ZAGREB, July 27, 2020 — A Croatia based photographer shares moving and encouraging stories of parents of LGBT children on Instagram. Benjamin Strike began the project #VolimTeBezAli (I love you, without but), which chronicles the parents of LGBT children and their process of acceptance.
He records everything through portraits and dialogue with parents and then posts these stories on his Instagram profile. He explained to Latica Martinis Filković of SUPER1/Telegram how he began the project, which emphasizes unconditional parental love.
“I was a moderator of a forum at MaMa, which brought together parents of LGBT children. They discussed their experiences at the forum, and I combined that experience with my love for photography. This project should have begun 19 years ago, after the first Zagreb Pride parade. However, the parents of LGBT children in Croatia have remained silent about this topic for 20 years. It’s time to wake up from that twenty-year-old dream,” Benjamin explains..
Croatia LGBT Parents Fear Reactions
“I had a wonderful fluttering feeling in my stomach, like when you fall in love, and knew this was the right project. My best friend’s mom was first because I could reach out to her easily. I also knew parents from the forum who had spoken publicly about this topic, so I contacted them. Some were immediately in favor of the idea, and some were persuaded by their children. I mostly hang out in with a LGBT crowd. Rarely do those parents want to stand in front of the camera,” explains the 33-year-old photographer. He emphasizes that this is still a taboo topic in Croatia.
Strike explains people are afraid of reactions of people at work and from neighbors. But he points out that Croatia LGBT parents must be aware that their silence enables of oppressors of their children and people who make their lives worse.
“The first defense (at least for most children) is that of the parental home. Imagine facing parental condemnation and being shut out of the family home. And then imagine facing discrimination from the majority of society,” he emphasizes. Yet, this whole process was therapeutic for Benjamin.
“You drink coffee with them and can’t believe that such parents exist.”
Even though this project is time consuming, his faith in a better world is returning. “It took me about eight months to accept the photos as they are and post them on social media. ”
Problem: Croatia LGBT Parents Not in Photos
Although Croatia LGBT mothers are the most represented in the #VolimTeBezAli project, Benjamin says that there are also several fathers. He explains, is that we live in a patriarchal society which harms us all. “In our society, masculinity is viewed as essential, eternal, inscribed in the‘ human nature ’of man — not as a created social construct that can change. Men just haven’t learned to accept and allow themselves to be emotional and supportive. However, women have been encouraged to do so since they were little.”
While children of parents in the photos are proud of their parents and live much freer and happier, the problem is the children of parents who are not in the photos. These are children of parents who are afraid of the environment, neighbors, colleagues. But Benjamin adds that these fears are understandable. “The children have experienced the same fears themselves. But if that fear of condemnation and need to fulfill social norms is greater than the love and desire to understand one’s own child, then one needs to change one’s priorities,” he explains.
Regarding social condemnation, Benjamin acknowledges that it still exists. But it is important to learn to deal with it and surround yourself with people who support you. In addition, he says that it is important to read, educate yourself, talk to your child.
LGBT Parents: Put Child’s Happiness First
“After coming out, parents and children often don’t talk about it anymore. I think everyone deals with social condemnation in their own way, but you can’t live life to satisfy others. The parents in these photos don’t care about the environment, and put their child’s happiness first,” the young photographer reveals. However, he also points out that his mother did not agree to be part of #VolimTeBezAli project. She is still in the phase of “I love you, but am not ready to get involved with this topic”. He is not close to his father.
So far he has 10 Croatia LGBT parents, and notices one common theme with all of them. “Most parents state that they still feel fear violence and discrimination towards their child. On the other hand, many of them support children going abroad because they will feel safer, happier and freer there. There are a lot of similarities, but the biggest link between these parents is fear for their child,” Benjamin explains.
In addition, Benjamin is impressed by the positive reactions to his project #VolimTeBezAli, which continue from all sides. He doesn’t even get a chance to read all the messages he gets in his inbox. “People like, share, respond and provide support. I knew that the project would have an impact, but didn’t imagine this level of interest in my wildest dreams.”
Goal: Awareness of Challenges LGBT Children Face
He hopes that people will become aware of the challenges Croatia LGBT children and their parents face and how discrimination affects family happiness and dynamics. If his project changes the mind of one parent of a LGBT child, Benjamin believes that his work will have paid off. He also tells me that he envisions a future in which parents accept their children without difficulty.
However, he points out that things are looking up. He also observes that the Croatia LGBT community has developed significantly in the last ten years. There are now several groups dealing with LGBT topics and culture.
He adds that even COVID-19 could not stop efforts to increase LGBT visibility. He cites the recent Pride Ride organized by the new LGBT initiative Ponosi Zagreb (Proud Zagreb). The ride restored hope and optimism that LGBTIQ activism in Zagreb is still alive and well!
‘Tell our society…I am with my child’
Does Benjamin have any advice for Croatia LGBT children considering coming out but fear rejection from family and society?
“I don’t have any general advice as we are all different. Parents are different and each person knows his own parents best. What I can say is that the problems that plague us often look much worse in our head. But it’s not healthy for them to stay there either and I think that they have to come out.
“As for a message to parents, I will quote one dad I photographed who said, ‘Parents: Get up, stand by your children and tell our society loud and clear – I am with my child. For children, the first line of defense is always parents. If children are afraid of their parents, then they have not done a good job in parenting. The voice of parents is louder than the voice of children. If the parents of LGBT children do not talk about this topic, our children will be stuck in the same place. They will lose their best years in fear, and fear is stronger than punishment itself. Fear is a terrible feeling.'”