City sheds designation as last EU capital not to have LGBT event
More than 40 years after the first gay pride march was held in New York City, Prague will host its inaugural Pride Parade this week, following in the footsteps of other major European cities whose annual festivals raise awareness for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and also draw visitors for sometimes weeklong parties.
Organizers hope Prague’s first pride event will stand in contrast to previous ones held in Brno, where protesters turned out in numbers comparable to marchers. Last June, approximately 600 supporters came out for the third annual Queer Parade, while neo-Nazis numbered about 150, and Christian Democrats held a protest earlier in the day. In 2008, protesters turned violent, and extremists were able to break through barriers and attack marchers.
“For me, one of the main things is that this should be a place, a festival for everyone to come, have a good time and enjoy themselves. It’s a celebration,” said Bastiaan Huijgen, a member of the Prague Pride organizing committee. “How can people protest a bunch of people having a good time in the street? Sure, it also helps to bring visibility to the LGBT community, and Czechs tend to be a bit introverted on these matters.”
Introverted, and largely indifferent, Huijgen added, which he believes may be the reason Prague hasn’t hosted its own event until now. While pride events are largely celebratory in Western countries where gays enjoy somewhat equitable social rights and treatment, there remain countries where events skew political.
In Warsaw, the European Court of Human Rights had to intervene after the city banned Pride Parades in 2004 and 2005. Five people were injured during Split’s first pride event June 12 after thousands of counter-demonstrators overwhelmed police. And a gay pride event in October in Sarajevo devolved into chaos as rioters threw Molotov cocktails and rocks, and police fought back with rubber bullets and tear gas.
“Look at Warsaw; they have more to fight for. Gays in the Czech Republic can live relatively comfortably. Society here isn’t extremely tolerant, but they’re not intolerant,” Huijgen said.
“I use the analogy that in Amsterdam or London there are more incidents of gay-bashing, but there are also many more people who would do something if they saw that in the street. Gay-bashing isn’t as prevalent here, but someone walking by would probably mind their own business. In my eyes, that’s not tolerance; it’s indifference.”
The Czech Republic was the first post-communist country to grant domestic partnership rights to same-sex couples, passing legislation in 2006. Since then, 1,181 same-sex couples have registered partnerships, according to Colourplanet.cz. Gay activists continue to fight for further social freedoms such as marriage and the right to adopt, however. And while attacks on religious, national or ethnic minorities are classed as hate crimes in the Czech Republic, attacks motivated by homophobia receive no distinction, a legal issue NGO In Iustitia has been working to amend as part of a Justice Ministry working group, In Iustitia Director Klára Kalibová told The Prague Post.
Prague’s pride event, while it will be the occasion for dozens of parties and cultural events around town, also includes opportunities for more serious social and legal matters faced by the LGBT community, including seminars on hiring practices as well as preventing violence.
On Aug. 11, In Iustitia will participate in a workshop called “Hate Crimes Motivated by Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity,” held at the American Center and attended by U.S. Ambassador Norman Eisen, representatives of Human Rights Watch, the Council of Europe’s Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights, the Justice Ministry and the head of the Stockholm Police Department’s hate-crimes unit. One of the aims of the workshop is to influence legislation on hate crimes and encourage both NGOs and police to collect data on hate-crime incidents, of which there exists almost none, Kalibová said.
Kalibová, a lawyer, recently researched the level of protection granted to the LGBT community through the post-communist countries. Out of 15, only four – Croatia, Romania, Lithuania and Estonia – had laws that penalized attacks against sexual minorities, although those varied from simply banning hate speech to classifying attacks as hate crimes, she said.
“In the Czech Republic, we do have an anti-discrimination law where sexual orientation is forbidden as a reason to discriminate,” Kalibová said. “From this point of view, the lack of criminal protection does not make sense. We provide the LGBT community some rights, but we do not protect them.”
Both Kalibová and Huijgen said they were pleased by the amount of support authorities have nonetheless given to the Prague Pride event. Police presence and cooperation have lent a level of safety to the event that is only expected to draw one protest group in the form of a family values march staged by the Young Christian Democrats. Prague Mayor Bohuslav Svoboda and Prague 1 Mayor Oldřich Lomecký have both lent their approval and patronage to the event.
“I personally can only say that I support every event that contributes to the wider cultural and social offerings of our city,” Svoboda told The Prague Post. “The city has to support meaningful social and cultural events like this one, not crimp them.”
While Prague is the last capital in the European Union to host a Pride Parade, outspoken support like this, and the fact that such an event now exists, may be a sign that change is afoot.
“I really appreciate the mayor supporting Prague Pride,” Kalibová said.
“He was asked by a Christian group to forbid this event and to stand against it, and he replied to them in very nice letter that he believed gays and lesbians are a part of society and they have the right to do whatever they want until the point that it hurts someone else’s rights. That’s an important message, and we need more of these kinds of engagements within the political scene.”
Prague Pride 2011
The main event:Marchers gather at noon Aug. 13 on náměstí Republiky, in front of the Kolkovna Celnice restaurant. Parade begins at 1 p.m. proceeding through Na Příkopě, Jungmannovo náměstí, 28. října, Národní třída, over the Legionnaires' Bridge and to Střelecký ostrov, which will host a free outdoor festival and concert
Other events: More than 65 peripheral activities Aug. 10-14