This report presents information on public opinion about transgender people and their rights in Serbia. We analyzed data from The Global Attitudes Toward Transgender People survey, Serbia panel, to provide new information on attitudes towards transgender people and their rights and status in Serbian society. This is of particular importance, because only a few studies provide information on the social position of transgender persons and their experiences in Serbia.
There are about 20,000 transgender people in Serbia. They are in a particularly vulnerable position because rules governing legal gender recognition still require undergoing medical procedures. Since 1989, after the first gender-affirming surgery was carried out, around 8 to 10 persons annually undergo the surgery. According to one estimate, 80% of transgender persons in Serbia are either interested or unable to undergo gender-affirming surgery.
The Constitution of Serbia enshrines fundamental human rights and freedoms, and its equality clause prohibits discrimination on any ground; however, it does not explicitly mention sexual orientation or gender identity. Serbia adopted its first comprehensive anti-discrimination law that explicitly mentions sexual orientation and gender identity in March 2009, which is an important milestone in securing equality in Serbia. The anti-discrimination law prohibits a wide range of discriminatory acts in all areas of life, and on any ground. In addition, causing and encouraging inequality, hatred, and enmity based on sexual orientation and gender identity is considered to be a severe form of discrimination. The law established a special civil court procedure and an independent monitor, the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality, who has a broad mandate to address discrimination cases. The Commissioner receives complaints and issues decisions, brings discrimination complaints (on behalf of victims), intervenes in legal cases concerning discrimination, initiates criminal and misdemeanour procedures, and issues general recommendations and public warnings. Many other laws also contain anti-discrimination provisions, but only few explicitly mention gender identity.
Apart from anti-discrimination protections, legislative changes have advanced the rights of transgender persons in Serbia. For example, in 2011 the national health insurance in Serbia was extended to cover at least 65% of the surgery costs. In 2018, two important laws were adopted to provide a legal basis for changing data in the birth register and for issuing new personal documents after legal gender recognition. This was six years after a landmark decision by the Constitutional Court, which held that the refusal of administrative state departments to change the birth register after gender-affirming surgery violates the Constitution. Additionally, in 2018, the Minister of Health issued a regulation that allowed transgender persons to change their gender markers before completing a gender-affirming procedure.
Despite these legislative changes, transgender people continue to face numerous challenges in the application of the laws, such as lack of information in terms of access to rights, inconsistent practice by state authorities, misinformation provided by health professionals, or lack of processes in health institutions that affirm one’s gender identity. Transgender people also face stigma, prejudice and discrimination, hate speech, and hate crimes. Under the Criminal Code, violence based on gender identity constitutes aggravating circumstances. Since 2016, many anti-discrimination training sessions for police officers were held together with training sessions for judges, public prosecutors, and police officers, with a view to improving their knowledge and skills as required for the efficient prosecution of hate crimes. However, the application of the legislation against hate speech and violent hate crime is still inefficient, and “there is no decisive action against the activities of racist, homophobic and transphobic hooligan groups.”violence,
Also, there have been delays in introducing or adopting new legislation that would improve the well-being of transgender persons and fill in legal gaps. The first draft Law on Gender Identity was prepared in 2012, but it has not yet been adopted. A new draft Law, prepared by the non-governmental organization Geten (Center for LGBTIQA People’s Rights), was presented in December 2019. It envisages speeding up and facilitating the administrative procedure for changing documents, and guarantees rights in employment, as well as family and marital life. It also prescribes the right to change name, gender, and personal identification number immediately after a person is recognized as transgender, i.e. after receiving a diagnosis of “transsexualism” as required by the law.
Regarding marriage, same-sex unions are not recognized under Serbian law, and provisions of Family Law on extramarital unions are not applicable to stable same-sex unions. As such, there has not been any specifc ruling regarding same-gender unions that involve transgender individual(s). Amendments to the Family Law, submitted to the National Assembly at the end of 2018, recognise same-sex couples and seek to equalize their status in non-marital relationships. Additionally, a Model Law on Registered Same-Sex Partnerships was prepared in 2013 by several NGOs. While it was under consideration, the media began to report news on the Model Law in a negative manner, and the Government withdrew from further negotiations, which have not resumed since. As of this writing, the main policy document recognizes LGBTI persons as a vulnerable group in Serbia is the Anti-Discrimination Strategy, adopted for the period 2013-2018, and accompanied by an Action Plan. However, the Strategy and the Action Plan expired, and a new strategy document has not yet been finalized.
There is little data available on the position of LGBTI people employed in the armed forces. Formally, military service is optional and open to everyone in Serbia without discrimination. Therefore, sexual orientation or gender identity is not an obstacle for becoming a professional soldier in the Serbian Army. In practice, LGBTI organizations believe that a kind of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy applies in practice. Moreover, if the prevailing interest in society, expressed by key policymakers, is to promote inclusion of LGBTI persons within institutions, the hierarchical nature of police and the military suggests that it will likely happen in practice. However, LGBTI persons believe that there is no real intention and ability to integrate them within the Army. Additionally, the Military Academy continues to use teaching materials that are discriminatory and offensive towards LGBTI persons and contribute to negative attitudes towards transgender persons. By elucidating the attitudes of Serbians towards transgender people, this survey adds to the research around transgender people in Serbia and sheds light onto their lived reality.