We are GSA! Milan Pantelić: I don’t make compromises when it comes to being open about my sexual orientation

Milan Pantelić was born in 1983 in Belgrade. He graduated from law school and gained a master’s degree in democracy and human rights within European integrations. He was one of the first people in Serbia to deal with the status of LGBT people in the legal system through his master’s thesis “Sexual minorities in the process of European integrations – legal perspective“. In his thesis he used GSA reports, which is how we met him. Afterwards he became a member and an activist in the Alliance, and has recently been made a member of the Council for Gender Equality of the Serbian Government, representing our organisation. He belongs to the new generation of GSA leaders, and with his engagement and with the extensive knowledge he possesses in this area, he wishes to contribute to the improvement of human rights of LGBT people and all other Serbian citizens. Even though he feels that the state of human rights has improved in the last decade, he believes there is still a lot of work ahead for everyone. He is a big advocate for the implementation of the United Nations’ (UN) concept of social development based on human rights, whose primary goals – economic growth and development of the individual, can be accomplished only in the process which is participatory, inclusive and free from discrimination.
Although he is employed and currently busy preparing for his bar exam, he does not neglect his engagement in GSA, where he is known as hard-working, persistent and honest. He is also honest about his sexual orientation, he is gay and feels that it is important to say that and that it is only a part of his identity. He is also the first out-LGBT person in Serbia who has entered the so-called state structures, through the Council for Gender Equality.


We talked to Milan about his participation in the Council, his views on the state of human rights in Serbia and other topics.

1. Council for Gender Equality of the Serbian Government, which was formed in May this year and whose member you are, has held a few meetings. What are this Council’s tasks and what will you be doing for the next four years, the term of this council?
Council for Gender Equality is an advisory body of the Government of the Republic of Serbia which deals with gender equality, equality of women and men, discrimination based on gender, gender identity and sexual orientation, violence against women and domestic violence. The Council’s tasks are to examine and recommend measures for improving the policies of achieving set goals, to systematically and statistically monitor and evaluate the results which are achieved in these areas, to examine and initiate programmes and recommend measures for encouraging and training women to participate in public and political life, as well as short-term and long-term programmes and measures for prevention of violence against women and domestic violence. Furthermore, the Council continuously examines and recommends short-term measures for improving the policies of achieving gender equality and preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation.

2. What is your impression of the Council’s activities so far?
At its first regular session, the Council unanimously adopted the Rules of Procedure and the Work Plan for the period 2013-2016. President of the Council, Secretary of State, mr Stana Božović, showed determination and commitment to the affirmation of the principle of equality of men and women, improvement of gender equality, protection of women and children from domestic violence, and the struggle for fundamental human rights of all citizens. A few days ago, there was a second meeting of the Council, which adopted a number of initiatives. In policy documents relevant to the work of the Council (National Strategy for the Advancement of Women and Gender Equality, the National Strategy for the Prevention and Elimination of Violence against Women in the Family and Partner Relations, etc.), women living in same-sex relationships are recognized as a social group that is exposed to multiple discrimination, particularly in the areas of health care, protection from violence and public information. The Council has defined as one of its main goals the fight against stereotypes which present the main obstacle to equal social participation of LGBT people. Of particular importance is the ratification of the Istanbul Convention (Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence adopted on May 11, 2011), which contains important anti-discriminatory paragraphs and provides conditions for the state and society to deal with violence in a more efficient way. I believe that the Council will operate with dedication and gravity in the future, as well.

3. What do you think about the state of human rights in Serbia in general, and do you see any significant changes in the past few years and in which areas?
The historical legacy of transition countries does not know a procreative and affirmative approach to human rights as the legal and political systems were mostly mechanisms for raising awareness of belonging to a collectivity. Person, the individual, with his/her basic human rights that serve the development of his/her personality, remained in the shadow of the collectivist spirit, and that shadow is still there. That is why the culture of human rights must become a part of our tradition (national, political, legal and cultural) so that we can successfully participate in the political, economic and cultural aspirations of the modern world.
Still, it could be said that today there is a positive trend. The Republic of Serbia has adopted a number of regulations that promote basic human rights, while the individual is released from his decades-long subordinate status. This process will continue to be intensified in the process of joining the European Union. However, the major problem still exists in the area of application of the laws themselves and realizing the opportunities that the existing laws provide. It often happens that regulations are adopted, but the conditions necessary for their implementation are not provided. Contributing to human rights violations is also the lack of activities aimed at familiarizing citizens themselves with the rights that are available to them, the ways of their implementation, as well as mechanisms for their protection. Therefore, the issue of human rights must be approached with more gravity and commitment.

