It was only in 2010 that a group of like-minded LGBT, straight and non-defined people came together and decided that Pride needed to come to town, as Prague would look lovely in rainbow colors. Seriously, although Prague and the Czech Republic were generally perceived as a place that tolerates gays and lesbians, there was increasing hostility towards LGBT people seen in media and public spaces. This was verbalized even by public opinion surveys at that time.
Compared to other cities in the region we started late; Warsaw and Budapest have held pride parades since 2001, while Baltic Pride and Bratislava Pride began in 2010. So what took us so long? Retrospectives may be long and boring, but I would like to mention two elements that in my opinion were particularly influential. One was a long battle for a Law on Registered Partnership enacted in 2006 that took significant energy from LGBT activists and brought the feeling of already having achieved “everything” we need and want. The other element is the way Czechs are – demonstrations, parades, and street festivals are not in Czechs’ veins – so showing your pride on the streets was questioned even by the Czech LGBT community itself.
What is important is that once the organization began, we decided to make ours the best pride festival in the post-communist word. We identified several strategic goals in order to accomplish that:
- The main goal of the festival is communication with the general public on LGBT topics, and the PR element of the festival will always be an important part of the event; and
- That we would aim to attract the attention of as many people as possible; hence the festival will encompass a plethora of events that will attract various groups – cultural events, debates, sports and family events, open air events as well as entertainment etc.
We have encountered a few bumps in the beginning – many Czech LGBT people were afraid that Pride would prompt a backlash and that many straight people did not understand why we needed to go out and “demonstrate” when we already have everything we want (the widespread opinion is that the Law on Registered Partnership gives full equality to LGBT people – obviously this is a false presumption). On top of this, our president at that time, Vaclav Klaus, basically called us a bunch of deviants who do not belong on the city’s streets. This, however, only confirmed our suspicion that there is an imminent need to communicate with the general public, and that a festival that takes place in the public space was the ultimate tool to achieve this.
The first year was a huge success, with 15,000 total participants, 8,000 of whom attended the parade. We received the Czech award for LGBT event of the year and soon after started to be listed as one of the ten best pride celebrations in Europe. Last year we organized 117 events which were visited approximately by 62,000 visitors. Last year’s campaign, LGBT Avatars, received 7 Czech national awards and 2 international awards- 2 Cannes Lions. Based on last year’s independent analysis, Prague Pride is the only event of the year when the Czech media seriously concentrate on LGBT issues.
All these numbers and results make us, in our opinion, the most successful Pride festival in the post-communist world. However, it also puts the pressure on when organizing the next event – every year we want to make it better, bigger, and more fabulous; in 2015 the pressure is even higher as we celebrate our 5th anniversary. However, as the festival approaches, I can say with confidence that the program we have prepared is the best we’ve ever had. Prague Pride 2015 will take place from August 10th-16th. Together with other Czech LGBT entities and individuals we have prepared 122 events and invited around 200 international guests. Among my favorite events – not to be missed – is a performance by Conchita Wurst (the winner of the Eurovision song contest from Austria) kicking off the festival week; our talk show PRIDE Voices featuring Jóhana Sigurdadottir (the former Prime Minister of Iceland), Johan Kenkhuis (a Dutch Olympic swimmer) and Abdul Rawashda (a Palestinian activist living in Norway); the world premiere of a dance performance prepared especially for Prague Pride by Israeli choreographer Nadar Rosaro; the Pride Business Forum with the BBC economic anchor Evan Davis and Lord John Browne, former CEO of British Petrol, as the key note speaker; an open air photo exhibition by World Press Photo Winner Mads Nissen entitled Homophobia in Russia; and a performance by 130 members of the London Gay Men’s Chorus. Of course I must mention the festival’s culmination point – its parade- because it is a unique opportunity to bring together 20,000 people, walk through the picturesque streets of our beautiful city and show our pride in the part of Europe where showing pride (especially LGBT pride) is not so popular or fashionable.
So what makes us a beacon for other LGBT organizations in the post-communist world? I think we represent hope. We are the living proof that even in a country that went through the communist experience LGBT people should be treated openly and equally; that the general population of the Czech Republic is changing its attitudes and that soon those attitudes will change in their post-communist countries too.