Prague, Czech Republic– “I moved to Prague,” said Jakub Novotný when facing the question of how he solved the uncomfortable situation of living in a small town with his sexual orientation. Among all Central European countries, The Czech Republic is considered to be one of the most liberal and open in terms of LGBT rights. The legalization of same-sex registered partnerships happened in 2006.
Although many rainbow flags are being waved in events such as the Prague pride parade, the LGBT rights situation in small cities and villages throughout the country is still not optimistic and need to be improved. As a matter of fact, a survey conducted in March 2012 illustrates that 23% of the citizens in The Czech Republic do not want to have individuals with same-sex orientation to be neighbours.
The city of Prague has a large and well-developed LGBT community with various choices of nightlife locations. The area of Vinohrad by itself hosts more than 20 bars and clubs.
Novotný is a 34 year old gay man who grew up in a small town on the outskirts of Prague. For many years, he struggled with his community, as being a part of the LGBTQ+ community is still frowned upon in the more rural areas of The Czech Republic. “Well… it was not easy,” he stated, “I also concealed it in front of my family because I did not want people to look at them badly. But when nobody saw me with a girl when I was 30 years old, they all talked about it (of course, I did not know it). My city has only 5,000 inhabitants, so it was not pleasant, and there are also old people who still do not understand gay.”
Although Prague has become well known for its queer friendliness, such reality is not reflected through the rest of the culture. The capital has become an isolated, bubbled up community for the LGBTQ+ groups. Novotný moved to Prague in order to escape the close mindedness of the villagers he grew up with. “Here I do not even know my neighbors from the house, so it’s much better. I’m glad I did this step! I found a better job, I have a steady boyfriend, together we can go to the movies or out to dinner and nobody at us strangely not looking, no one is behind us turning.” The outcome, it seems, is an optimistic, overall safer environment.
Same-sex sexual activities was decriminalized by the government of Czechoslovakia in 1962. In 2009, a law on the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, education, housing and the use of goods and services was adopted. It is believed that an anti-communist rule democratization revolution named Velvet Revolution happened in 1989 is the cause of the relatively liberal and open social atmosphere in Czech Republic. Furthermore, the low level of Catholic religious beliefs is also considered to be one of the main reasons in comparison with countries such as Poland and Austria.
Prague thus has become a hotspot for queer tourism based precisely on many of these characteristics, and people are coming to the city specifically to learn about this subculture. Organizations like Gay4Prague and The Gay and Lesbian Travel Association demonstrate not only the economic impact in the city but also the growing acceptance of this minority within it.
Novotný reflects upon his decision, highlighting the dangers of radically traditional towns in The Czech Republic. “It’s better here in Prague and in the big cities, but it’s a disaster in the villages. One of my friend committed suicide because he had been bullied since high school because he was a gay… he could not cope with it. These situations should not happen.”
Such is the belief of Charles University’s Charlie program, “a platform for self-expression, meeting others, amusement, and collective problem-solving” oriented towards the LGBTQ+ community in Prague. Efforts are made to combat the negative portrayal of the queer community and provide its members with a safe space to get a long-term support system.
As progressive as the city may seem, efforts are still to be made. Although the first Prague Pride parade obtained official support from mayors and other political figures, the event also attracted negative responses from religious groups and extreme rightists in August 2011. Novotný reflected upon the issue, “Now the Prague Pride was here, and a lot was written about it. I do not even want to write about gays, but rather to take us as human beings- just normal persons. I still see the stereotypes in the newspaper, which is wrong. I’m gay but I don´t like the pink color!”