features did not represent the way I felt, I wasn't bothered by the fact that my body didn't match my gender identity.

I have never perceived childhood as a transitional phase and being a man in the body of a female was something I perceived as given. Family tradition and living in a patriarchal society in the country I was born in, didn't block me from not wearing skirts, or forced me to use the colors that were seen as girls' colors. I have lived the way I wanted to, despite the fact that I haven't conformed to the other part of the society and family circle. I was the best football player and the only 'girl' member in my team.
Transgender
a person whose gender identity and/or gender presentation does not correspond to cultural and social expectations associated with sex attributed at birth. The term is used to designate a wide range of gender identities.
MAN IN THE WOMAN BODY
I behaved and dressed like a man, I kept my hair short and I hung out with boys
In the beginning this was difficult, but my style has always helped. It was difficult because I had to match my gender identity with my biological sex. However, after finishing the 9th grade I started working in my father's shop, where we processed and sold meat. With rebellion and persuasiveness - I managed to break through the prejudice that this job should not be done by women. I didn't have clear information about my identity, but still, I naturally behaved the way I did, and I dressed in the way men around me dressed.

After this, I decided to move to Prishtina, Kosovo's capital city to start High School. Here, I faced my greatest dissappointment. I knew no one and I felt lost in a completely new circle of people.
It was the principal high school that refused my request to wear pants instead of the skirt, as a part of the school uniform
"In our school this is the uniform and if you do not like it, you can change your school. There is no room for discussion." she said back then. For three years, people perceived me as a woman, and this gave me a lot of pressure.

I never wore that skirt. It was so difficult, because I came to Pristina from an isolated village to find a better environment, whereas my first encounter was that in the school where I was not allowed to dress the way I wanted to. And it was precisely this moment, where a big turn took place, and when I started to get exposed to information around transgender people.
LIVING IN ISOLATION
Although I haven't experienced physical abuse, the pressure I had was enough to keep me isolated
I have received hundreds of threats, even death threats. These threats have increased when me and my colleague Lendi, a transgender too, have showed up on television, and had our first public appearance. In the moment we left the television, we received countless messages - varying from supportive ones to offensive and threatening ones.
I told my family members that should they received any threats or pressure, to immediately inform me. But my family kept all the insults and offensive comments from me. Whoever went to my father's shop, left by leaving offensive comments such as "How many daughters do you have now". "Faggot, we will kill you, you degenerate" etc.

We have reported those in the police, but the police didn't really do anything, nor investigated any of these cases. From all the cases, none of them has been solved in an adequate way, especially knowing all the laws Kosovo has in place on this regard. Only one case has gone to court and the person was sentenced with five months, because he had committed physical abuse against one member of the community.

To this day, there are about 40 cases reported in the police since 2012. There are many cases that have been reported to the organizations, but people refuse to go to the police.
There was a case when one person went to the police, and just a few days after that everyone in Kosovo found out who he was and that he was a member of the LGBT community – since the information got leaked by the police
For two years, Centre for Equality and Liberty (currently it is headed by Blert - Ed.) has sent six cases to the shelters in Albania, because there are no shelters in Kosovo. Those people came to us in terrible condition, having been subjected to physical and psychological violence, being threatened with death. All of these cases have been caused by family members.

Being aware of this situation, whenever we organize any event for the community, we ensure strict safety measures are undertaken. We leave immediately after the event, we lock up in our houses, or leave the city. After the Parade, we have left the city for a few days to avoid the danger that can come from those who threaten us.
Centre for Equality and Liberty
CEL Centre for Equality and Liberty of the LGBT community in Kosovo (CEL) was established in July, 2013 with the aim to empower the LGBT community in Kosovo, prevent the discrimination based on sexual orientation, raise awareness of the general population on LGBT rights and advocate for equal rights and non discrimination of the LGBT community in Kosovo in accordance with the Constitution and the laws of the Republic of Kosovo.
THEORY, CONTRADICTING TO PRACTICE
On paper, Kosovo has legal guarantees for LGBTQ people
Our legislation enables LGBTQ persons to have a relationship, to love, to work, and to live just like everyone else. The Constitution guarantees that International Conventions for human rights are respected and stipulates that these instruments even have 'priority over legal dispositions or other acts of public institutions". Article 24 of Constitutions stipulates that "no one can be discriminated in the ground of ... sexual orientation", whereas article 2 of the Law Against Discrimination repeats this principle.

