Lukáš Houdek is a Czech artist, a leading figure in the Hate Free initiative, and an openly gay campaigner for LGBTQ rights. During Prague Pride week, I asked him how he thinks the Czech Republic fares as a tolerant country:
“I think that in comparison to other countries the situation of the LGBTQ community in the Czech Republic is quite good. If we compare it with western Europe there are still some challenges we face. But if you compare it with the rest of the world then Czech society is quite tolerant. But tolerance does not necessarily mean respectful.”
Have you faced any prejudice yourself as a result of your sexuality?
“Yes, I was a target of bullying in high school. This was quite brutal at times, and it was physical and psychological as well. And I was attacked several times while being with a boyfriend by people who knew about my sexuality. But it is not that common anymore, but these things still happen.”
How would you chart the evolution of openness and tolerance in the Czech Republic for the LGBTQ community?
“It is changing quite a bit. If we just look at research into the opinions of the Czech population then this is improving every year. Now I think that the majority of the Czech population is supportive even for gay marriage or adoption of children by the LGBT community. So I think it is really changing quite fast, in part because it is a topic that is discussed quite a lot. The media covers it a lot, and I think that a major thing that helps is showing people the daily life of the LGBT community – that people don’t just see them being spoken about, but rather see real people, speak to them and see their everyday lives and problems. And this can then show that we are just like everyone else.”
Do you know other members of the LGBTQ community who have suffered prejudice, violence or abuse? How common is that?
“I think that all the gays and lesbians that I know have experienced some kind of prejudice or discrimination. But it is not a common everyday occurrence anymore. It happens sometimes. If, for example, you are attacked on the street for being gay or for walking with your boyfriend or girlfriend, then it is traumatic and can affect your life in a negative way. That is why still many gay and lesbian people don’t come out to their families or their colleagues at work.
“Also you see discrimination in the legal system. For example, people in a registered partnership who try to adopt babies are often denied this. And sometimes they are not given the real reasons for being denied the chance to adopt a child. But most probably the reason is that they are just a gay couple and the officials who decide don't think this is suitable for the child.”
So you are saying that people in the civil service – state officials – are making moral judgements denying the legal right (though legislation has not been passed, in 2016 the Czech Constitutional Court ruled that people living in registered partnership can adopt children) of gays and lesbians to adopt children...?
“It could be so, yes. There is still a problem with the laws here that people in registered partnerships cannot adopt babies. This was changed by the highest court last year after a case involving one couple. So such denials should not happen any more. But the question still remains how this will be implemented in practice. And just a few minutes ago I got some information about such a case from my very close friends, who were denied a child.”
Prague and Brno are known as very cosmopolitan cities. Presumably it is a lot easier there for the LGBTQ community to conduct their relationships in an open manner. What is it like in the rest of the Czech Republic? Are there still parts of rural or small-town Czech Republic where it is more difficult?
“I think it is true of course that in the bigger cities society is a bit more open. So the situation is much more difficult for gays and lesbians in the regions. I do know many gays and lesbians who were not bullied for their sexuality, even though everyone knew about them in their local village or small town. But then there are also people who are the target of very brutal bullying. Things are changing, and I would say that in schools these days children are much more open than they were twenty years ago. Of course, if you live in some smaller areas, where the locals have no experiences with gay people, then there is a greater chance of encountering prejudice.”