Please read below the eye witness testimony of Xheni Karaj, LGBTI activist, regarding a horrible case of discrimination and harassment from the Police of Shkodra towards a transgender.
Terror from the Police of State to “the Lesbian and Transgender terrorists”
When you’re an activist, what starts as a quiet day at work, can often turn into a movie scene. Today started as normally. Me, my three colleagues and the transgender, known by all as Anxhela, went for a trip in Shkodër, her birthplace, in order to make a request in the offices of State for her to move in Tirana, where she would have an ID card and a passport. We found Anxhela sleeping in a ” house” made out of paper-board in that early morning in Torre Drini ruins. Since she had no watch or cellphone, she asked a salesman nearby to wake her up, but he forgot. We entered her “home” like thieves and woke her up by calling her name.
Anxhela was really looking forward to return to her birthplace, from which she had left a long time ago, ever since her family had abandoned her. This return to her hometown had been impossible for several years because no public transport “allowed” her to travel because she had no shelter, and of course was transgender. And people that are different, for the ones that do have a shelter and a proper toilet, are considered unwashed and dirty. She kept telling stories from her childhood during the trip, and needles to say, she managed to get us involved too with her enthusiasm. From a work trip, it became a trip to the distant past and future that was waiting for us in Shkodër city.
I had walked often with Anxhela in Tirana, where I felt people looking, and quite that often people commenting in a very inappropriate language; comments for which Anxhela always had a comeback. I was very curious to see how these people would react when they saw us together, this time in the streets of Shkodër. All the time, Anxhela with her thick voice would say: ” Xheni, what if they attack us!” Laughing together with Kej, we told her to keep calm because Shkodër was no longer like she remembered it, and none of us wouldn’t let anyone do anything to her. She kept repeating that sentence over and over again during the trip, even when we first entered Shkodër. To calm her down, Kej smilingly said that she would be her personal bodyguard that day. We parked near the office of the rights of women in Shkodër, ” Gruaja tek Gruaja”. One of our colleagues accompanied us to the offices we needed to go, where we would take the documents for Anxhela’s displacement. She was hiding half of her face with her jacket, because she was afraid of people finding out that she was a transgender. The walk was quiet, until we entered the office. There, we started feeling people’s piercing eyes all over us, like some needles in voodoo dolls. After they denied our request, and we had to redo it, one of the employees called Anxhela to sign, and stood a meter away from her, as if she was disease itself. She looked at her with a twisted face, and told her to write her name, even though Anxhela had told her several times that she didn’t know how to write it, because she never went to school. At last, after some more repetitions, we did it.
We decided to make Anxhela happy, by going out for a walk, so that she could see how much her city had changed. Even though we still were feeling like voodoo dolls from those piercing eyes, the important thing was that there were no inappropriate comments buzzing in our ears. I was looking around in the Coffee’s nearby to find a place where I wouldn’t have to fight the owner, to let us in, and where we wouldn’t be in the spotlight. We found a peaceful dessert place, where we had sweets and felt like human beings. Anxhela wouldn’t stop talking, she was almost like a child going to a park for the first time. I laughed with the whole situation and said to my colleague: “We look like a lesbians couple with their happy and curious child.” We ended our visit with some photographs and videos where Anxhela expressed her love and enthusiasm for the beautiful Shkodër, which made it possible for her to spend a “normal” day there.
When we were going back, still not having left the city, I had to stop the car, because one of our colleagues has to go often to the bathroom, for health reasons. While we were waiting for her to come, two cops watch us from a police car and seconds later decide to drive backwards and stop right next to us. The cop comes out of the car quickly, goes to the back door where Anxhela was sitting, violently opens the door and asks: “Who are you? Give me your ID.”
While Anxhela and the other colleague try to make him understand that she doesn’t have an ID and that’s also why they had come in Shkodër, they other cop asks me in a rude way, whether Anxhela was a man or a woman. The first cop continued to shout to Anxhela, even after we gave him the papers where it was clearly said that she lost her ID card. “You’re coming with us to the police station. Out of the car!”- he screamed. Right then, comes my other colleague that just came out, and with he same arrogance he asks her: “What are you?” Kej tells him that she is a girl and and gives him her ID. 3.000 lekë fine- he said to the other cop with no further explanation. We started opposing them, and pointed out their totally unprofessional and discriminative behavior.
During these years of activism, I’ve been spit on, menaced, insulted, but never have I ever been more humiliated than today, where people representatives of the entity, that are supposed to offer their protection and safety to their citizens, those same people were the ones terrorizing us that day.
That’s what I also said to the cop in front of me, giving my word that I wouldn’t keep my mouth shut, and would file a complaint against him. In that moment, another police car comes. One of the newly comes cop came near the window and tried to justify the behavior of his colleague, who was still shouting at my face. He pushed him away and asked him to leave, while he and the other policewoman would try to resolve the situation. “You know we are living in tough times, where we have to ask for the ID, because of terrorism, and maybe this man- he said pointing at Anxhela- has his picture somewhere and is wanted.
The absurdity of that situation made me raise my voice to the loudest. In front of us were standing four representatives of the state, trying to justify their unprofessional behaviors by comparing homophobia to terrorism. And if this wasn’t enough, the first cop gives me the fine. I refused to sign, and asked them to tell me where was the nearest police station, because I was going to file a complaint. When they left, like cowards from a battlefield, the policewoman came near the window and said that she had seen me in television and that she appreciated the work I had done so far, but it would be better to not file that complaint. ” That would have no value” -she said. I insisted on knowing where the police station was, and as soon as we started driving, we noticed that the police car was following us. I managed to avoid them due to traffic, and we returned to the organization of women rights, where we parked and tried to calm down. I was told to file the complaint in Tirana, because if we went back to that police station, they would perhaps continue their maltreatment, or even keep us there for an amount of time.
Me, my colleagues, Anxhela, or Us “the different”, know terror very well because we experience it all the time, in our families, schools, hospitals, jobs, societies, etc. But today, the representatives of our state, the ones that should protect us, treated us as terrorists, as the most dangerous kind of terrorists. Those people should have provided for Anxhela the safety the safety to walk freely in the streets of a country that insists in being a European one. Those people terrorized her, for being inside a car.
So what started as a normal day of work, became a beautiful trip to the past and future, and all of a sudden it turned into a nightmare. Then Anxhela started literally saying: “Why don’t they eat their own faces. May I never have to come back to Shkodër again.”
That left me with a bitter taste full of skepticism to our state, or our society. It’s the same strong bitter taste I had sever years ago when I first started activism, and the very same taste that kept me even more motivated in what I do. Because change will never come from them. Change will only come from us.