Czech Republic

Pride and Prejudice in Prague

This year’s march for the equality of sexual minorities has brought up an issue rarely considered in connection LGBT people in Czech Republic – that of unsavory sponsorship.

Last year, the Czech media represented Prague Pride as an unnecessary event; after all, the Czech Republic is a safe country – as long as you happen to be white – and it clearly does not discriminate against anyone.

This year has brought the initiative to push the bill allowing for same-sex marriages through the Parliament so those forty thousand people marching through Prague should have been celebrating something, right? Instead, as the media would happily tell you, this year’s event showed the LBGT community as divided and conflicted. Sure, this includes the usual conservative fearmongering (“Will I have to wear my sexual preferences on my shirt?” asks a particularly stupid article, possibly setting the new Czech distance record at missing the point) and impotent fist-shaking in the general direction of that great hypothetical foe, political hypercorrectness; but the attacks on this year’s Prague Pride have stressed the differences between various groups attending the event. Who, asks the confused conservatives, elected you, people?

Prague Pride 2018, Photo by Petr Zewlakk Vrabec

Condescending acceptance

Pride has become a commercial event. It still does a lot of good – events such as art happenings, lectures, and workshops that focus on education and showing the sexual minorities in a positive light definitely have their place in a country that prefers equality not to intrude the reality. It is easy to cheer for the tide of happy, colorful waving people, especially when their opposition consists of Catholic crackpots and neo-Nazi twits physically incapable of setting a flag on fire (quotes: “Burn, you bastard” and “Those assholes made them fireproof on purpose!”). But there is an element of protest in the march, a statement of identity: we are different, we are not ashamed of it and we deserve being treated equally, just like the rest of our society.

Prague Pride 2018, Photo by Petr Zewlakk Vrabec

But what Prague Pride actually gets – as the media coverage shows – is tolerance; a rather different concept. Instead of pushing for equality, there is a sense of condescending acceptance of those weird colorful people and their quirks. Do what you want, kids, as long as it does not threaten us in any way. Again, make no mistake: this is a preferable state of events to that in other Eastern European countries; very few Czechs still feel the need to cure homosexuality through violence. The majority seems content to just pretend no political issues connected to sexual orientation exist. And while Prague Pride tried to address this, this year’s theme being familial life and labels pinned on LGBT people, the discussion somehow failed to reach past the people already involved. It’s like preaching to the choir.

Putting the PR in Pride

This leaves the event somewhat devoid of a central message; a vacuum that many rush to fill with their own agenda. This year, two political parties – the Greens and the Pirates – took part in the events. They had their parade floats with nicely visible logos, they had their stands where politicians and volunteers handed out fliers and kept reassuring everyone of just how awesome they are. Pride by its very nature cannot be an apolitical event (if such a thing even exists) and both parties have profiled themselves as pro-LGBT, but there are time and place for scoring brownie points with potential voters and, apparently much to the surprise of our elected representatives, it might not be at an event aiming for equality.

Prague Pride 2018, Photo by Petr Zewlakk Vrabec

Political hijacking, however, takes a back seat to what has been the elephant in the room in the last couple of years and only now has been properly drawn to the spotlight, and that is corporate sponsorship. It turns out it is a very good business policy for a company to show just how pro-sexual minority it is. Cue parade floats by Google, Microsoft, IBM and most famously this year, ExxonMobil.

Showing how progressive and tolerant a corporation can be is amazing PR if only for the option of mitigating scandal: Google being sexist? Surely you jest, they supported Prague Pride! Progressive, dynamic, fresh, that’s them! Activists are getting second thoughts about acting against somebody who is so obviously on their side in some issues! But is this sufficient to overlook their sins?

Prague Pride 2018, Photo by Petr Zewlakk Vrabec

ExxonMobil was a model case. Their float was blocked by the activists from Alt*Pride; a group that has been warning against Prague Pride’s commercial turn for years, this time protesting on ecological issues. Exxon has been one of the biggest financiers of climate change denial propaganda for years and still remains fossil fuel giant. An uncomfortable issue, staining the shiny happy face Pride tries to present. Does it belong there? Is there a difference between political parties showing off (which everyone seems to be perfectly happy about) and a controversial move by a bunch of (totally unrelated, we have never seen these people, we swear) activists trying to draw attention to a serious issue?

Embrace the conflict

This brings us back to the confused conservative Czech looking at all this and not even trying to understand. So who is right? Who represents these people? How come they present conflicting messages? Activists, politicians, and corporations walking side by side – is it joyful unity or cold calculation? Just what the hell are they really trying to achieve? The “us versus them” mentality is very much ingrained in Czech brains and propagated by Czech media; people presenting themselves as different are viewed as a faceless mass in flashy costumes instead of individual human beings. As it stands, this year’s Prague Pride was a mash-up of various groups with various ideologies, and it was beautiful this way; but the outward message presented was “them gays are fighting”.

Prague Pride 2018, Photo by Petr Zewlakk Vrabec

A possible solution could be to do away with the happy-family-friendly-unity image Pride has been going for. To realize that it is a platform for expression and discussion as much as a festival (which would mean that media would have to cover more than the final parade but one can only dream, right?) and that conflict is bound to arise in such an environment. So what? Embrace the conflict. Make the corporations and politicians prove that they belong there. And stress the message that seems to have the biggest problems penetrating the thick Czech heads: all queer people aren’t the same either.


Michal Chmela
Michal Chmela is a translator and journalist.