Tuesday, January 18, 2011
During our Belgrade excursion in November we got t-shirts from the Gay Straight Alliance with a logo of the Belgrade Pride parade. Though we haven’t had t-shirt suitable weather I wanted to see people’s reaction to this shirt so on five different occasions I pulled it out, layered it on top of long sleeves, and observed.
On four accounts it was only visible when I was inside after removing sweaters, scarves, and jackets which limited the amount of people to observe.
At work I didn’t expect any change since CK runs a program for GSA in Novi Sad, but it was still nice to be surrounded by those who smiled and applauded the choice to wear the shirt.
In the company of my friend’s host family her host sister and sister's friends asked me why I was wearing it since they are opposed to the parade and what it stands for, her host father teased me about trying to make a statement, and her host mother thought the way I layered was an odd fashion choice (admittedly so).
At my dance class I noticed a distinct difference in the way the people reacted. I’d been dancing with them for a couple of months and I even attended a few birthdays and other celebrations of members of the class but about five or six of them gave me a bit of a cold shoulder, others were more tentative than usual, and the rest acted pretty normal. Within a week it seemed to be forgotten and everyone acted as usual but I was shocked at the time that these girls who I’d become friends with would act cold (most likely) because I was wearing that shirt.
At the university my teacher asked if I’d been at the parade with a worried expression and seemed pleased that I wasn’t but that could just be because of the safety factor. Otherwise the students who took notice around the campus generally gave me slighted looks with the exception of two students who beamed when they saw it. I’d say there were around a hundred people who I passed at the university that morning, twenty of whom seemed to notice my shirt. However it is very possible that some of those troubled expressions were unrelated. Oh the difficulties of running a controlled experiment.
However one late-December day it was quite warm and usual winter requisites weren’t needed so I simply wore a jacket over the shirt making sure the logo was visible. I boarded the bus to do a full loop around the city to see the reactions of the most diverse group and man was it telling! I took the 4 which starts in the South-West corner of Novi Sad and cuts through University and up the main boulevard and I did so around 4pm after the sun set so many people chose to take the bus. Initially there were only about eight of us on the bus but it soon filled to full capacity. Right away I sensed a sort of distance from seriously everyone. Since most people on a bus are standing or sitting meaninglessly without anything attracting their attention except perhaps what was to be for dinner that evening, almost everyone seemed to see my fashion choice. A little boy started to sit next to me and his mother pulled him from the seat. An old couple who boarded at the first stop with me wouldn’t stop staring at me with a menacing scowl the entire bus ride. A middle-aged woman bumped into me with such force and impropriety not common to Novi Sadians that it felt intentional. And this is just to name a few. There wasn’t one age group or sector who was more inclined to respond a certain way, simply a general negativity. Most people looked at me with slight disapproval, a sigh, or a knowing shaking of the head. There were still half a dozen or so who smiled purposely and encouragingly but this was a striking minority.
I’m not sure what to take from all of this. Like I mentioned earlier it is so difficult to conduct a fair experiment since it’s possible that everyone I ran into had just lost their jobs or heard bad news and even more possible that since I was searching for reactions I took usual scenarios to mean more. However it seems like these five encounters confirm what I already knew, that Serbs of all backgrounds and ages are less than sympathetic to this issue.