We are GSA! Angelina Žeželj: Bullies feed on fear

Angelina Žeželj was born in 1987 in Belgrade. She is a student of the Faculty of Security Studies and Information Technology School. As military police she worked for the Serbian Army from 2011 until recently. She has established the “Rainbow” brand of gay parties and she owns the cafe “MyWay” – a well-known Belgrade hangout for LGBT people and their friends.
She is a member of GSA since 2009. She does not hide the fact that she is a lesbian and she does not accept any kind of ghetto. She believes that tolerance towards LGBT people can be increased only through the cooperation of LGBT and straight people.
In October 2011 with her friends she suffered a brutal attack and attempted murder in the centre of Belgrade because she was wearing a shirt with the symbol of the Pride Parade. Even though she received severe injuries while she was defending herself – she did not falter. She is still a great fighter and full of positive energy. Her bravery and determination are perhaps best described by the words from a written message that Angelina sent to participants of the protest “It’s Enough!“ organized by GSA and Angelina’s friends in front of the Serbian Government a few days after she was attacked. On that occasion she said, among other things: “…people, life is precious! Don’t let anyone trample you, don’t hide within your ‘four walls’ and don’t be afraid of freedom! I wish to live and I wish for my life to continue. I don’t want to go anywhere, this is my city which I love…”


In her first public appearance in this context under full name, we talked to Angelina about how she views the attack from today’s perspective, what is happening with the trial, what her experience was with the Serbian Army and other things that matter to her.

Before the attack happened, did it ever occur to you that maybe it’s not smart to be openly gay?
I never walked around with a big banner that said “I’m gay“ drawing attention, but I also never kept it a secret. If someone asked me if I were a lesbian I would say yes, I never lied. And I had no problems, because I allowed people to get to know me as a person. There are a lot of prejudices in this country, but if people first get to know you, all your virtues and faults, and like you the way you are, in most cases they won’t care who you’re sleeping with. Moreover, they’ll realize they know a lot of gay people and that they’re just like everybody else. Before joining the army I really had no problems. Only there did I find a more closed environment, where people already knew about my sexuality. I already had a “reputation” and wasn’t given much of a chance to show them who I really was. Some of them had a bunch of questions, and said they were OK with it but that they were not for the Parade… With some people I sometimes noticed that they were afraid to joke around in front of me because they feared I would take it as discrimination… And there were also those who looked away and wouldn’t speak to me.

How do you feel about it now, from this perspective?
Honestly, it could have ended more tragically. When I was attacked I grabbed the knife and managed to defend myself. But now I’ll never be able to make a fist or have 100% capacity in my arm. There are a lot of consequences, I sometimes drop things when I hold them… I am glad that the media coverage was decent at the time, but I also resent the fact that nobody thought of asking me later what was going on with the trial, or of writing about the consequences that people have after they’ve been attacked, how people get on in life afterwards… The good side of this attack is that I can talk to younger people and give them some advice. I tried to show them that they need to fight back; I even organized free self-defense lessons. It’s different when you present yourself as a victim, because bullies see that and feed on that fear, but it’s different when you show them your teeth. As long as you behave and feel as a victim, hooligans will trample you. Having said that, hooligans are strong only when they’re in a group, you’ll never see only one creating unrest on the street all by himself. They are basically big cowards.

Who was most with you in those moments?
I’ve been a member of GSA for over 4 years and, besides my family and friends, my organization was with me, protecting me and helping me when I was attacked. I also have to mention that I received a lot of help and support from Boris Milićević, whom I’ve known since I was 16 and who has been a role model for me, because he is one of the rare activists who has done something in life apart from being an activist.
I also felt the support of all those people who came to the protest “It’s enough!“ in front of the Serbian Government’s Building, as well as all those who wrote to me and sent me messages… I want to thank them all, because their support made it easier to stand and go on with my life.

What is the current state of the trial against your attackers?
It’s been two years and the trial still continues. Their cases have been joined, because they were already known to the police. They had police files for possession of narcotics, stealing, abduction… It is completely “fascinating” what some people can make of their lives at only 17, which is how old they were then. It still pains me that these two men who attacked me were released only after a few hours spent in the police station after their arrest. The legal deadline is 48 hours of detention, but they did not have to go through it – if nothing, at least to sleep it off and think about everything…
The problem lies in our legislature, but I think we can change that, because when you make some noise, like that protest in front of the Serbian Government when I was attacked, you draw the public attention. During that protest, nobody could criticize those people for gathering, because I think the society has evolved enough to all agree that violence is unacceptable. There were a lot of people at the protest, many comments on the Internet, and the general tone was “maybe I don’t like that she’s a lesbian, but it’s not OK to attack a girl with a knife!” The fact that two or three men were waiting for girls in front of the club in order to beat them up says a lot about their mindset, I don’t think they’ll ever have a normal family because – how are they going to treat their girlfriends, wives or children tomorrow?

