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Attitudes toughen towards homosexuality

Study: ČR is one of just four countries to see declining acceptance of same sex relations

It’s a popular notion across Europe that the Czech Republic is known for being liberal in matters of certain social taboos, namely drugs and sex.

But despite the country’s even more deserved reputation as one of the world’s most secular – and apathetic – nations, a recent study from the University of Chicago shows rather strong opinions about homosexuality.

Since 1994, Czechs’ overall acceptance of homosexuality, specifically the act of sex between two men or two women, has declined, making it one of only four of the 42 countries polled to experience such a drop.

The study was conducted over five rounds of surveys between 1988 and 2008 by the International Social Survey Program (ISSP) on behalf of the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago. It took data collected by researchers from around the world to determine individual countries’ attitudes toward homosexuality.

The survey began by asking people in just 16 countries their thoughts on gay marriage. But starting in 1994, they were asked if they thought sex between two adults of the same gender was: always wrong, almost always wrong, wrong only sometimes or not wrong at all.

The Czech Republic joined the study in 1994, and while they never finished in the bottom 10 in any of their three surveys (additional surveys were completed in 1998 and 2008), Czechs were one of just four countries whose instances of the answer “not wrong at all” declined in all three surveys. Cyprus, Latvia and Russia also saw similar results. Additionally, the instances of Czechs claiming gay sex is “always wrong” went up in each of the three surveys, a distinction shared with only two other countries: Russia and Latvia.

“I don’t think these numbers are really all that surprising because I don’t think Czech people are as liberal or accepting as they think they are,” said Aleš Rumpel, director of the country’s gay film festival, Mezipatra, and a board member for the newly established nongovernmental gay rights group PROUD.

“This country never has enough debate about gender and equality, so it’s a pretty conservative country when it comes to understanding sexuality,” Rumpel said. “Czechs aren’t religious, so there aren’t a lot of aggressive, outspoken opponents, but the way people think is quite conservative and narrow-minded.”

The study came out just days before another set of statistics was released, compiled by the Center for Research of Public Opinion (CVVM) that showed nearly three-quarters of Czechs supported registered partnerships for gay couples, and 45 percent supported gay marriage, a number that has risen since registered partnerships were made legal in 2006.

“It’s the homosexual act that is infuriating to people; people just can’t understand it,” said Kateřina Lišková, a sociologist and professor of gender studies and sexuality at Masaryk University in Brno. “When we have these debates on gay rights on issues like marriage and adoption, you hear people say all the time, ‘They can do whatever they want in their own bedrooms, but …’ These statistics show people like to say that, but they don’t really mean it.”

The ISSP data showed that in 1994, 23.7 percent of Czechs believed sex between members of the same sex was “always wrong.” That number rose to 25.5 percent in 1998 and to 29.8 percent in 2008. Meanwhile, 31.7 percent said homosexual sex was “not wrong at all” during the 1994 survey, and in 1998 and 2008, that number dropped to 24.8 percent and 21.3 percent, respectively.

Michael Smith, a senior researcher with the Institute of Sociology at the Czech Academy of Sciences, who also compiled the Czech data for ISSP, said the numbers can be deceiving if placed in context of the year the surveys were conducted. In 1998, for instance, the Chamber of Deputies submitted and rejected the country’s first bill on registered partnerships. The issue sparked a fierce debate throughout the country and, according to Smith, likely had a negative influence on the public’s views toward homosexuality. The debate continued throughout the country in the ensuing years, ultimately leading to the passing of the registered partnership measure in 2006.

“A consequence of that debate was the increased public acceptance of gay partnerships, partly at the expense of both gay marriage and gay adoption,” Smith said. “So, in that sense, the [question of the act of homosexual sex] only captures one dimension of the issue. Czechs may not be getting less tolerant of gays; in fact, they may be getting more tolerant.”

But Rumpel said homophobia isn’t necessarily about being against gay rights, but more about being against the lifestyle and all it entails. A person’s answer to questions about “same-sex sex” is what shapes their feelings toward any questions about homosexuality or gay rights.

“You can make a survey like this more or less explicit by how you ask, but homophobia is about what gay people do in their bedroom, and specifically, what gay men do in their bedroom,” he said. “It always comes back to what gay men do in bed. It’s easy to answer ‘yes’ to a generic question like ‘do you support gay rights?’ But the more specific the questions, the more negative your answers are going to be.”

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