GSA participation in the “Open World“ program

Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) has a great pleasure to inform you that our executive director and one of the founders of the GSA, Mirjana Bogdanovic, participated in the „Open World“ program, organized for delegates from different countries, which is taking place in the United States of America.

Leadership program – Open World (Open World Leadership Center) is the only exchange program of the legislative branch of the US government, financed by the US Congress and is carried out by the Center of the Library of Congress with the help of the American Council. Program is focused on young political and civic leaders and representatives of branches of government on all levels, and has as its goal to improve the understanding and cooperation between the USA and countries of Europe and Asia, through development of the network of leaders and exchange of knowledge and experiences in areas of democracy, responsible governing and free market. A special attention is given to the fulfillment of the program in local communities, which gives to the delegates an opportunity to directly participate in the life of American citizens.

It is important to underline that in this program, existing since 1999, delegates form Serbia participated for the first time, and from several different areas: culture, higher education and civil sector. Together with the delegate from the Gay Straight Alliance GSA, there were delegates from the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights YUCOM, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, Feminist Cultural Center (BFM) and Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR), who stayed from February 15 – 25 in Washington, and Akron, Ohio.

For the delegates – representatives of the civil sector from Serbia, program started at the Capitol, where they met with the Senator Sherrod Brown and his assistants. Following was the visit to the Library of Congress after the welcome speech by the Ambassador John O’Keefe, executive director of the Open World Leadership Center, where the delegates had the opportunity to learn more about American federalism, legal system, public-private partnerships in the USA, reasons that keep the USA united and to discuss other topics with the participants of several different panels. Panelists were composed of eminent experts from different legal and political areas such as professor John Brown and Sam Potolicchio, Visiting Assistant Professor, from Georgetown University in Washington; Sam Menefee-Libey, LGBTQ Advocacy Associate at the Center for American Progress; Nancy Rogers from the Office of Strategic Partnerships; Dr. Mary Frances Forcier from George Mason University, etc.

With the help from the local host – organization for the International friendship from Akron, delegates participated in Akron and Cleveland, Ohio, at the series of presentations and work meetings with the representatives of institutions and organizations from this part of the USA, such as: Center for Nonprofit Excellence, Gay Community Endowment Fund, Office of Inclusion and Equity, Women’s Resource Center, Anti-Defamation League, School of Law-University of Akron and Legal Clinic, Akron Peace Makers, Civil Rights Commission of Ohio, Office for School Climate, Archbishop Hoban High School, United Way, American Civil Liberties Union – ACLU, etc.

Considering that Akron and Subotica are partner cities since the political changes in Serbia (October 5, 2000), a number of meetings that were held at the Akron Mayor’s office were dedicated to this cooperation, but also to the policies that the Mayor is carrying out, system of cooperation between local, state and federal government in the USA and economic and development priorities of Akron and Ohio. In addition, delegates were guests at the Festival of Nations, where various ethnic groups from Germany, Africa, Russia, China, as well as folk group “Gracanica” from Serbia, presented themselves through ethnic dances. During this festival delegates had an opportunity to meet with the members of the Serbian community, which is very large in this area of the USA.

Statement related to the participation in the program, by Mirjana Bogdanovic, Executive Director of the GSA:

“It was a great honor to be selected as a delegate in the first group from Serbia participating in this program, and I would first like to thank the Open World Leadership Program, American Council and the Embassy of the United States of America in Belgrade, but also to our friends from the International friendship for organizing our stay in Akron, as well as the family Stokes for their hospitality.
In addition, I am very pleased with the fact that our delegation was composed mainly by the organizations dealing with human rights in Serbia, including the GSA, which is focusing on the human rights of LGBT population. This proves that the organizers of the program were very much aware of the global importance of these topics.
Program itself was very dynamic and intensive, which I find to be very positive, since it allows you to meet a number of experts, and exchange opinions and stands with them on various issues; it helps you to get a better picture about functioning of the US system and politics, law, education, etc., as well as to grasp the similarities and differences between the American and the European system.
From the perspective of the field in which I operate, regardless some differences between various American states, I think that there are very developed anti discriminatory policies regarding LGBT rights in the USA, and the question of human rights in general has a very important position on the sociopolitical agenda. If we are talking about current trends regarding LGBT population in the USA, it is definitely the question of same sex marriages that is the most relevant one. This for me is probably the biggest difference in comparison to Serbia, where the real priorities are still focused on reduction of violence and discrimination of LGBT population.
I believe that all of us from the civil sector delegation succeeded to deservingly and in the best spirit of citizen diplomacy represent our country. My hope is that many others, including people from the GSA and other organizations of civil society, will have a chance in the future to participate in this program”.

GSA Info Center