Zdravko is a single, 33-year-old volleyball player and one-time professional dancer originally from Niksic, Montenegro. A European country that borders Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia, the government pays minimal lip service to prohibiting LGBTQ discrimination but in reality, it is a very dangerous place for a gay person to live. Just ask Zdravko who now lives in Vancouver, British Columbia after having read his obituary in a local paper published just a day before the country’s first Pride event.
As a social worker actively involved abroad on issues of homeless youth, he was still closeted when he returned to Montenegro in 2010. Physically attacked while walking his dog, by reporting the incident to the police, he became a public target. So in 2011 he decided to officially register the LGBT Forum Progress, the country’s first LGBTIQ2+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer and Two-Spirited) organization and came out as his country’s first gay man.
In spite of being immediately disowned by his family and countrymen in general, Zdravko still managed to introduce LGBTIQ2+ topics as one of the most important Human Rights issues of the European Union accession process for Montenegro, and open the first LGBTIQ2+ shelter in the Balkans with support from the local Embassy of the Netherlands..
But it became too dangerous to continue living there, and following a wonderful experience in 2013 as a guest while serving as the international grand marshal for the Vancouver Pride Society, at the urging of his Canadian friends he moved to Canada as a protected person. There he joined the Rainbow Refugee organization where he assists new LGBTIQ2+ and HIV-positive refugees and speaks globally on his experiences.
By Connie Wardman
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Photo courtesy of Marc Roumi.