According to CBS News, a transgender formerly with the rank of major attached to the Army of Serbia has decided to tell her journey from a closeted transgender, her conflict with gender identity and her decision of coming out, which then led to her ‘dismissal’ from the Army.
After living a double life for almost all of her life, Helena decided to disclose her gender identity while serving with the army and it was something that was not well received in the conservative Eastern European country where gender conformity is the norm. The rank and file of the military asked for her resignation, saying it will sully the ‘reputation of the army.’
The now 43 years old Helena who has a divorced wife and 4 children does not wish to reveal her former identity as a man in order to protect the family from prejudice in a society that is very much conservative and religious. During the interview with Associated Press, she recounted her journey as a boy growing up in a small Serbian town always in conflict with his identity and his decision to join the army to quash that pangs of femininity, as the army seemed to be the best place to achieve that goal.
By speaking out, Helena has become a rare voice representing Serbia’s transgender community, which lives under constant fear of hate crimes on the margins of the society. Tolerance for the LGBT community across the Balkans is low, and several gay pride events in Serbia have been canceled because of extremist violence.
“I am fighting for the rights of all humiliated people,” Helena told The Associated Press in an interview. “This is a struggle for all those who can’t enjoy their basic human right to be equal with everybody else.”
She also spoke of her sex change operation, a decision that caused her split with her family due to their non-acceptance and her petition to the office of the Commission for the Protection of Equality, an office that was created to expedite Serbia’s qualification into the European Union (EU). The Commissioner, Nevena Petrusic has written to the Serbian Army for a formal apology but so far, there is no reply.
The AP has also tried to reach the Army but so far, there has been no response.
Petrusic’s recommendations are not binding, but they are closely watched by international officials monitoring Serbia’s pro-EU reforms. Serbian Defense Minister Bratislav Gasic apologized to Helena publicly in January, but not in writing. He has denied any form of discrimination within the armed forces, where women serve alongside men. Among the many preconditions set by the EU as a qualification for entry into the union is the non-discrimination of the LGBT community and this case is closely watched as Serbia has been applying for entry into the bloc for years.