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Kosovo journalists meet with SDGLN to learn about covering LGBT news

SAN DIEGO – Five journalists from the tiny nation of Kosovo sat down with San Diego Gay & Lesbian News on Monday to learn more about covering LGBT news.

The journalists, all making their first visits to the United States, are guests of the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program as well as the San Diego Diplomacy Council.

While in San Diego this week, the journalists will also visit Channel 10 News and the UT San Diego.

The journalists met with SDGLN Editor in Chief Ken Williams and Staff Writer Ben Cartwright for a free-wheeling question-and-answer session lasting more than an hour. Although most of the journalists spoke English, two translators helped keep the conversation flowing seamlessly. The journalists learned about SDGLN's readership in 175 countries, the importance of using Social Media to promote articles, and how media partnerships help build and grow readership.

Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, and the International Court of Justice in 2010 affirmed that action did not violate international law. Albanians comprise 92% of the population, and the main religions are Muslim, Serbian Orthodox and Roman Catholic.

With a population of more than 1.8 million people – about half that of San Diego County – Kosovo has an estimated 92,000 LGBT people. The journalists said the LGBT community in Kosovo is mostly closeted and poorly organized, and the young nation has never had a gay pride parade. Wikipedia says there are no gay bars in Kosovo, and most gay people connect via Social Media.

One of the first questions regarded whether homosexuality was genetic or a "choice." Williams quickly replied that is was not a "choice," because who would choose a life of discrimination? He also explained that even in a progressive nation like the U.S., the LGBT community still faces many challenges on the road to fully equality and there are some places where it simply isn't safe to be open and gay.

The journalists nodded almost in unison, and one said that LGBT people were still very cautious in Kosovo.

“Society is just now starting to accept gay people,” one journalist said, adding that change is coming fast.

One of the conditions for Kosovo to join the European Union (EU) is granting equal rights to all people, including LGBT. Homosexuality is legal in Kosovo, and gays can serve openly in the military although they often face discrimination or bias.

“We are a very new country,” said Kushtrim Sadiku, editor and journalist with Klan Kosova. “Society is opening up more and more. … We are trying to build a new democracy. It was take a couple of years” for Kosovo to be more accepting of LGBT people.

Williams briefed the journalists on the recent electoral victories for marriage equality in the states of Maine, Maryland and Washington, plus the election of a transgender woman to the New Hampshire legislature. A translator interjected, noting that a lesbian (Tammy Baldwin) was elected to the U.S. Senate for the first time.

The journalists scrambled to name LGBT role models in the mass media, and Daut Qylangjiu, Editor-in-Chief of the “Roma Program” for Radio Television Kosovo, recalled a groundbreaking TV interview eight or nine years ago with a gay Albanian man.

Arton Mulliqi, a journalist and reporter for TV21 in Kosovo, called the gay man “brave” for telling his story. The journalists, however, recalled that the public reaction at the time was “not so positive.” And, they noted, the gay man later died of an overdose.

Sadiku said Kosovo’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Petrit Selimi, has declared his support for LGBT rights, and that is a bold, brave step for his country.

Qylangjiu, as a member of the misunderstood and often persecuted Roma people (also known as gypsies), tied the struggles for tolerance and acceptance of the Roma community to that of LGBT people around the world.

Williams, SDGLN’s Editor in Chief, urged the journalists to humanize stories about LGBT people in their journalism efforts and to avoid stereotyping and demonizing of the community.

Cartwright said he appreciated the opportunity to share information with foreign journalists looking for ways of reporting on the LGBT community.

“I was most fascinated to learn the perspectives that these journalists have about LGBT media in the United States,” he said. “I think they were surprised to learn that we are so easily able to get and share information of importance from around the world to our readers of SDGLN. I also enjoyed hearing from the delegation member representing the Roma community, who explained how the struggles of ‘gypsies’ in his country are so similar to those the LGBT community faces.”

Williams said he was grateful for the chance to share ideas with the foreign journalists. "Building bridges is so important," he said. "I think everybody walked away learning something new about each other's communities."

Meet the journalists

Edita Doli is a journalist with Radio Dukagjini. She moderates programs including her own call-in show where she also announces the news and reads advertisements. She is very interested in improving ethical decision-making in journalism and addressing societal issues through her radio show. She said she was inspired by the round-table talk, and was excitedly brainstorming with several other journalists about how she could include LGBT issues on her show.

Arton Mulliqi has been a journalist and reporter with TV21 since 2008. He focuses on political and social issues.

Daut Qylangjiu has been Editor-in-Chief of “Roma Program” on Radio Television of Kosovo since 2003. He focuses on the Roma (“gypsy”) community and founded Durmish Aslano, a Roma cultural association in Prizren. He works tirelessly to improve the status of the Roma community in Kosovo.

Kushtrim Sadiku is an editor and journalist with TV Klan Kosova and producer of the documentary program, “Exclusive.” He has also worked for daily newspapers in Tirana and Skopje, and is most interested in investigative reporting and documentaries.

Besiana Xharra is a senior journalist for the daily newspaper Zëri. She is an investigative reporter whose work often finds itself on the front cover.