There are laws in place that are very advanced. After the war, we have adapted Laws from the Europe offering best practices. Maybe this was the problem, because a lot was invested in adapting the Laws, but the same cannot be said when it comes to the enforcement of the laws. We have the best laws on paper, but law enforcement is equal to zero. Despite this, our laws stagnate.
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.
"You do not choose to be transgender, but you choose to hate", written on a poster
I have begun the procedure of changing my name. I have filed a request to change the name and the gender mark in 2018. I filed the request to change the name in the birth certificate, ID and passport, from 'Blerta' to 'Blert', and to change the gender mark from F (Female) to M (Male). I have submitted this request to the Office for Civil Registration in my birthplace, Gjakova. However, I was informed by the Directorate for General Administrative Affairs, within the Office for Civil Registration, that my request was rejected. The act was issued after a negative recommendation by the Commission within the Civil Registration Agency, a body within the Ministry of Internal Affairs, that is responsible of issuing recommendations for such requests.

Despite this I will not give up on this process, and I will use all regular and public measures, because a positive result can mark a historical momentum for the transgender community in Kosovo.
SLOWLY CHANGING THE BALKAN MINDSET
Every day we feel society's pressure
Many comments accompany the transgender community in Kosovo, especially when it comes to trans women. When it comes to trans men, there is a perception that "either the family did not have any men, that daughters did not have brothers" and there was a pressure to become a man.

However, if we compare the work being done by the media, I can say there has been progress. Now, the media is more informed, even though there continue to be various stereotypes. The Balkan mindset makes it difficult to comprehend why someone may not be able to connect with the body they had since birth, and then this leads to "men with skirts", "women with penises" or for trans men "the desire to enjoy the privileges of men".
Especially when one begins the transition, and after the first physical changes, you will be perceived as a gay man. It is dangerous because it leads to a situation where the transgender community is not recognized. Or if you are a trans gay, you will be perceived as indecisive, and people often ask you "then why are you changing your gender" – and this shows lack of information of our society about trans persons. There is always a strive to explain that gender identity is different from sexual orientation.

I remember during the first Parade, there were only foreigners that live in Kosovo, us – the organizers of the Parade, and some other people from other organizations. The turnout was minimal. But in the Pride Parade that we organized last year, hundreds of people turned out and the most interesting thing was that there were many people from the community – ones that before did not even think about showing up, due to fear that someone might see and identify them. When I see that they are more vocal and are showing up in the parade, I can say that things are changing for good.
Transgender transition
the process of bringing the gender role and body of a person into harmony with own inner self-awareness - gender identity. Transgender transition can include socialization in a new gender role, change of passport name and legal gender, as well as medical procedures for changing external sex characters.
The community organized several events in Pristina, including drag shows. Even though they were organized under strict safety measures and were accompanied by the police, I can say that the mindset is changing, but still very slowly. Also, these events are taking place in Pristina, the capital city... we cannot say that the same is happening in other cities, or in rural areas.

Because our projects involves field work in high schools in different cities, we receive various reactions - some students are offending us once they find out why we are there, or they simply leave the classrooms. However, if we compare the situation with that of a few years ago - there is progress.
Text, photo: Dardan Hoti. Editing: Bojan Stojkovski, Anastasiia Sechina. Illustration: Natalia Makarikhina. Translation into Russian: Irina Galina. Translation into Albanian: Fitini Misini.
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