LGBTI people in the regions: We change people’s minds

Bratislava will dress up in rainbow colours this August again, for the seventh time. This will be for the Bratislava Dúhový Pride diversity festival. But the colours of the rainbow are less bright in the regions, far away from the anonymous environment of the capital.

(Source: Kristína Hamárová)

Slovakia remains a country that hasn’t rooted any recognition of same-sex couples and their families in its legislation. Yet the Constitution was amended in 2014 to protect marriage “as a unique bond between a man and a woman”. Subsequently, the invalid 2015 referendum initiated by the Alliance for Family, also backed by the church, was aimed against the LGBTI community.

“I’m not going to lie – that referendum was one of the reasons I chose to move to the UK,” said Zuzana (25). She is an openly lesbian manager who had lived in the central Slovak village of Hrochoť before deciding to leave for Brighton.

Since the referendum, no legal adjustments in terms of rights have come in. Hence, to make LGBTI people visible again, the Dúhový PRIDE festival is returning to Bratislava on August 19.

Pride parade generates divided opinions

Kaja (24) comes from the region of Kysuce but works as a project manager in Bratislava. She is bisexual and attends the festival every year.

“It is a great place to publicly throw light on our problems,” she told The Slovak Spectator. “The media and society talk about them more.”

But not all the non-heterosexual people living in Slovakia see it that way. In particular, the men The Slovak Spectator addressed seemed to be opposed to the idea of the diversity festival.

“The parade doesn’t illustrate an actual picture of the LGBTI community, therefore, it’s more of a shame than help,” said Dominik (25), who is a closeted gay man from Bardejov, eastern Slovakia.

Peter (28), an openly gay marketing assistant who a few years ago moved from Hriňová to Zvolen, shares this view and called the people who go to the festival “exhibitionists”. Július (25), an out-of-the-closet gay student, doesn’t approve of what he calls the degrading idea of pushing for LGBTI rights on the stage.

“Slovak homosexuals don’t like the rainbow, including me, unless it’s the one in the sky,” he explained.

Yet about 1,300 people have confirmed on Facebook that they will attend the Dúhový PRIDE festival whilst about 3,500 people are still considering whether to come. In addition, the ‘Duhovy PRIDE Bratislava’ page has enjoyed over 10,000 likes as well as followers on there.

Read also:Dúhový PRIDE Bratislava aims at boosting visibility of LGBTI people Read more 

Haters are still hating, but support for LGBTI is growing

“Let them fight. They don’t harm anyone. Everyone has the right to be happy,” said Terézia (31) from Levice, who is heterosexual. Her view of the LGBTI community is, however, far from shared by all of society.

Slovaks still don’t know much about LGBTI issues, or refuse to share their opinions, The Slovak Spectator learned when talking to people living outside Bratislava. Some of the people addressed in the streets of Čadca, for instance, did not hesitate to call homosexuals “sick” and “against nature”.

Peter lives in Čadca. He is a homosexual but he has only revealed his sexual orientation to his brother and friends.

“People are influenced by what others say and by the church,” he said. “We are all different, and no one is to badmouth anyone.”

Several dozen kilometres south of Čadca, in Považská Bystrica, lives 21-year-old Peťo, who calls himself a proud Christian. The priests who are his friends are aware of his sexual orientation.

“The priesthood is their job. They have to say what they are told but they take it differently out of the pulpit,” he admitted.

Many of the people The Slovak Spectator addressed cited religion as the reason why a conservative and closed attitude persists among Slovaks.

“People in this country still judge, mostly believers who were taught that just a man and woman represented a couple,” said Terézia from Levice, who is Christian.

Read also:Evangelic Church dismissed priest for supporting same-sex marriages Read more 

Know your neighbour

Martin Macko from the Iniciatíva Inakosť civic association, also the Dúhový Pride spokesperson, considers it mind-blowing that even after 26 years of democracy and civil society two thirds of Slovaks don’t know any gay or lesbian in their area. It is also the reason why acceptance of LGBTI people lags behind the US or some European countries, where most people have realised non-heterosexuals are everywhere, he noted.

However, polls suggest that this is gradually changing. The June 2016 survey by the Focus polling agency has shown that 60 percent of young people have met or known an LGBTI person, while the score for the entire representative sample was 35 percent.

“Every community is made up of individuals,” commented Denisa (26), coming from a village close to Banská Bystrica, on her perception of the LGBTI community. “I can get into conflict with a homosexual as well as a heterosexual. As for me, it’s a matter of character, not sexual orientation.”

Tomáš (28) from Pezinok, who hasn’t experienced any problem with his contemporaries concerning being gay, admits that the old generation who has not been aware of LGBTI people poses more difficulty.

“Our neighbours demonstrated their prejudices but after we got to know each other, our relationship became somewhat better,” he said.

Read also:Slovakia is not very tolerant towards homosexuals Read more 

Acceptance by family and friends is essential

Coming out is perhaps the hardest thing in the lives of LGBTI people in Slovakia. They are afraid of the judgements of friends and relatives, of condemnation, not mentioning rejection by Slovak society.

“Slovaks are somewhat conservative. Their thinking is still ossified, and they feel afraid of whatever is different,” said Jana (41), a bisexual woman from Pezinok, engaged to a heterosexual man.

Those who have decided to come out say they simply do not want to lie to anyone.

“I felt uncomfortable about having to lie and not being able to openly tell family and friends who I love and how I feel,” said Sebastián (24), a gay man from Veľký Krtíš in central Slovakia.

Most of those addressed claim there is no need to disclose their sexuality to people in their often small everyone-knows-everyone hometowns or to people they seldom meet. But they are honest if directly asked about their orientation.

“I don’t hide it but also I don’t introduce myself in a ‘Hi, I’m gay’ way,” said Július (25) from Lučenec.

Yet non-heterosexual people admit that there are many among them who do not feel they can disclose their sexual orientation even to their close ones.

“I know men who have decided to be in a relationship with a woman for fear of not being accepted by their families,” Peter (28) from Zvolen admitted.

In some instances, the coming out is prompted by the family. That was the case of Lucia, who disclosed her sexual orientation in response to her grandmothers’ repeated comments not having a boyfriend.

“My mum was all right with that, just like the rest of our family,” she said, but admitted that while she remains on good terms with all her relatives, her father refuses to accept her as a lesbian, and her grandmother cannot imagine a household comprising two women.

For Kaja, on the other hand, the eldest generation in the family provided for a positive coming-out experience.

“My mother at first thought I would get over my bisexuality, and my father didn’t get the concept of being bisexual at all - he was always asking if I was lesbian or heterosexual,” she recalled Kaja. But when she said to her grandmother that she “might come home with a girlfriend one day”, the answer was: “So what?”

What is next?

The non-heterosexual people The Slovak Spectator spoke to mostly claimed they were currently facing no struggles and felt content with the support they had.

“I miss acceptance by society but my life is similar to the life of heterosexuals,’ said Lucia (26) from Zvolen, but admitted legal issues linked to the LGBTI minority would arise in future.

Július (25) from Lučenec believes public figures and celebrities should come out of the closet.

“They are the ones people look up to and admire,” he said. “They can contribute to changing people’s minds.”

Jana from Pezinok believes that the government denying fundamental rights to citizens is the major problem, not societal denial and hate comments.

“The missing law on civil unions would help the Slovak LGBTI community the most,” she concluded.

The article does not feature the full names of the people The Slovak Spectator interviewed as many of them asked not to have their identity publicised. The editorial knows the full names of the respondents quoted in this article.

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