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Pride march to highlight rights

RAINBOW PRIDE, an event to show support for members of the non-heterosexual community and their rights, scheduled for June 9, has again inspired discussion in Slovakia even before it has actually taken place. Though the Rainbow Pride march, which for the second year is being supported by Bratislava Mayor Milan Ftáčnik, is only an annual event, its organisers hope it will raise ongoing awareness of the legal hurdles that they say affect the lives of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gender (LGBT) community.

RAINBOW PRIDE, an event to show support for members of the non-heterosexual community and their rights, scheduled for June 9, has again inspired discussion in Slovakia even before it has actually taken place. Though the Rainbow Pride march, which for the second year is being supported by Bratislava Mayor Milan Ftáčnik, is only an annual event, its organisers hope it will raise ongoing awareness of the legal hurdles that they say affect the lives of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-gender (LGBT) community.

Representatives of the LGBT community have already expressed concern that the issue of LGBT rights may be treated as unimportant, as they say it was under the first government of Robert Fico. Martin Macko, a member of the administration board of the Otherness Initiative, expressed concern that “the government will refuse to deal with [the issue], which is non-standard for a government identifying with social-democratic values”.

“The [government’s] programme statement suggests that the issue of human rights enforcement will be a theme for foreign policy only and that in Slovakia there are only national minorities,” Macko told The Slovak Spectator, adding that this approach would be in line with what he called Smer’s long-term two-faced policies.

In response to questions about LGBT rights, the Government Office responded that “these issues are currently not the issue of the day. The Slovak government is currently focusing on healing the public finances and increasing the living standard of citizens”.

Romana Schlesinger, one of the organisers of Rainbow Pride, told The Slovak Spectator that the attitude of the Fico government exhibited a lack of understanding about LGBT issues, and referred to its decision to abolish the post of deputy prime minister for human rights.

The Otherness Initiative has already appealed to Prime Minister Robert Fico to create an official platform for cooperation, and for comprehensive integration of LGBT people into society, and has offered experts for dialogue. The government has not responded, according to Macko.

The Pride march

Three symbolic weddings will be part of this year’s event: one between two men, another between two women and one between a man and woman. The couples will publicly celebrate their vows and use this as a means to highlight the lack of legal protection for LGBT people. The female couple marrying symbolically will also introduce their two children to demonstrate that lesbian couples can raise kids.

“It is the first couple who we convinced to do so,” Schlesinger told The Slovak Spectator. “It is important that they will show their faces and demonstrate to society that this thing is simply real and that there are families like this, and plenty of them.”

Yet, Pride does have its opponents in Slovakia's parliament. Štefan Kuffa of Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) received massive media attention after he suggested that in the past the World Health Organization (WHO) had considered homosexuality to be a mental illness.

Speaking in parliament, he stated that allowing “sick people alone running around the streets without help is a serious mistake”. The LGBT community, after dropping their original plan to sue Kuffa, is now demanding an apology from him.

Two other civic groups, the Association for the Protection of the Family and Citizens for Christian Values and Traditions, has organised a march to oppose Rainbow Pride and to support what they call “the traditional family”. Scheduled for May 26 in Bratislava, the groups' websites state they will “say no” to registered partnerships and the adoption of children by LGBT people.

Martin Fronc of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) suggested that the Rainbow Pride march is not the best way of presenting LGBT people, as sexuality is a highly intimate matter for every person and the organisers were achieving exactly the opposite of what they wanted, the TASR newswire reported. Fronc did say it should be possible to partially discuss some legal issues concerning LGBT citizens.

The reluctance of the KDH to support the creation of an LGBT committee, a body without executive power that would solely have an advisory role, came as a surprise to Schlesinger, considering the party’s statements about its willingness to discuss human rights-related issues.

Schlesinger said she considers the lack of legislation to equalise homosexual and heterosexual rights to be one of the biggest problem facing LGBT people. She cited real-life problems such as those pertaining to inheritance rights or access to the health-documentation of partners.
She said that the solution is often based entirely on the goodwill of people.

“There are some positive cases in which those people understand, but the legal recourse is still missing,” said Schlesinger, adding that the simplest way to solve this would be to amend the Family Act.

Macko noted that Slovakia is behind the European norms not only in the well-known issue of family law but also, for instance, in terms of the absence from the Slovak Criminal Code of a definition of hate speech or hate crimes against LGBT people.

Macko said that with the higher visibility of LGBT people comes greater acceptance from Slovak society. He points to various surveys that indicate this, like a poll done by the Focus agency in 2009 that found that 45 percent of Slovaks support registered partnerships.

“Nowadays some things occur as a matter of course which were barely imaginable 20 years ago, like Rainbow Pride, government support for LGBT projects, a male couple in a [well-known] dancing competition, and so on,” Macko said, while noting that there are still homophobic prejudices in Slovak society, even among the younger generation.

According to Macko, outside the capital the number of homophobic radicals citing religion or ideology is growing. He adds that schools do not provide objective information about LGBT issues.

Schlesinger commented that the media sometimes present minorities in a stereotyped way. She cites Pride 2010 when, despite only two of the approximately 1500 people who participated wearing just their underwear, photos of the two men were used in most articles about the event.

“I think that the media should finally realise their social responsibility and participate in forming society in positive way,” she said.

In the context of EU countries, Slovakia is among the most backwards in terms of its acceptance of the LGBT community, Macko stated, adding this is also the reason why so many LGBT people do not want to publicly admit their sexuality.

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