To Zdravko Cimbaljevic, the choice came down to being dead in Montenegro or alive in Canada.
So the 30-year-old activist referred to as the first openly gay man in the southeastern European nation of about 680,000 people came to Canada last month and is seeking refugee status, driven out of Montenegro by what he describes as harassment and the authorities’ failure to prosecute his persecutors.
“I am still in depression that I left,” he said on Tuesday in Vancouver. “But I know this is what I needed to do to save my life. I am still feeling that I abandoned everyone.”
He said he is a bit sad to have walked away from a fight, and feels a bittersweet sense that he has abandoned the beloved country of his birth.
“It was really hard to leave. I was feeling my heart stayed there, and my body left,” he said, his voice thick with the pain of standing up for issues he believes in but having to take the steps to ensure he can continue to do so.
He said he still has a profile in Montenegro, and social media allow him to connect with the struggles there to eliminate harassment. “I will say that everything I have done until now will speak for itself.”
In 2011, his status as the first person to come out as gay in Montenegro prompted an invitation to be an international grand marshal for the Vancouver Pride parade.
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