On 17 May, we celebrate the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT). Thirty years ago, on 17 May 1990 the World Health Organisation in a long-overdue decision declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder.

This year, we mark IDAHOT in difficult circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic crisis has turned our lives upside down. It has exacerbated the inequalities already faced by disadvantaged groups of society, including LGBTI people. The Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić, in her statement ahead of the IDAHOT, has stressed that LGBTI youngsters who have traditionally been stigmatised and marginalised are now exposed to an even greater risk of hate speech and violence, at home and in public. Social distancing and lockdown can be particularly difficult for those young people who have been rejected by their family or have not come out, or who suffer from physical or psychological violence.

The sombre fact that not all LGBTI persons feel safe at home is confirmed by the findings of the new major survey by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights that also covered Serbia. Thirty-four per cent of respondents in Serbia, when asked “Where do you avoid being open about yourself as LGBTI for fear of being assaulted, threatened or harassed”, said “my home”, and 49% – “around my family”. These indicators demonstrate the existence of the problem and the urgent need to step up efforts to further protect and promote the rights of LGBTI people – by changing attitudes and by conveying the message that LGBTI rights are human rights, no special rights.

This year we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights, the key document of the Council of Europe that serves to promote and ensure respect for the human rights and dignity of every individual, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. Yet, putting these principles to practice is still work in progress. Ten years ago, in 2010 the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted a set of recommendations to help its member states combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. These recommendations are the first international standard to advance human rights and equality for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and intersex persons. Today, these Council of Europe standards are more important than ever, and we stand ready to help our member States to implement them.

In the Western Balkans, the Council of Europe and the European Union are working together for diversity and equality and against discrimination. The Council of Europe Office in Belgrade closely co-operates with the Serbian authorities and civil society organisations to identify the best practices, enhance protection of their civil and human rights, thus improve the situation of LGBTI persons in Serbia. Based on recommendations of the Council of Europe’s anti-racism commission, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, and as part of our efforts to adapt to the COVID-19 crisis, we have established emergency grants to support local civil society organisations in their actions against discrimination. This is another tangible contribution of the Council of Europe to improving the situation of LGBTI people in Serbia and other Western Balkan countries and a part of our consolidated effort to “Come Out for Human Rights“.