Prague Pride defies homophobic statements of Czech President

From 10 to 14 August 2011 the first ever Pride took place in the City of Prague. The five-day cultural and human rights festival consisted of colorful events such as theatre and movie performances, photo exhibitions, public debates, expert debates, book readings, as well as entertainment. The human rights aspects of Prague Pride focused on hate crimes against the LGBTI community (through an international workshop where experts discussed Czech legislation and law enforcement practice in comparison with other countries of the EU) and on the rights of transgender people.

The festival took place just two months after the 17th Session of the Human Rights Council passed a resolution expressing grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed .against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. The resolution calls for the commissioning of a study documenting discriminatory laws and practices as well as violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The results of the study will be discussed by a panel during the 19th Session of the Human Rights Council.

The Czech Republic is known in the region for its relatively positive approach to LGBT rights – it was the first post-Communist country to legalize same-sex partnerships (2006) and it has comprehensive protection against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in its non-discrimination law. However, although there had previously been smaller Pride events in other Czech cities, Prague was one of the last EU capitals to hold such a festival. Its goals were to celebrate the diversity that LGBTI community brings to the city of Prague and to celebrate the tolerant character of Czech society.

Although Prague Pride was supported by many public and political figures in the Czech Republic, including Prague Mayor Bohuslav Svoboda, former Prime Minister Jan Fischer and former tennis star Martina Navratilova, it was also preceded by a heated public debate initiated by Czech President Václav Klaus. One of his key advisors publicly criticized the Mayor of Prague for endorsing the event and called LGBTI “a bunch of deviants”. Although this statement was criticized, President Klaus defended the label, claiming that the word “deviant” was semantically neutral. The President said that was not against homosexuality as such but against “an ideology of homosexualism”, thus adding to a list of allegedly dangerous ideologies which he had previously identified, including NGOism and humanrightism.

Despite the controversy over President Klaus’statements and a small counter-demonstration by a far-right extremist group which took place during the parade on the 13th of August, “Prague Pride was a stunning success not only for LGBTI rights in the Czech Republic, but also for human rights in general,” says its main organizer Czeslaw Walek (a recent OHCHR consultant on Roma issues). “By participating peacefully in this event, people came to express their opinion about the intolerant public discourse of the President. They came to celebrate the society they want to live in, where there is place for LGBTI community.”

A recent report released by the Council of Europe on discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in Europe states that “The enjoyment of the right to freedom of assembly is sometimes considered a litmus test for the attitudes of society towards LGBT persons. In most member states Pride parades and similar cultural events take place without significant problems and participants enjoy police protection if need be.” Prague has joined the ranks of cities in the region that have hosted successful Pride events. However, as the Council of Europe report points out, there are countries in Europe where such events have not been able to take place due to either outright bans or administrative impediments, thus denying a section of society their right to freedom of assembly as protected in Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Articles 21 and 22 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights.

8 September 2011

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