On 3 August during the first day of the anniversary 10th season of Prague Pride festival Queer Geography together with Amnesty International CR and Prague Pride joined at the online event “Understanding Opposition Towards LGBT+ People in Central Europe”. The event was moderated by Michal Pitoňák chair of Queer Geography (Czechia) and it was our honour to invite three guest speakers - Veronika Valkovičová from Slovakia, Ivett Ördög from Hungary, and Bart Staszewski from Poland. This is a short summary of the event. The full video is available here (starting time 3:14:36):
The current situation for LGBT+ rights in the region
Hungary (Ivett Ördög)
The situation regarding LGBT+ rights is currently regressing in Hungary and Poland, with a very strong cis-normative backlash against trans rights in particular. The legal gender change process had been put on hold for the past couple of years and was banned earlier this year, in violation of the EU constitution. At the same time, there has been a backlash against gender issues in this country, with the Central European University being forced to move to Vienna and gender studies being banned. Although gender studies is a different issue to trans rights, in reality, there is a connection in the eyes of Hungarian politicians, as they wish to promote certain female and male roles within the family.
Hungary and Czechia were both at the forefront of promoting LGBT+ rights in the 1990s, but current politicians were able to change this situation by bringing the issue of LGBT+ rights to the foreground and making it a political and public issue, rather than a human rights issue. This has meant that opposition towards LGBT+ rights has become somewhat normalised in Hungarian society. However, liberal activists and voters have also become more interested in supporting LGBT+ rights, due to the fact that this has become a partisan issue.
Slovakia (Veronika Valkovičová)
In Slovakia, nothing has been the same since the referendum to strengthen the ban on same-sex marriage in the constitution in 2015. Although the Slovak people were not interested in the referendum, which only had a 21% turnout, it led to rhetoric about “protecting the family” becoming mainstream, which has since become connected to anti-abortion movements and opposition to the Istanbul Convention. It also meant that church structures learned how to mobilise and form grassroots campaigns, as they were able to work to collect enough signatures for the 2015 referendum to take place. Here, LGBT+ rights issues have spilled over into women’s issues, with a great deal of focus currently being placed on limiting reproductive rights. Many bills have been proposed to intimidate women who go to clinics for abortions and to reduce their right to have an abortion. These were originally proposed by far-right movements, but the Christian Democrats and other right-wing politicians have jumped on the bills and abortion has become a major political issue. The majority of Slovaks, however, want to maintain the current laws and believe that there are far bigger issues that politicians could be dealing with rather than abortion.
Poland (Bart Staszewski)
Around a third of Poland is now covered by so-called “LGBT-free zones”. This is clearly visible in a mapping project "Atlas of Hate" started by Jakub Gawron. Since the ruling party, PiS, came to power in 2015, they have promoted anti-LGBT+ ideas, such as stating that LGBT+ people are immoral. More and more Polish people also believe the idea put forward by politicians that LGBT+ people and rights are an “ideology”.
Bart Staszewski has been working on a project within the “LGBT-free zones”, in which he goes to the cities in these zones, puts up an “LGBT-free zone” sign, and photographs LGBT+ people from those cities in front of it. This project aims to bring visibility to the issue. However, some LGBT+ people are too afraid to take part, as they fear consequences for themselves and their families. On the other hand, such a project empowers others to be brave, and they want to take action against homophobia.
What can be done to improve the situation for LGBT+ people in the region?
It is important to try and find some middle ground when talking to people who have information from unreliable sources and who have developed homophobic and transphobic ideas due to a lack of awareness. Rather than dismissing them as simply having homophobic or transphobic opinions, it is important to inform them and help them to understand and to meet LGBT+ people.
The majority of people in the Central European region say that they do not have any LGB friends. However, it has been found that people who do know someone who is LGBT+ generally have very positive opinions of them. In Slovakia, rainbow families who were out among their communities said that were treated positively by people within the community. Although they received a lot of intrusive questions about their lives and how they came to have children, the feeling was generally that people had a positive interest in them. The problem is that we do not see the same positive attitudes in politics or in the media, and very few celebrities are out as LGBT+. The most important thing we can do as part of the LGBT+ community is to come out to our friends, family, and our communities.
Additionally, minorities within the region should all come together and fight together, whether they are from ethnic or racial minorities, feminists, LGBT+, or from religious minority groups. In particular, space should be made for female activists and more female visibility should be promoted. We should also do more to help each other through international solidarity, and within the European Union, our neighbours should stand up and support the LGBT+ community against the million-euro propaganda machines promoted by politicians, church structures and the media.
By Jade MacEwan and Michal Pitoňák