SURREY — An Albanian gay activist who recently moved to Surrey is hoping to find inclusion in his new home.
Erjon Tela, a runner-up in the recent Sher Vancouver’s January Marie Lapuz Youth Leadership Awards, said he moved to Surrey due to threats he had been receiving in Albania, where he was part of a movement to get equal rights for the LGBT community.
Tela, who is working as an office assistant in Surrey, helped organize the first gay parade of Albania in 2012, which he says was attacked by handmade tube bombs. He says that experience motivated him to work closely with police in that country to educate them on the LGBT community.
“Police were screaming all the time at us,” Tela said. “We chose to be inclusive and after the experience, we started a project where I was training the members of the police.”
From 2014 to 2017, Tela said he trained police forces and students of a police academy in Albania.
“The main opinion of the police on the LGBT people was that it’s a small community of transgender, most of them are homeless people and even sexual workers,” he said.
Closer to home, Tela says he wasn’t happy to hear that the Vancouver Pride Society had recently decided not to allow police uniforms or police vehicles at the popular annual event.
“Nothing good comes from exclusion,” he told the Now-Leader.
Tela started his activism in Albania in 2010 by drawing graffiti on the streets of Tirana, the country’s capital.
The graffiti included the words, “I’m a boy, I love a boy” and “I am a girl, I love a girl.”
Along with his friends, he started an organization called Pro LGBT, one of three organizations fighting for LGBT rights in the country.
In 2013, Tela started a project called Think Politically, where he collaborated with other organizations and reached out to political leaders. Tela says the project helped faciliate a meeting between the prime minister of Albania and members of the LGBT community.
He said the country, which is in the process of integrating to the European Union, has introduced ”good laws” like the anti-discrimination law.
“The problem is that these good laws are not implemented,” Tela said. “We lost the trust in that law and that institution.”
According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, Albania is ranked 19th out of 49 countries observing LGBT rights in Europe.
The January Marie Lapuz Youth Leadership awards are hosted by Sher Vancouver, a non-profit society for LGBT South Asians, their friends, families and allies.