How much does society make LGBT people feel ashamed for what they are and ultimately to feel like victims?
As much as we allow it. For instance, if my neighbor was harassing me, I wouldn’t hesitate to report him 20 times if I had to, like I reported dog poisoning in my neighborhood. Even in situations when close people or pets could be harmed, neighbors often hesitate to act. The math is simple, about 10% of the population is gay and the number of extreme homophobes is certainly not greater than that. The difference is that they are very loud, while we remain silent. For example, that guy who is poisoning dogs today is going to go out tomorrow to attack the Parade or harass gay people on the street, it’s all the same to him. Such people are dangerous.
Another big problem is the attitude of the Church. I talk to people a lot, and when I ask them why they dislike gays I usually get the sort of answer “God did not create Adam and Steve…“. My response is usually that they must be right and that I should not exist – God would not create me, because he makes no mistakes, right? And every discussion ends there.
Make no mistake, I greatly respect people who are sincere in their religion, because they are religious in their moral precepts that they live by. I don’t equate the church as an institution with being religious. But I feel that no one has the right to insult me, belittle me, beat me, and ultimately condemn me for my differences. Or anyone else for theirs.

Can you tell us something about joining the Serbian Army?
The army was my big dream. Even though the attack on me happened just before the admission to Army, I did not give up despite my injuries. I passed the theory and the physical exam, and I even removed the cast ahead of time in order to be able to do push-ups. Nobody took it easy on me and I was very proud of my accomplishment.
However, since the beginning of my work in the Army, there was a certain amount of pressure, because I arrived as an openly declared lesbian. The Army doesn’t need such propaganda, it’s a closed environment which prefers the attitude “the less known about it the better“. I recently read an article about how the Serbian Army is tolerant towards differences. The article was entitled “It’s OK to be gay“. But it’s not OK, they just say that. Of course, they’ll never tell you they’re firing you because of your sexual orientation. They’ll give you plenty of other reasons which often don’t make any sense. When I was informed that my contract with the Army would not be renewed, they told me that during testing I dropped on the psychological test from the first category, where I used to be and which was the highest, all the way down to the fourth category. You know, it’s simply impossible to have such a drastic change in personality in only four months, which is the time that had elapsed since the last regular test I had taken. Also, these tests are done on the computer, so I had no possibility of viewing the results and I was only told what the results were, which drastically reduces the “maneuvering space” for possible complaints and similar. It is one of the ways in which gays are harassed.

What is your opinion about the Pride Parade?
I am for the Parade as an event, but I don’t have a good opinion about the Pride organizers, because every year, a month before the Pride, they remember they should probably do something while in reality they do nothing helpful for the community. They act like they don’t live in Serbia, but in Sweden or Switzerland… And then when I get beat up, for example, they don’t remember to give me a call and ask me how I’m doing. And in the end they say GSA created a problem for organizing the protest in front of the Serbian Government because of the attack on me and they accuse GSA that that’s why the Pride didn’t happen…

Why GSA?
GSA precisely because it is gay – straight alliance, because it connects the two communities, the gay and the straight. If there’s one thing I don’t like it’s crawling into the closet. The problem with most our LGBT organizations is that everything takes place in a narrow circle of people. Everyone tries to keep everything within the community, there’s no mingling with straight people, no wider education of people on tolerance and differences, and in the end there’s no real community. Just a divide, and an LGBT ghetto. And I don’t like to be in a ghetto. The Alliance is my choice because it is different, inclusive.


Gay Straight Alliance (GSA; Alliance) is today one of the non-governmental organisations with the most members in Serbia. Members include both LGBT and straight people, people of different political affiliations, different national and religious backgrounds, different professions, ages, social status and personal interests… And we are all gathered around the same goal – equal rights for everyone and reduction of violence and discrimination.
Over the past several years GSA has successfully built its credibility and recognisability. It brought a new approach to how the non-governmental sector functioned in Serbia at that time, it influenced the creation of a number of policies and the passing of several laws, it made a lot of allies in the fight for the protection and improvement of human rights of LGBT people, it achieved significant results in various activities… All of this was made possible due to many of our members, who, with their selfless engagement, knowledge and enthusiasm, worked tirelessly and seriously, often in very difficult conditions, and never stopped believing in GSA.
We are very proud of all of them, their professionalism and great atmosphere, optimism and respect which exists in the Alliance regardless of our mutual differences. We firmly believe that many of them are not only future leaders of GSA, but also future leaders in various other areas: politics, economics, culture, media… That is why we would like to present, a couple times a month, in the column “We are GSA!” (http://en.gsa.org.rs/people/we-are-gsa), some of GSA’s members through their short biographies as well as interviews with them on various topics.
The editor of the column “We are GSA!” is Nevena Janković with the help of GSA’s PR team. Opinions stated in this column are not necessarily shared by the Alliance as an organisation.

Thank you for following our activities!
If you wish to become a member of GSA you can fill out the membership form here.