4. Besides being a member of GSA, you are one of the first who has done his master’s thesis in Serbia on the topic of LGBT issue in the legal sphere. How do you evaluate the current state of human rights of LGBT people in Serbia and what should, in your opinion, be the priorities in the next period, for the state and for the LGBT movement?
Traditionally, LGBT people are among the most vulnerable minority groups. The status of this community is marked by a high level of social stigmatisation that results in social isolation and marginalisation. LGBT people are disabled, or at least limited in the realization of basic human rights: the right to life and safety, mental and physical integrity, the right to dignity, the right to work, to education… In the past, the state took some political and legal measures conceived in order to affirm the rights of LGBT people and to increase the level of protection of this minority group. But the state should continue this trend and make available and attainable all basic human rights to the LGBT people. For example, safety, i.e. the level of protection of LGBT people against violence, must be raised to a much higher level because we have too often witnessed verbal and physical violence whose victims are LGBT people. In the future, state and its relevant institutions should devote special attention to the creation of state statistics in processing cases of violence against LGBT people.
As part of its programme and political activities, the state should recognise and adopt the principles for mainstreaming sexual orientation and gender identity, which would set before all levels of government the requirement that when they design political, legal and programme measures they ought to foresee the consequences these measures might have on the social, political, legal status of LGBT people and to recognise and eliminate risks for LGBT people that may arise from their implementation.
Joint cooperation between the state and the LGBT community should work to create the basic conditions for equal political, legal and social participation of LGBT people. This is the direction in which we should be going. And this should be done together, with cooperation. The political, legal, and social participation of minority groups is the assumption of an equal opportunities society, which should be a common goal to all participants in this process. Also, an essential partner on this road are the citizens themselves. It is necessary to design and implement actions for raising their awareness and involving them in the process of realisation and protection of fundamental human rights of all people.

5. Sessions of the Council for Gender Equality are held in the Historical Room of the Government building, but for GSA there is another fact that is historically significant – you are actually the first out-LGBT person in Serbia who has entered the so-called state structures. How much does that affect you personally?
Sexual orientation is a part of my personality, just as it is a part of everybody else’s personality. It does not absolutely determine or define anyone, because personal ambition, persistence, perseverance, dedication, determination, as well as a number of other psychological qualities of an individual are not conditioned by sexual orientation. Yet I could not say that homosexual orientation did not greatly determine my social life. As a homosexual person, while I was growing up, during my education and work, I was subject to marginalisation, social isolation, verbal and physical violence… I know that an agressive social reaction towards people who belong to this minority group can considerably disturb the development of an individual and that it can also affect the possibility of equal participation in the social, economic, political and cultural life of the community. But I fought hard not to let that happen to me and I decided long ago not to make compromises when it comes to being open about my sexual orientation.
Usually, people are silent about their sexual orientation, it is hidden or denied, the individual is constantly under pressure to deny it so that he can survive in the social mainstream. However, I personally think that silence, hiding and denying your sexual orientation, contributes to a more intense social marginalisation of LGBT people and to the continual separation of the majority and the minority. This vicious circle needs to be stopped.
As a member of the LGBT community, I view my participation in the Council in that light. Entering ’state structures’ is definitely a challenge, but before all else I will try to contribute to the productivity of the Council with my work and dedication.

6. For the third year in a row, the Pride Parade in Serbia has been banned. What does Pride mean to you and how do you perceive it?
I perceive Pride as just one of the means of fighting in the struggle to provide conditions for equal participation of LGBT people in all socio-political segments. The fight for gaining and protecting basic human rights of LGBT people does not begin or end with a Pride Parade. It is a continual process which requires adequate strategy, perseverance and patience.

7. Why GSA?
GSA and I worked together successfully during the preparation of my master’s thesis, and we engaged in very vivid discussions on the occasion of the previous parliamentary elections. We successfully defended our positions, and then we realised that our opinions were actually very close. In these talks with the leadership and members of the GSA, I realised that there are many aspects of the struggle for equal treatment of LGBT people which I do not know, and that I’d like to contribute to this process as an activist. GSA’s mission is to promote basic human rights of all citizens, regardless of natural or social characteristics of an individual. It recognises the importance of the political process in the successful outcome of this struggle and is committed to the same as evidenced by the results of its work. Most of the GSA members are educated, ambitious and socially responsible people who clearly perceive problems and solve them procreatively. I really like the fact that the debate on many important social and political issues, as well as on the work of our organisation, is constantly open in GSA. Attitudes with which GSA comes out in public are not imposed but are agreed upon through discussions with the members.


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.

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