Sabac, Ivan, and why I do what I do

I am a social action researcher.  I conduct research to lead to some type institutional change.  My introduction to social action research occurred in fall of 2011, after taking a course with Professor and Director of Engaged Scholarship Monica Griffin.  Working for nongovernmental organizations focusing on human rights, my objective has always been to do work that leads to improving someone’s life.  This summer was no different.  Though I was researching, the objective was no different.  I researched LGBTIQ NGOs to understand the challenges they faced, in order to begin to alleviate those challenges.

Currently, I am applying for some things for post-William and Mary.  The below post is my personal statement to those applications, and I believe gives both a good reason for why I am doing the research and work that I do, and also to illustrate the problems that LGBTIQ Serbians face.

“I am a social person.  I enjoy people’s company, and I count being with people as one of my favorite things to do.  This passion for social interactions has led me to develop an interest in different types of social relationships, especially when it comes to communities.  I developed my own course of study that focuses on community social interactions with my regional interest in Eastern Europe.  This past summer, the summer of 2012, I decided to explore these interests further by studying in Prague, Czech Republic and interning in Belgrade, Serbia while doing research in both.  I wanted to develop my research skills and to experience Eastern European communities firsthand.  What I didn’t expect was to have my views of community organizations completely changed by witnessing firsthand the complex social interactions that occur within marginalized groups, and specifically a persecuted group in Serbia.

While in Serbia, I studied lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) organizations, and I was primarily researching in Belgrade.  I decided I wanted to see organizations in other municipalities.  With the help of my Belgrade advisor, I took a bus to visit an NGO that worked with the LGBT persons and HIV/AIDS infected persons.  The NGO, Association Rainbow, travels to rural parts of Serbia in order to reach a population that does not have access to regular HIV testing.  I first went to Sabac to meet with the organization at its headquarters.  After two days of conducting research, I went with the organization to a small town south of Belgrade called Krugajevic where there was a smaller office.  After observing workshops that day where volunteers were taught how to conduct their own workshops in order to educate people about HIV/AIDS, I walked around Krugajevic with some new friends from the organization before going to a party that Association Rainbow was throwing for the LGBT community in the area.

What I experienced at this party had a profound affect on me.  The party itself was nothing special.  There was makeshift bar in the kitchen, and some American pop music blaring from a stereo.  What made this party different was the realization that the social interactions I was witnessing were not routine.  Many of the partygoers were members of the LGBT populations; in Serbia, homophobia runs rampant.  I was witnessing people being free of the constrictions that their society had placed on them.  This was the only place that these people could be themselves.  They did not have to lie about who they were, and they did not have to put up any false facades about their sexual orientation.

I befriended a taxi driver named Ivan.  The drop-in center sits on a corner of an intersection, and a lot of taxis drop by while waiting for the traffic light to turn green.  With so many people inside, the 88-degree temperature outside seemed refreshing and cool.  I made it my mission to stay outside as much as possible.  There, Ivan came and spoke to me.  My Serbo-Croatian is basic, and he did not speak English; so, through a combination of hand gestures, a few Spanish phrases we both knew, and a translator we had a nice conversation.  Every once in a while, he would literally drop to the floor of the porch.  The reason?  He didn’t want his colleagues to find out about his orientation.  Every time a taxi would drive up to the traffic light, he face would show so overwhelming fear.  No one should have to fear like that.  Even the freedom of being at that party and at the drop-in center, these people still feared their society.

For them, the drop-in center was only a paper shield against a society charging at them with spears and swords.  Unfortunately, it is the only protection they have.  The relationships they create with people everyday can be superficial because of fear of being ostracized.  That shook me to my core.  Community organizations serve as shelter to people without a safe space.  The fantastic people I met at Association Rainbow were dedicated to helping those without a voice.  It has profoundly affected the way I see community organizations and the work they do, and has led to my desire to further research community organizations in the former-Yugoslavia.”

 

Comments

  1. It seems that you had a very profound cultural experience during this summer!

  2. “The relationships they create with people everyday can be superficial because of fear of being ostracized. That shook me to my core.” It’s interesting for me to see you make this statement. Fear of prosecution due to sexual orientation is an ever-present issue in the United States and one gaining in attention due to the current presidential election. Would you say that seeing fear of being discovered as LGBTIQ in another country rather than the US had a deeper affect on you and if so, why would that be?