Pride march shows attitude shift

IN YEARS past Bratislava’s annual Rainbow Pride parade drew extremist counter demonstrations and armed police to provide security. Organisers would not reveal the full route of the march in advance out of safety concerns. But a visit to the 2013 edition in September showed that things are changing, even as the Catholic Church and others add their voice to the debate.

IN YEARS past Bratislava’s annual Rainbow Pride parade drew extremist counter demonstrations and armed police to provide security. Organisers would not reveal the full route of the march in advance out of safety concerns. But a visit to the 2013 edition in September showed that things are changing, even as the Catholic Church and others add their voice to the debate.

Rather than shouting and security, colourful flags, festive music and a calm and friendly atmosphere were hallmarks of this year’s flagship lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersexual event. Romana Schlesinger, one of the organisers, called this year’s incarnation “very successful”.

“This event affects a much larger community than only LGBTI,” she told The Slovak Spectator.

Tomáš Backstuber, a member of a gay Christian community, attends many LGBTI events and said that they create a forum for gay people, but also much more as they draw in the wider community and build a common understanding of different lifestyles.

“I cannot emphasise enough how important these events are,” Backstuber said. “It does not matter if it is a disco, a discussion or even a simple walk.”

Shortly after the 1989 Velvet Revolution, Slovakia’s first group fighting for equal rights for homosexuals, called Ganymedes, was formed.

“Talking about homosexuality before 1989 was taboo,” says Schlesinger.

The first lesbian association, Museion, was formed in 1994, but organising community events was much more difficult without the internet. People did not know of one another and making new connections was a challenge.

“In the early 1990s my friend Hana Fábry sent an ad to [the tabloid newspaper] Nový Čas as she was looking for friends from Museion and they refused to publish it,” Schlesinger said. “We still have to catch up with western countries.”

In the first post-communist decade the few community events that were organised were small and invitation-only.

“It was interesting how many people wanted to know more about homosexuality and this was the idea behind these meetings,” Backstuber said.

The first meeting of gay Christians was in a tea room with a small group of people, Backstuber said. Originally meant to be a one-off event, after a successful session they decided to meet regularly.

Small film festivals were among the common early LGBTI events, and gradually they drew more and more visitors from the LGBTI community.

“Many of these events became available for the public and by now everybody can join most of them,” Schlesinger said.

The biggest value of such events, Backstuber said, is that they help generate greater understanding of the LGBTI community among people who might otherwise know little.

“Heterosexuals [at these events] are often confronted with the fact that gays are not terrorists or dangerous to society and children,” Backstuber said. “Usually the most powerful argument comes when they realise that their friend or a family member is a gay.”

Traditional family values

On the same September weekend that Rainbow Pride took place, so did another march – the Pride in Family event that sought to emphasise marriage as an institution between men and women.

Anton Chromík, one of the organisers, said that even among those who oppose ideas like homosexual marriage and adoption, most are tolerant and few would go so far as to attack members of the LGBTI over their sexual orientation.

“But events for the LGBTI also have an impact on a society,” Chromík said. “The more the LGBTI community presses against the will of the majority, the more people realise the value of marriage and family.”

Such a debate has a long history in Slovakia, and when former justice minister Ján Čarnogurský called homosexuality an “illness” in 2006, activists formed Otherness (Inakosť) Initiative and started a petition for gay rights.

Associations fighting for equality of homosexuals like Ganymedes, Altera and Museion joined Otherness Initiative in 2006. Since then, Otherness Initiative began organising events like the Slovak Queer Film Festival and LGBTI History Month with exhibitions, parties and even sports activities. One year later, Museion formed the Queer Leaders Forum.

“The Queer Leaders Forum is not only focused on registered partnerships, but also on marriages, adoptions and parenthood between LGBTI people,” said Schlesinger, who is executive director of the group.

For his part Chromík notes that it was no coincidence that the Pride in Family march took place at the same time as Rainbow Pride.

Many of the participants in the Pride in Family event were mobilised by their belief in the concept of the traditional family.

“It was not a protest but an expression of the uniqueness of a family,” Chromík said. “We believe mother and father will always be the best for the children.”

While Rainbow Pride is the biggest LGBTI event in Slovakia, drawing larger crowds each year, not everybody is convinced the celebration is harmless.

“To attend an event like Rainbow Pride I need to be convinced about the requests of LGBTI activists and about the correctness of their ways,” Chromík said. “I cannot agree that natural marriage is the same as a marriage or partnership of homosexuals.”

But Chromík also emphasises that dialogue between the LGBTI community and tradition-oriented groups is important.

“The fact we do not have the same opinion does not mean we hate each other,” he said. “Everybody is a human and this is a big gift for the world.”

For the LGBTI community that dialogue is about direct interaction.

Events like Rainbow Pride and International Day Against Homophobia on May 17 each year are just a few such opportunities. More important is everyday life.

“Today we have a historical chance to live openly and free,” said Juraj Variny, another member of a gay Christian community. “We need to take the chance, because it is also in the interest of the whole society.”

The articles included in the “Reporting on Diversity” supplement were created by authors enrolled in the “Reporting on Diversity” programme organised by The Slovak Spectator in cooperation with the Journalism Department at Comenius University and with the support of the U.S. Embassy in Bratislava. The programme seeks to train young journalists and journalism students for covering ethnicity, gender, race and religious issues, as well as other phenomena related to various communities and the challenges they face in Slovakia. The articles were prepared in line with strict journalistic ethical and reporting standards.

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