The Portrait of the LGTB Population in the Serbian Media Discourse

Protest at the Serbian Embassy in London 2009 in order to show international solidarity with the LGBTQ community in Belgrade following the cancellation of Pride Parade. Photo: Loz Flowers / Flickr, licence: CC BY-SA 2.0

February 12, 2013
Jelena Višnjic
Regardless of the fact that there are formally proclaimed universal rights expressed in the constitution and respective laws, homosexual, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual people are still subjects to discrimination and are not being treated equally in the society.

The media are supporting and upholding the ruling social structure and it is thus necessary to keep observing them, since only the monitoring of media reality can show if there are any exclusion strategies of the LGTB population – and if so, how do these strategies function in the media praxis by reality construction, ghettoization and their stereotypization. The political forms of gender identity representation could be regarded as an expression of power relations in a certain society and historical context. In this regard, the position of the LGTB population in the media discourse is mostly a constructed one and labeled as the figure of the ’other’, as a figure reflecting prevailing social conditions and usually viewed as secondary, unwanted and worthless in the established ideologies and their supporting media praxis.

The interpretation of the Serbian context shows that regardless of the fact that there are formally proclaimed universal rights expressed in the constitution and respective laws, homosexual, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual people are still subjects to discrimination and are not being treated equally in the society. The weakness and even lack of political will in the promotion and implementation of LGBT population’s rights in Serbia has been clearly demonstrated by the attempts to organize the Pride Parade and their prohibitions, further by the violence related to it, although the parade represents a political act of peaceful gathering in order to express the discriminatory social position of the LGTB population and is, as such, one of the pillars of a functional democracy.

Serbia was the last state on the Balkans to pass the Anti-discrimination Law, only in 2009. This legal act has been the first one to undoubtedly affirm the rights of sexual minorities. The Serbian Medical Society finally confirmed only on May 14, 2008 that homosexuality should not be considered an illness, eighteen years after the WHO decision to remove homosexuality from the ICD list (ICD-10). In Serbia, there are overall six laws which explicitly substantiate the freedom of sexual orientation: the Freedom of Information Act, the Broadcasting Law, the Labor Law, the Higher Education Act, the Anti-discrimination Law and the Youth Protection Law. Even though there is a legal framework protecting human rights, the role of the state has not been very efficient in the process of improving the position of the LGTB persons so far. The promotion of rights of the LGTB population presupposes an integral social and institutional mobilization, including the media dimension as one of the most essential elements in the process of shaping the public opinion.

The LGBT population has been persistently erased from the mainstream media programs for a very long time. Although the current media have, probably more than ever, a more complex and ambiguous view on gender and sexuality issues, the media presentation of the LGBT population shows that this minority group in particular has still not received enough space in the print and electronic media. Their incidence and thematization are rather sporadic. According to an allotted matrix, there are always all the others that are being invited to speak (promote, accuse, or discriminate) about consexually oriented persons, rather than they themselves, so that there has been an insignificantly small number of participants in the media programs coming from the LGTB organizations, or being activists or members of the LGTB community.

Still, the situation is changing slowly, and the voices of groups like Queeria, Gay-Straight Alliance, Labris, and Gay-Lesbian Information Center have been more present in the media than ever before. However, for a long time, the lesbian and gay topics have been dominant only in the entertainment programs.

The attitude towards the LGBT population is a political question, one of the key questions in the transformation and democratization process of the Serbian society. Serbia is still, in spite of its formal and rather decorative efforts, far away from being a modern society which would give space to the minorities and allow the promotion of diversity policies and a respectful treatment of the same. The LGBT community is still exposed to hate speech.

The terminology used is often abusive and discriminatory, while television and print media, contrary to the obliging Broadcasting Law, emit hate speech against all persons whose sexual orientation is different from the heterosexual one. A lack of sanctions and relativization of hate speech in the public discourse enables material conditions for the spreading of an atmosphere of intolerance and lynch-law against members of the gay community and represents an incentive to all those, who use hate speech on a daily basis and sanctify violence against members of different minority groups (1).

The analysis of media contents shows periodically repeated incidence of homophobic, patriarchal patterns in the new/old media environment, in a social context that repeats itself in the fear of otherness and diversity. The discriminatory, judgmental terminology, such as “faggot”, “queer”, “old fairy”, “dyke”, etc., is present in the print and electronic media, however, not that often. Its incidence intensified during the preparation time and announcement of the Pride Parade, mostly in the columns and readers’ comments (e.g. in daily tabloids Kurir or Alo), which are published as author texts. A sexist terminology, mostly the word “faggot” is used in the daily papers: Kurir, Alo, and Press. It is essential that those people, who produce media contents, become aware of the responsibility of the public words and their impact on the society. They should also take into consideration that, according to the journalistic code of conduct, it is their duty to not only report about minorities and give them space in the media, but also to write carefully about the topics that are important to the LGTB population, bearing in mind the position of these groups in the society and all the negative preconceptions that have persisted as a dominant judgmental pattern in the public sphere.

Media content should be regarded as a text in which we can, by analyzing them, find different layers of social meanings to which we give a social dimension by adding the external, social conditions from which they have emerged. Therefore, it is necessary to keep the critical distance to and to decentralize from the media praxis, since the reality in which we live and the meanings that we create are always just of temporary nature. Only in the dominant public and media matrix in Serbia prevails and constantly regenerates the resistance to modernization and the homophobic discourse.


Jelena Višnjic is a sociologist and political scientist from Belgrade

(1) Dragan Markovic Palma (politician and entrepreneur from Jagodina, presently MP in the National Assembly of Serbia) has given the statement to all media that he was “proud to have been sentenced by the court, if he had helped thus preventing the Parade of Shame to be held in Belgrade”, after he has been convicted by the First District Court in Belgrade for severe case of discrimination of LGTB population and have ordered him to refrain from such actions in the future.  Although the Metropolitan of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Amfilohije Radovic, has acted against the advice of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality, Nevena Petrusic, by not apologizing to the gay population for his statement about “the sodomic reek”, he has never been prosecuted for his hate speech against the participants of the Pride Parade in 2010.