LGBTQ+ stigmatization in the Czech Republic: A worrying trend among local politicians

Demonstration in support of the LGBTQ+ community in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia on Prague's central Wenceslas Square on October 26. The main banner says “I don't want to be afraid of dying simply because I exist”  Photo by Filip Noubel, used with permission.

The Czech Republic is often described as a tolerant society, including for the LGBTQ+ community — particularly in the context of Central or Eastern Europe, where homophobia is still rampant in many communities. Yet queer people continue to be legally discriminated against and face social and cultural stigmatization.

The Czech Republic allowed registered partnerships for same-sex unions in July 2006, yet by 2020, less than 4,000 couples had used it, even though it would grant them access to certain rights (notification in identity papers, residency for non-European Union partners) , and institutions. While this was an important legal step, gay marriage is still being denied, and various governments and politicians have openly rejected the concept. Not having gay marriage means that thousands of children living in LGBTQ+ families, as well as their same-sex parents, live in legal loopholes; that visiting or heritage rights are limited or denied.

One of the many consequences of legal discrimination is that it opens the doors to stigmatization and reinforces the false notion that LGBTQ+ people can be treated as second-class citizens. Queer people can become targets of hate speech in political discourse, in academia, and in the media and can be portrayed as a threat to what is presented as “traditional values.” This is done without any knowledge of the cultural and historical traditions that demonstrate that queer people have always been part of Czech society.

The LGBTQ+ community has been instrumentalized by conservative politicians and elected officials as part of a pan-European discourse that demonizes the community and accuses it of imposing its “agenda” with the support of European Union legislation, institutions and programs. The most extreme versions of this targeting can be seen in Russia, Belarus, Hungary, and, to some extent, Poland and Slovakia, yet the Czech Republic is not immune to such statements.

For example, Tomio Okamura, the head of the far-right SPD party, said on the record on April 29 during a debate focusing on same-sex marriage at the Czech parliament that he himself grew up in an orphanage, and that rather than be adopted by a same-sex couple he would jump from the window.

The current Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala wrote in his 2017 book “Od A do Z” [“From A to Z”]  that he opposes same-sex marriage. In a chapter called “Family” he writes:

Po mně nikdo nemůže chtít, abych věřil, že lidé stejného pohlaví mají vytvářet manželství a rodinu, která se rovná té přirozené. Odporuje to mé víře, mému rozumu, mému poznání. Tradiční rodinu musí společnost v zájmu svého přežití chránit. Už bychom s tím měli začít, než bude pozdě. Na rodinu mi nesahejte.

You cannot expect me to believe that same-sex people can establish a marriage and a family that can be the equivalent to the natural family. This goes against my faith, my reason, against all that I know. Society must protect the traditional family for the sake of its own survival. We should start from that, before it's too late. Don't you dare touch the family.

Asked in September 2021 if he had changed his mind since 2017, Fiala stated:

To, že manželství je záležitost muže a ženy a že tradiční rodina je pro společnost důležitá, je mé hluboké přesvědčení.  

It is my deepest conviction that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that traditional families are important to society.

Senator Pavel Fischer, who is running for the Czech presidency for the second time, has been escalating his anti-LGBTQ+ discourse. First, he claimed that he would never appoint a member of the LGBTQ+ community as a Constitutional Judge. Then he equated child adoption by same-sex unions to child trafficking. The latest comment was made just a few hours before the killing of two queer people in Bratislava on October 12:

Kdybychom připustili, že dáme naroveň manželství a stejnopohlavní svazky, posilujeme tím obavy, že se děti budou shánět na trhu a že se s nimi bude obchodovat. Nikdo mě zatím neubezpečil, jak bychom garantovali, že se to nebude dít.

Should we allow to equate marriage with same-sex unions, we would reinforce the fear that children would become a commodity and trafficked. No one has yet assured me that this would not happen.

Such discourse, relayed by mainstream and social media, increases the stigmatization of members of the LGBTQ+ community in all areas: education, academia, the workplace, sports, and more.

Targeted discrimination: Czech transgender people

Czech President Miloš Zeman has stated publicly in June 2021 during a TV talk show that “I am intrinsically repulsed by transgender people” (“Transgender lidé jsou mi bytostně odporní”).

The HateFree Culture project, a volunteer initiative fighting violent speech, reacted by saying:

Prezidentovy výroky jsou nejen nepravdivé, ale také nebezpečné. Jeho slova normalizují nenávist ve společnosti a posouvají hranici toho, „co se neříká.

The President's statements are not only false, but also dangerous. They make hate in society normal and push the boundaries of “what is not be be said.”

It is important to note that gender reassignment is not a criminal act in the Czech Republic. Many transgender people do not undergo any operation and rely on hormonal therapy. Yet if a Czech citizen wants to have their gender change officially recognized and marked in their identity papers, the gender reassignment operation is required. But there are also two legal requirements: sterilization and divorce if the person is married. This forced sterilization is mandatory in several European countries, including Slovakia, Albania, Latvia, and Finland.

But not everyone is silent or indifferent

Demonstration in support of the LGBTQ+ community in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia on Prague's central Wenceslas Square on October 26. The main banner says “Forced sterilization of transgender people amounts to genocide. The Czech Republic is still committing genocide” Photo by Filip Noubel, used with permission.

While social media can be a vehicle of hate speech, it also serves as a way to provide supportive spaces and organizational tools for the LGBTQ+ community and its many allies. Online activism represents the greatest hope for achieving visibility and, thus, gaining legal equality and safety for all.

One of the best examples is the YouTube channel opened by Lenka Králová V Tranzu (In a Trance). Králová, was born in 1981 and decided to transition in 2019. She is a member of the activist group Trans*parent, and in her channel, she talks about the issues faced by the transgender community in the Czech Republic. Some of her videos have over 150,000 views, a significant number for the Czech segment of YouTube. In her talk show, she invites transgender people of all ages and invites them to speak about their journeys, their parents, partners, and more. She also hosts discussions with experts such as sexologists, lawyers, journalists, and therapists. 

One of the most visible allies in the political field has been the Czech Pirate Party and Prague's mayor Zdeněk Hřib who regularly attends demonstrations and events in support of the LGBTQ+ community. He attended the October 26 rally and shared the following message:

Prague is the place that welcomes all peaceful people! This has been the basis of our thinking during the four years we worked for our city [Prague] and I tried my best to support this idea with deeds. 

At the same time, LGBTQ+ people are becoming more visible in Czech advertising. In 2022, the Czech Railways company released a video ad featuring a popular with a lesbian twist in it: The assumption that people are heterosexual by default comes undone in the final scene of the short film.

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