Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honoured to participate to the opening of these 3 days of intense discussions around topics that go to the heart and the soul of the European Union: freedom, diversity, equality.
I am also extremely happy that this year ERA’s annual conference takes place in Tirana.
For us in this room and for many people outside, sexual orientation and gender identity are not an issue. Sexual orientation should never undermine equality and dignity of any human being, or interfere in the access to employment, education and any service.
However, for far too many people in this country, in the region and beyond, it is still shameful to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Tragically, some come to use violence against the LGBT community on a regular basis some others express their homophonic instincts and fears of narrow-minded people in many different ways. Those people should be the everyday targets of our campaigns to protect and promote diversity, tolerance and acceptance.
Nonetheless, we can safely say that the situation of the LGBT community in Albania has improved. Every year we have a very intense programme of events during the week around the International Day against Homophobia, including a successful and well-attended Pride this year.
Speaking publicly about LGBT is less of a taboo, despite resistance and conservative ideas of many. Unfortunately, much effort is still needed to change mentalities.
Here I would like to thank and express the full support of the European Union to the Albanian civil society: some extremely courageous activists who resist aggression and insults. Your work is essential and the result of your effort is becoming increasingly visible. Many are present here today, I would like to praise them publicly here for promoting freedom and diversity in Albania.
The citizens of Albania know only too well what it means to be deprived of fundamental rights and the victim of hate and discrimination. The criminal time of segregation and re-education is over, once and forever. Albania is a democracy, where all citizens, all social groups and all minorities have equal rights.
At the global level the European Union supports LGBT networks, including ERA. At local level, we have several initiatives for institutional support, for instance through the expertise of the Council of Europe, and initiatives to support LGBT CSOs, shelters and activists.
I wish you all fruitful discussions and exchanges during these 3 days. It is very important to me that we are gathered in Europe House. I see it as a proper "home", full of life and debate, but also a "home" where everyone can fully enjoy the values of the European Union – solidarity, democracy and fundamental rights.
Europe House will always be open to you, as a place to gather and feel at ease to discuss your hopes and concerns.
The support of the European Union will continue until equality and freedom are concrete, every day, realities for the LGBT community in Albania and beyond.