HRC is proud to welcome Albanian LGBTQ advocate Sidita Zaja to Washington, D.C., to work alongside HRC staff as a 2019 HRC Global Fellow. Zaja is the executive director of United Pro LGBT, a nonprofit working to amplify the voices of transgender people in Albania.
As an HRC Global Fellow, Zaja will learn about HRC’s work and share insights from her efforts advocating for LGBTQ rights in Albania.
1. How did you become an LGBTQ advocate?
From a young age, I have been curious about our differences and what unites us — and eager to befriend everyone. It has always come naturally to me to question why society could not see LGBTQ people as I do. I studied law and human rights to try to answer this question. Even now, I continue to work to better understand how to bring about greater acceptance of LGBTQ people.
2. What is it like for LGBTQ people in Albania?
I can describe it best with an example from my friends, a lesbian couple. Though they’ve been together for 10 years, their families do not accept their relationship. As my friends plan to have a child, they have expressed their concern that their child might be a victim of their love, bullied and treated as an outsider. Unfortunately, the only solution they see to address the anxiety and insecurity of this situation is to leave Albania.
Many LGBTQ people have challenges like this in Albania, and others face even more difficult circumstances. For some lesbians, when their family finds out they are lesbian, they quickly arrange a marriage to a man. For transgender women, there can be great risk from visibility, and many experience economic insecurity.
3. What does your organization United Pro LGBT do?
United Pro LGBT helps to raise awareness about issues faced by LGBTQ people nationally and internationally. We focus on engaging Albanian culture and media, working with communities and advocating for change by building awareness about how to improve coverage of LGBTQ-related issues, organizing events (including Pride) and collaborating with public institutions and politicians. We host an alternative news portal, Historia-ime.com, where we provide information about human rights in Albania. United Pro LGBT is one of the two organizations that created a shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth, the first of its kind in southeastern Europe, with a partner organization.
4. How did you hear about HRC?
I have known about HRC for a long time as a human rights activist working in this space for more than a decade. HRC’s achievements have inspired groups like United Pro LGBT, and many of us see the organization as a role model.
5. What do you hope to do as a Global Fellow?
I hope to learn from HRC’s journey in support of marriage equality to find ways we in Albania can tailor our own work to achieve a civil partnerships or union law in collaboration with other partner LGBTQ organizations, such as Alliance LGBT and Streha.
6. What do you plan to do when you return home?
I hope to learn new skills, expand my network and engage more allies. Changing hearts and minds takes time and is a process. This means that, even when we are successful in amending laws, we must still work to raise awareness in society. When society is tolerant, we can work to achieve even greater acceptance and policy change.