Balkans: The LGBT community is invisible

The young gay activist slowly stirs sugar into his coffee as he says he’s never had a boyfriend who would hold his hand in public.

“Most people from my generation are too scared to come out,” says 22-year-old Liridon Veliou, who works with the LGBT rights group QESh. Behind him, is a cafe scene from any European city – smartphones and MacBook computers illuminating the faces of young men and women against a backdrop of bookshelves stacked with 60s American novels.

But beyond the cafe’s terrace and its young, open-minded clientele, lies a country where 81% of the LGBT community has suffered threats or insults because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is the highest rate of discrimination in the western Balkans, according to a 2015 poll by the National Democracy Institute. The statistics are a sharp reminder that, despite appearances, this isn’t London or Rome – this is Pristina, capital of Kosovo.

On paper, Kosovo looks modern and inclusive – its progressive constitution written in the aftermath of the 1998-99 war includes a ban of discrimination based on sexual orientation. But LGBT groups say this image contradicts reality.