Gay man ‘fearing for his life’ after carrying icon of the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo

Nik Jovičić-Sas carrying a homemade Virgin Mary icon with a rainbow halo at Belgrade Pride 2019, Serbia. (Nik Jovičić-Sas)

A British-Serbian gay man is afraid for his life after he received countless threats for carrying an icon of the Virgin Mary sporting a rainbow halo at Belgrade Pride.

Nik Jovičić-Sas made national headlines last week in the deeply Orthodox Christian Serbia after appearing at the parade with the homemade icon.

In the icon, Virgin Mary and Jesus’ halos had been painted in the colours of the Pride flag.

This has lead to lawsuits against Jovičić-Sas, including one filed by the head of the police union for inciting hatred and intolerance against religious communities.

But that was not his intention and, in fact, the bespoke Virgin Mary Pride icon had a much more profound and personal message for the 27-year-old theologian.

His first inkling he might be gay at the age of 11 coincided with the first-ever Belgrade Pride in 2001.

“The event was attacked by thousands of football hooligans who attacked and hospitalised police and participants in the event,”” Jovičić-Sas told PinkNews.

“Many of the people who attacked that Pride identified as Orthodox Christians, and carried icons, and were joined by priests and monastics.”

So, as an impressionable young child and devout Serbian Orthodox Christian, the hooligans’ actions made him to believe he was “sick and perverted”, leading to suicidal ideations.

Gay man hopes icon will challenge Christian stereotypes. 

About 85% of Serbians are Orthodox Christian in a state where the church wields great influence and often leads the cries against homophobia.

Notorious metropolitan Bishop Amfilohije Radović, who is prolific with his public comments against LGBTI people, once described Belgrade Pride as a “parade of death, self-destruction, murder and homicide”.

Even the the church’s top holy man, Patriarch Irinej, has repeatedly spoken out against LGBTI people, labelling them the “shame of Serbia”.

Knowing it could land him in hot water, Jovičić-Sas decided to carry the icon to challenge the idea that hatred for the LGBT+ community was a Christian value.

“I wanted to show that icons and traditions of the Church belong to LGBTQ+ Christians as much as anyone else,” he said.

Every year, right-wing Orthodox Christians carry icons as they protest Belgrade Pride. Their intention is to intimidate pride participants and this year police arrested five protestors.

By reclaiming the icon, Jovičić-Sas hoped to send a message that: “God loves everyone – particularly those who suffer and face political persecution.

“That should not be a radical idea for Christians,” he said.

“It’s time we stop allowing people to using the Christian faith as a justification for violence and hate,” says Nik Jovičić-Sas.

Jovičić-Sas was “scared for his safety” after the onslaught of death threats and media attention he has received since Belgrade Pride. His church in the UK has even banned him from attending services.

“It’s painful because prayer is very important to me and I feel like I’m forbidden from worshiping among my community,” he said.

Despite electing openly lesbian prime minister Ana Brnabic in 2017, LGBT+ rights have not improved in Serbia. It remains lowly ranked on ILGA-Europe’s Rainbow Index which measures LGBT+ rights in European countries.

The country banned same-sex marriage in 2006 and Brnabic disappointed the LGBT+ community when she declared LGBT+ rights needed to go on the back burner so she could deal first with more “important” issues such as the economy. She made the comments during a speech at the 2017 Belgrade Pride.

Brnabic also allowed her health minister Zlatibor Loncar to put a ban on anyone who had a “history of homosexual relations during the last five years” from donating sperm whether for artificial insemination, in vitro fertilisation, or scientific lab tests.

As a result, Belgrade Pride organisers banned her from attending this year’s pride for her lack of action for the LGBT+ community.

But Jovičić-Sas is determined to change Serbia’s homophobic views which he argued incited violence against LGBT+ people.

“It’s time we stop allowing people to using the Christian faith as a justification for violence and hate,” he said.

“How have we come to live in a world where people question whether I am a Christian for trying to express God’s loving nature, but no one would question the faith of those sending me death threats?”