‘Constant Comments’: Transgender, Non-Binary Serbs Detail Job Discrimination

Sajt BalkanInsights u okviru BIRN mreže objavio je Zoomerov tekst Diskriminacija transrodnih osoba na tržištu rada prisutna na svim nivoima, čak i u organizacijama koje štite ljudska prava na svojoj platformi na engleskom jeziku! Autor članka Nemanja Marinović, autorka istraživanja Sonja Sajzor i Zoomer redakcija se zahvaljuju ekipi BIRN-a na mentorskoj podršci u procesu, a vama ostavljamo ceo tekst i u engleskoj verziji 🙂


Transgender, non-binary and gender-variant individuals in Serbia say they face discrimination in the job market, involving frequent insulting and inappropriate remarks.

It was rife with microaggressions.

That’s how one non-binary Belgrader described their experience of the Serbian job market, an experience that involved frequent ridicule and inappropriate remarks.

Microaggressions are defined as the everyday, subtle, intentional and unintentional interactions or behaviours that communicate some sort of bias towards marginalised groups, such as transgender individuals.

And they are indeed rife in the Serbian job market, according to the results of a Zoomer survey, even within organisations that claim to champion human rights.

Three quarters of transgender, non-binary, and gender-variant respondents said they fear attending job interviews due to the discrimination they expect to encounter from would-be employers.

Half said they had experienced some form of discrimination in the workplace; one third said they believe their employers felt free to violate their labour rights because they are transgender; and more than half did not complain about poor working conditions for fear of losing their job.

The respondents were predominantly young individuals living and working in Belgrade or nearby, most of them employed in the NGO and services sectors.

“My appearance and ability to work were constantly commented on,” said Sasha, who is non-binary. “There were times when they wouldn’t even say hello when they entered.”

Another respondent, Aleks, said: “Mostly in student jobs like hospitality, bookstores, or malls, customers comment on my physical appearance, stare at me oddly, are rude to me, and ask inappropriate questions like whether I’m a man or a woman.”

Personal protection mechanisms

According to research published in 2018 by the Belgrade-based IDEAS Centre for Research and Development of Society, a non-profit public policy and research organisation, 38 per cent of LGBT individuals reported experiencing discrimination in the previous five years and 46 per cent said they had experienced psychological abuse.

There is a dearth of data, however, concerning transgender, non-binary, and gender-variant individuals in Serbia.

Vanja’s problems began with his papers.

In Serbia, changing the gender market in official documents requires undergoing sex reassignment surgery or providing a psychiatrist’s report based on at least a year of monitoring, as well as an endocrinologist’s report again based on a year of observation.

This means that, like Vanja, many transgender individuals find themselves being involuntarily ‘outed’ when applying for jobs, when their name and gender marker in their official documents do not match their gender identity.

Transgender individuals often end up seeking work in the NGO sector, which is perceived as more sensitive to marginalised groups. But Vanja said there is a flipside.

“The employer emphasised that he respects my gender identity, but actually exploited my enthusiasm for work and I wasn’t given the respect I deserve,” he said.

Discrimination is most common in jobs as part of larger teams or that involve frequent contact with other people. The more people one comes into contact with, the greater the potential for unequal treatment, the respondents said.

Transgender individuals end up developing personal protection mechanisms that primarily involve hiding their gender identity.

“I usually don’t ‘out’ myself at work, or I selectively and carefully choose where I can out myself and where not,” said Aleks. “I usually use the name assigned to me at birth at work, and my colleagues think I’m just a masculine girl and address me in the feminine gender.”

Transgender individuals tend not to report discrimination at work; when they do, the response is often inadequate.

“A colleague … spread lies and slandered me behind my back,,” said Kris, from Belgrade. He said he did not report the discrimination because he did not trust that his supervisor would take any action given she too had made homophobic remarks.

According to the IDEAS research, 92 per cent of LGBT individuals believe the legal framework and protections offered by the state in fact offer little protection in the job market.

The Office of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality said it had no record of complaints concerning direct discrimination against transgender individuals during job recruitment.

“There is evidently significant social distance”, the Office said, adding that transgender individuals are often forced to “hide their identity for fear of stigma, which is why many cases of discrimination go unreported”.

Positive examples

A growing number of companies include respect for human rights and creating an inclusive atmosphere as part of their ‘employer branding’ strategy.

Vega IT, a software development company, has a clear set of behaviours defined as acceptable and unacceptable, along with a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, DEI, manager responsible for creating inclusive policies and educating colleagues.

“Over the years, we have organised various activities and partnered with organisations, and will continue to do so in the future,” said Vega IT’s DEI manager Marija Rakic.

Real change, however, requires changes to the legal framework.

A new Gender Identity Law has been presented by the Centre for LGBTIQA rights GETEN but has not been taken up by parliament, while a new law that would legalise same-sex partnerships has been drafted by the government but President Aleksandar Vucic has vowed to veto it.

A number of laws in Serbia contain anti-discrimination provisions but rights groups say none of these fully address the specific challenges facing transgender individuals.

The labour ministry and Sloga trade union did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

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