September 21, 2016 at 6:45 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Kevin Jennings ‘manhandled’ by protesters after Serbia Pride march

Kevin Jennings, gay news, Washington Blade

Arcus Foundation Executive Director Kevin Jennings says he was “manhandled” by protesters after attending a Pride march in Belgrade, Serbia, on Sept. 18, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Jennings)

The executive director of the Arcus Foundation said a group of protesters “manhandled” him on Sunday after he took part in a Pride march in the Serbian capital.

Kevin Jennings wrote on his Facebook page that “some young thugs” accompanied a group of Orthodox priests who sought to “purify” a square after the Belgrade Pride march. He said he began to record them with his iPhone, “but was immediately set upon by some of their thugs who manhandled me.”

Jennings told the Washington Blade on Sunday during a telephone interview from Belgrade that he was wearing a Hillary Clinton t-shirt with a rainbow on it when the incident took place.

“As soon as they saw me they were nuts,” he said. “It was like waiving a red flag.”

Jennings wrote on Facebook the police officers who intervened accused him of inciting the people who attacked him because he was wearing a t-shirt with a rainbow on it. He said they made him leave the square.

“I said, ‘I didn’t do anything,’” Jennings told the Blade.

He said he returned to his hotel after the incident.

“That was actually very terrifying,” said Jennings. “I thought, I’m completely alone. I don’t speak the language . . . there’s no police protection. That was the moment I really understood what it is like to be gay in Serbia.”

Thousands of riot police lined march route

Jennings was among the hundreds of people who took part in the Belgrade Pride march. He also attended a conference on advocacy efforts in the Balkans and spoke about protecting LGBT students.

“It was an amazing four day experience,” said Jennings.

Authorities have previously cancelled several Belgrade Pride marches in the wake of clashes between police and protesters in 2010. The Associated Press reported thousands of riot police gathered along the parade route to protect the marchers.

“It was a good wake up call,” said Jennings. “When you’re doing the parade it was a normal gay pride parade, except for the thousands of cops who were lining the street.”

Serbia bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The country’s LGBT-inclusive hate crimes law took effect in 2014.

More than 70 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Serbians who responded to a survey the National Democratic Institute, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute and Civil Rights Defenders conducted in 2015 said they have been threatened with physical violence and “exposed to psychological abuse.” This figure comes against the backdrop of Serbia’s bid to join the European Union.

Jennings on Sunday described LGBT Serbian activists as “incredibly brave and strong.”

“That’s the main thing I’m walking with,” he told the Blade.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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