I met Danijel during a training course in Switzerland. He had me at “D”, from the very first moment we introduced ourselves standing in a perfectly imperfect circle. We had to come up with a word that we relate to and that starts with the letter of our name. The drama was Danijel’s past. Depth was his present. Today, a few months later, we meet again to discuss the future, the LGBT community in Serbia, and the challenges one should fight, thank, accept, and soak in.
Who is Danijel and what is he passionate about?
Sometimes I don’t even know who I am. It seems to me that I have been inclined to change all my life, that I strive for it. But as fluid as I am, exploring and reinventing myself, there are some things that are constant. These are the things that fulfil me and make me happy – family, friends, the good in people, art.
What has been your role in the LGBT community and how has it changed over time?
Honestly, I’ve recently become an activist, maybe a little more than a year ago. Before that, my LGBT world was a personal space, a very small circle of people, whom, if at all, I was influencing only as a friend.
Have you always been an extrovert?
Actually, I haven’t. As a teenager, I was very withdrawn, shy and insecure. And then, suddenly, really suddenly, I bloomed, somewhere near the end of my high school years. I was sick of being lonely. I opened up to others and it became an unstoppable process. The boy I was was, at first glance, totally unlike the man I grew up to be.
What makes you sad?
More than anything, it saddens me to see pain and hurt, helplessness and fear in the people I love.
What are some changes that you have witnessed for the LGBT youth in Serbia?
They are more free and more self-aware than my generation was. And that makes me happy.
Tell us more about Group COME OUT. What was your motivation to start volunteering there?
Group COME OUT / Grupa IZAĐI is a non-governmental organization located in Novi Sad. Its mission is to provide support to young LGBT people in order to empower them. This support is reflected in the provision of free psychotherapy, and the organization of various educational and entertaining workshops and events. At the same time, COME OUT is the only organization of its kind in Serbia that also functions as a community centre. From Wednesday to Saturday, LGBT youth, as well as all other well-intentioned people, can come to the centre to hang out, talk with youth workers, including me, read or study.
For a long time, I felt the need to be useful for the community, to use the excess energy and love I possess to help others. My volunteering in COME OUT happened spontaneously and I am very happy about it.
What are some of your favourite things about your community?
If you meant the gay community I belong to, then I would say that gay guys, just like blondes, definitely party harder than the rest.
What are the challenges that you face on a daily basis?
It is not easy to answer this. If for your whole life, that is more than 40 years in my case, you live in a way that implies discretion in your behaviour in public places, when you are careful about how you will express your love, how you will dress or what you will say out loud – you change in a way, it is no longer a challenge for you, but a model of behaviour. Of course, over time you get more freedom and push the boundaries. In my case, it has happened gradually. However, there are others’ stories. Not everyone can live like that. For me, that patterned behaviour is a result of fear as much as it is of discipline.
How did the pandemic change the dynamics in the community centre?
I started volunteering after the pandemic so I don’t know what happened during that time. What I do know is that a digital community centre (here you can find the sign-up form) was created, where people could gather online to socialize and chat. It is available today to those who are not from Novi Sad and to all others who cannot physically, for any reason, come to the community centre.
Where are things heading for the LGBT community in Serbia?
Compared to the period of 20 years ago, when I was a teenager, the position of the LGBT community in Serbia has significantly changed for the better. The availability of information thanks to the Internet, television and all other media contributed to this quite a bit. However, as in many other matters, including the matter of human rights, we as a society are seriously lagging behind the countries of Western Europe. The rise in popularity of the right wing, as well as the significant influence of religion on social trends, is a characteristic of the whole world. Unlike many countries, thinking and being different here is not only undesirable but also dangerous at times.
What gives you hope?
If I look at my life, I find hope in myself and in the people around me. I am an optimist by nature. If you meant hope for the community I belong to, then I rely on the fact that I have been here on the planet Earth long enough to see that change is possible, although slow.
Do you have a little piece of advice for people who are still finding it difficult to speak their minds?
Listen to Madonna, find role models among those who are brave and bright, look up to them.
I’m kidding, but only partially.
Love yourself. And never give up, things always work out in our favour if we firmly believe in them.