In 2021, outrage broke out in Albanian public discourse following demands from the LGBT community to replace the words “mother” and “father” with the nondescript “Parent 1” and “Parent 2”. Homophobic vitriol poured in online comments and a Coalition in defense of the family was formed. But did anyone actually make these demands? “Faktoje” uncovers the ways in which disinformation and poor journalistic practices were used to target one of the most vulnerable groups in Albania.
On June 8, 2021, Albanian LGBT rights’ activist Xheni Karaj was invited on a talk show on ABC News Albania.
The topic of conversation was UK charity Stonewall’s alleged advice to employers wishing to be included on their Workplace Equality Index to replace the term “mother” with “parent who has given birth”. It is worth noting that Stonewall stated, in 2022, that “it is absolutely not true that Stonewall wishes to ban the word ‘mother’ from HR policies, as has been asserted in repeated stories from a small number of news outlets.”
Karaj says that, during the discussion, she spoke on the importance of coming up with legal solutions that will enable LGBT couples to legally register as the parents of their children. The legal framework in Albania currently does not allow for two women or two men to register as the parents of a child.
It was only after the discussion that Karaj noticed: while she was speaking about developments in the UK, on screen, the news ticker stated: “Xheni Karaj: The LGBT community demands that the terms ‘mother’ and ‘father’ be removed and replaced by ‘Parent 1’ and ‘Parent 2’”.
Thus, the “Parent 1” and “Parent 2” saga was born.
Likely a mistake made by an unknown and overworked journalist trying to spice up that day’s news ticker, it has hounded the LGBT community in Albania ever since.
An incredibly controversial claim, especially in a country like Albania, it provided irresistibly juicy material for the media and many of the country’s nearly 800 online portals.
Karaj says no organization, LGBT or otherwise, has filed any legal request or motion that demands the replacement, removal, or introduction of the terms “Parent 1” and “Parent 2”. She even took to social media, two days after the show, to set the record straight, stating that the LGBT community never asked for the ‘eradication’ of the term “mother”.
Nonetheless, the media widely reported that Karaj and the LGBT community seeks to replace the words ‘mother’ and ‘father’ with “Parent 1” and “Parent 2”. A number of public figures expressed their revolt and disgust against the absurdity of the LGBT community’s supposed demands to remove the word ‘mother’ and substitute it with ‘parent’.
On June 8, 2021, Newsbomb.al reported on the debate with an article titled: “‘Get rid of the term mother’, debates in the studio, news anchor Tafani responds to Xheni Karaj: I am a woman and a mother, you degenerate society!”. “There are demands that the words mother and father be removed in Albania,” warned Revista Ora. JOQ Albania, arguably the country’s most popular portal, which boasts 2 million followers on Facebook and 1.3 million followers on Instagram, reported on June 10, 2021 that “the LGBT community demands the removal of the terms ‘mother’ and ‘father’”.
This led to a barrage of online hate speech against the LGBT community, as well as death and rape threats against Karaj herself.
“As the person who was publicly persecuted, I began receiving countless death and rape threats. There were hundreds of them on my social media. I had people harassing me in the street, calling out “parent 1, parent 2!”. The situation became physically dangerous. All of Albania hated me, as the person who demanded the eradication of the terms ‘mother’ and ‘father’. I was dehumanized completely,” says Karaj.
There was also a huge increase, Karaj says, of hateful online comments left on articles and posts around the topic: “You could see how enraged people were, and how high the level of hatred towards LGBT people was. There was a total dehumanization of LGBT people.”
“In real life too, hate crimes increased,” Karaj told us. Two weeks after the TV debate, a transgender person was physically assaulted by people who used the terms “Parent 1” and “Parent 2”, amidst the usual insults.
“There is a very close connection between online hate speech and people’s everyday reality. When you construct this entire dehumanizing narrative, people start to become more aggressive.”
One public figure, in particular, evangelical pastor Akil Pano, seized upon the “Parent 1” and “Parent 2” narrative. In another talk show, on June 9, 2021, Pano spoke on the same topic as Karaj had, a day before. During the discussion, Pano pledged to organize a referendum in Albania, protecting the sanctity of the terms ‘mother’ and ‘father’, in addition to calling homosexuality a “deviance” and a feature related to “sin, transgression and moral corruption”.
