Opening of the LGBT Drop in Center in Belgrade

Post-event correction: Gayten-LGBT is devoted to issues of equality but was not directly involved in the opening of the center.

It is a pleasure to be here today to celebrate the opening of the LGBTI Drop-In Center.  When this idea was proposed in 2014, the U.S. Embassy strongly supported the project.  The need is no less pressing today.  I would like to congratulate Gayten-LGBT and Egal, the two organizations that worked tirelessly to open this center.  It took five years to reach this point. Now, the real work of providing services begins.  I wish you success as you move forward; people are depending on you.

The road to equality in Serbia, as elsewhere in the world, is not an easy one.  We have seen some progress in just a few years, but the most recent State Department Human Rights report notes that harassment of LGBTI groups is not diminishing.  Members of the community remain vulnerable, frequently face threats, hate speech, and even violence.  We still have a long way to go.

LGBTI youth are disproportionately homeless when compared with the general population.  A 2012 study conducted by UCLA estimated that about 40% of all homeless youth in the United States identify as LGBTI, and that almost half of them left home because of rejection by their families.  In some cases, they faced violence or forced eviction.  This trend is not unique to the United States.  High youth unemployment, which makes young people dependent of their parents for housing, is another factor.  While homelessness is less visible in Serbia than in other countries, in Belgrade alone, up to 5,000 people sleep on the streets every night, and statistically we know that some of them are LGBTI persons.

It goes without saying that few homeless youth are able to finish their education, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and marginalization.  Homelessness places these young people at additional risk of violence, human trafficking, prostitution, substance abuse, and HIV AIDS.  Many young people who fall into homelessness never recover and a startling number die young because of violence, addiction, suicide, or preventable diseases. But it does not have to be this way.  We can and should do more to protect our young people and this center is a step in the right direction.

The United States remains committed to advancing human rights. And LGBTI rights are human rights.   That is why the Embassy and I have been proud to support the LGBTI Drop-in Center.  This type of a center can provide an immediate impact to vulnerable populations at their hour of greatest need.  It can even save lives.