Dominic Otway

Deputy Head of Mission, British Embassy Skopje

Guest blogger for UK in North Macedonia

Part of UK in North Macedonia

17th May 2020 Skopje, North Macedonia

Inclusion in uncertain times – IDAHOBIT

Two things struck me when I was asked to write this week’s blog marking the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) on 17 May. 

First, it reminded me how much the world has changed since February. I’m thinking of then because it was the last public event I hosted, the day before the first Coronavirus case was reported in North Macedonia.  And it was with groups and societies representing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people here. We planned to publicise the meeting at the time, but I got distracted by unfolding developments.. and soon it felt that much of what we discussed  had been overtaken as events (including how to mark IDAHOBIT) and meetings need to be postponed until we can meet safely again. Today is a good time to share our publicity of the meeting to raise awareness of their important work. 

Secondly, re-reading previous blogs (to make sure I don’t just copy too much of what’s been said before!) I found a phrase describing IHADOBIT as “a chance to think how far we’ve come in the fight against homophobia, transphobia and biphobia”.  Which made me worry that this year some people will feel like we’ve taken a step backwards.  In that February meeting, I heard stories of people who don’t have a safe space at home – they face violence or rejection from their own families, or they have to hide who they really are.  How must they be faring now they must spend more time there, cut off from the support of friends or LGBT associations?

No country is perfect – I regularly read my fair share of stories in the UK media where LGBT people have faced increased abuse or marginalisation during this pandemic.  But the UK continues to strive for promoting equality and to combat violence and discrimination.  I now admit I am copying what’s been said before, but I’ve yet to find a better way of putting it: The strongest, safest and most prosperous societies are those in which all citizens can live freely without fear of violence or discrimination, and where all citizens, including LGBT people, can play a full and active part in society.

So this IDAHOBIT we’re not able to hold a public event but we will still be thinking of our friends in the LGBT community in North Macedonia, and their straight allies. They will be hosting online events for those interested, and a range of organisations have launched the “Together in Self-Isolation” platform which is designed for members of the LGBT community and supporters to provide support and solidarity.

Let’s not think of this year as a step backwards, but as a moment to pause on the journey for equality, take in our surroundings, and regain our energy to continue forwards –  and we’ll continue to think of ways to engage and support not just the LGBT community but other vulnerable groups in North Macedonia.  And there has been progress.  This time last year, I could not have predicted that we would be able to write: “In 2019 our embassy was proud to join others in supporting and participating in the first #SkopjePride”.  I’m hopeful that this time next year, we’ll be able to celebrate positive developments that we couldn’t plan or predict.