In September 2021, the pastor founded the Albanian Coalition for Family and Life. The first convention held by this organization in 2022 welcomed such esteemed figures as then-President Ilir Meta, himself. The founding of this organization led to Pano being honored with the title “Knight of the Order of Scanderbeg” by President Meta in 2022, “for his remarkable devotion to the cause of protecting the family”. Its second annual conference, under the tagline “God, Family and Nation”, was held in February 2023.
The outrage engendered by disinformation was stoked further in October 2021, when Pano posted on his social media a survey form he claimed was distributed in kindergartens. The form contained the terms ‘Parent 1’ and ‘Parent 2’. This, Pano said, was proof that the “gay agenda” had begun its implementation.
“This form was handed out in kindergartens. It was just sent to me. In what is a total violation of the law on family code, the word MOTHER and FATHER are put in parentheses and replaced by Parent 1 and Parent 2.
The Gay Agenda has begun implementation, quietly and in violation of the Family Code, that is the law in Albania. This kind of imposition is violence and it’s the dictatorship of the minority over the majority.
I call on: the Ministry of Education, the Directory of Education, school headmasters, and pre-school educational institutions, to immediately withdraw from use this form, that is in violation of the law and the family code and offends the majority of Albanians.
However, the document was disowned by the Tirana municipality, that stated it was not issued by them. Similarly, the LGBT organizations in Albania denied having any knowledge or relation to this document.
Nonetheless, the damage was already done. Another wave of backlash, media outrage, and homophobic hate followed. As Karaj says, it was a “deepening of that polarity and division: they, the ones who are not normal, these perverts, are coming for us normals, and our normal values.” There was a deepening of the division Karaj and LGBT organizations have tried to bridge for years, she laments.
The ‘legend’ of ‘parent 1’ and ‘parent 2’ continues to be used as a cudgel of disinformation to attack the LGBT community.
In November 2022, Bislim Ahmetaj, the opposition party PD’s head of the Secretariat for Human Rights, denounced the “Soros agenda of ‘Parent 1’ and ‘Parent 2’”, in an attempt to ideologically position his party as a conservative one who “has and always will defend the traditional family”.
When the Commissioner for Protection Against Discrimination deemed that pastor Akil Pano had used hate speech against the LGBT community, the latter appealed the decision in court. The Commissioner’s decision explicitly states that “the object of review, in this case, is not the appraisal of this proposal [‘Parent 1’ and ‘Parent 2’] or the demands of the LGBTI community, but the language used by A.P. while expressing his thoughts, opinions or stances, be they within the framework of his freedom of conscience, religion, and faith, in terms of this debate.”
This court case, however, is presented by Pano as a battle between “Parent 1 and Parent 2” vs. “Mom and Dad”. The media largely echoed this narrative, with the exception of Citizens Channel. The response of an already widely homophobic public was, as a result, overwhelmingly supportive of the pastor’s ‘noble cause’ and hateful towards the LGBT community. World Values Survey found that 82% of Albanian respondents did not find homosexuality justifiable.
Pastor Akil Pano did not respond to our request for a comment for this article.
What the fabricated ‘debate’ around ‘Parent 1’ and ‘Parent 2’ obfuscates is the material conditions of LGBT parents in Albania. Karaj says, although the terms to be used are best left to legal experts to figure out, what is of pressing importance is that LGBT parents are recognized by Albanian law.
Whether they are called ‘Parent 1’ and ‘Parent 2’ or not, gay families exist in Albania.
Once the smoke from the commotion of ‘Parent 1’ and ‘Parent 2’ clears, once the media attention has moved on to the next controversy, what still remains at stake here is the legal status of two toddler twins, whose mothers are a lesbian couple. Since they were born, a couple of years ago, their existence was recorded on a temporary register. They do not hold passports, or other identifying documents. Their legal ‘inexistence’ makes them ineligible to receive public services like healthcare and childcare. Additionally, they cannot leave the country.
Albanian law does not allow for a child to be registered as having two mothers or two fathers. The mother who gave birth to the twins’ may be recorded as their mother, but their other mother would have no legal right upon them whatsoever. Thus, the two women decided to forego such unjust registration, taking the state to court, where they have been fighting this legal battle for over two years.