Arbër Kodra, executive director of Open Mind Spectrum Albania (OMSA), is a well-known activist across Albania and worldwide. As a leader of one of the oldest LGBTI organizations in his country, he has dedicated much of his life to preserving and expanding human rights to all people.
By Dorian Coleman
Arbër surprised himself by becoming an activist. “I would have never thought I would become an activist,” he said with a smile. His path to activism began at the end of 2008, while he struggled to accept himself and struggled to accept he was gay. One cold day in December, his boyfriend invited him to participate in an activity to raise awareness of HIV. Initially, Arbër did not want to go for fear of violence or verbal threats.
After some time, he found the courage to participate in the awareness project. “I changed my mind to change my reality,” he said. He joined his boyfriend together with a small group of people to put posters in the main streets of Tirana after midnight. The adrenaline left him invigorated. This event was a catalyst, and from here, Arbër became inspired and energized to do work in support of LGBTI people in his country. “I am a voice for those who don’t have one.”
Arbër founded the organization, Open Mind Spectrum Albania (OMSA), to promote and preserve the human rights and freedoms of all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, social class, physical disability, or ethnicity. Much of the work of this organization focuses on the needs of LGBTI people in Albania.
OMSA supports the intersectionality and diversity of the human experience through social and economic empowerment, civic engagement, art, research, and political campaigns. It also provides services in health, education, and legal assistance and increases the political participation of LGBTI people in Albania through advocacy, education, and activism.
Two areas of concentration in the work of OMSA are political education and family education.
OMSA has been critical at creating political awareness in Albania through educational activities for vulnerable members of society. “One of our greatest works is working with the government to open a broader dialogue about human rights to all people,” states Arbër.
In 2010, the Albanian government established The Law on Protection from Discrimination. Arbër explained, “This law is for everyone, but it protects us directly from discrimination, hate speech, and violence of all kinds.” The law addresses several forms of discrimination, including sexual harassment, structural discrimination, and segregation, among others.
Additionally, in 2015 the Albanian Parliament approved the Resolution: On Protection of Rights and Freedoms of persons belonging to the LGBTI community in Albania. This resolution included a National Action Plan regarding measures of protection, legislative recommendations for amendments to the labor code, and the education of rights of LGBTI people in Albania through the Ministry of Health and Social Protection. This decision was monumental and historic in terms of public awareness and human rights.
Although great progress has been made towards quelling discrimination of LGBTI people as individuals, protections have not yet been fully established for same-sex couples when building families. There is no legal recognition of civil unions and of same-sex marriages, and same-sex couples cannot adopt stepchildren. Although struggles still exist for LGBTI people in building families of their own, encouraging acceptance and unconditional love within the families in which LGBTI are born is of utmost importance.
“The love of the family is so important,” Arbër said. He emphasized how the process of coming out is difficult and important and he reflected on how the support of his family was pivotal in his own life. “Family education is invaluable because of the multidimensionality of the LGBTI experience.”
Arbër reflected on how much he appreciated his own family. “My parents are pioneers, they are my heroes and they made history. I am very lucky to have my parents, who are very supportive. They’ve always accepted me. It was me that struggled to accept myself. In 2018, my mom and dad received a very important award as the most supportive parents in Albania, from the LGBTI Shelter, and they deserve it.
They are symbols of unconditional love. They taught me to love unconditionally, to accept one another for who we are, and not to be sad that people see you differently. Being different, that’s our power!”
In Albania, LGBTI people can face social pressures from self, family, communities, institutions, and society. The social pressure could lead to rejection or denial. Coming out can have consequences, such as career destruction, social rejection, or even death. This makes it even more important to spread awareness.
One way OMSA promotes awareness is through connections with its partners. “We partner with government institutions, political parties, public health institutions, universities, and the international community,” states Arbër. “It’s important in terms of intersectionality. It’s not only important for me to work for my community because I’m gay; it’s also important to support and work for other human rights causes.”
Support locally and internationally is vital to the existence of OMSA, and donations keep OMSA operational. Arbër states, “Donations are essential. Of course, like many small organizations, we struggle. Donations help us fulfill our mission and bring the change we want to see.” Donations to OMSA can be made here.
Arbër and other activists in Albania are working continually to ensure that LGBTI people are aware of their rights and the support services available to them. Donations and awareness are critical towards improving social, economic, and political conditions for LGBTI people in all facets of Albanian society. As Arbër states, “This is survival for us.”