OPINION: Six months after the brutal terrorist attack on a gay bar, nothing has changed in the Czech Republic or Slovakia

by Kryštof Stupka | Czech Government's Committee on LGBTQ+ Rights
Wednesday, 12 April 2023 08:38 GMT

Slovakia's President Zuzana Caputova lays flowers at the site of a shooting outside a gay bar, next to her partner Juraj Rizman, in Bratislava, Slovakia October 13, 2022. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Juraj Vankulič and Matúš Horváth were killed during an attack on a Bratislavan gay bar in 2022. Six months on, the queer community demands the leaders of Slovakia and the Czech Republic address the deeply rooted homophobia and transphobia within our society

Krystof Stupka is a member of the Czech Government's Committee on LGBTQ+ Rights

Every time I go back to that tragic night, my hands tremble with a mixture of sadness and rage.

It has been six long, agonising months since the heinous terrorist attack in Bratislava tore apart our community, leaving behind broken hearts and shattered ideals.

Juraj Vankulič and Matúš Horváth, two beautiful souls, were brutally murdered in a gay bar by a man consumed by hatred, driven by an extremist manifesto that targeted the Jews and the LGBTQ+ community.

Yet, here we are, still waiting for our leaders to show a shred of genuine empathy or understanding, let alone take any tangible steps towards combating the homophobia and transphobia that plague our society.

Our politicians' hollow words and empty promises are a bitter reminder of the discrimination that continues to fester beneath the surface.

I still seethe with frustration as I remember how Eduard Heger and Petr Fiala, the prime ministers of Slovakia and Czech Republic respectively, both casually dismissed homosexuality as a mere "lifestyle" in the aftermath of the attack.

Their ignorance was a slap in the face for every queer person who has experienced discrimination or violence. It's a jarring reminder that our society is not as progressive as it pretends to be, and that our leaders are complicit in perpetuating the bigotry we face.

Six months later, have our politicians learned anything from this tragedy? Or do they continue to bury their heads in the sand, hoping the problem will disappear on its own? Their actions suggest the latter.

In the Czech Republic, the government is finally said to be working on a bill to end forced trans sterilisations, but actions speak louder than words.

Ministers voted last week not to join the European Commission's lawsuit against Hungary and its “anti-LGBT Law”, hiding behind the flimsy excuse of not wanting to upset Hungary's President Victor Orban during their upcoming presidency of the Visegrad Group, which comprises the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

It's a blatant display of cowardice; one that reeks of homophobia.

Meanwhile, Slovakia has descended into chaos.

The Slovak parliament has failed to pass the recognition of same-sex registered partnerships, while the government has proposed a laughable alternative: the “důvěrník” institute (loosely translated as “confidant”), which LGBTQ+ activists have criticised as a mockery of equality.

The situation is further exacerbated by members of the parliament who unapologetically spew transphobic rhetoric and even attempt to ban legal gender recognition for trans persons. This is a bill that, unlike the law on registered partnerships, actually has the potential to pass, could make Slovakia only the second country in the EU to ban legal gender recognition after Hungary.

The cold, hard truth is that homophobia and transphobia are deeply entrenched within the very fabric of our society, and our leaders are doing little to change that.

The statistics paint a harrowing picture. In the Czech Republic, 52% of LGBTQ+ people said in a 2022 study that they often experience hatred from people in the streets, up 12% since the study was last conducted in 2018.

In Slovakia, SME News found that every sixth hateful comment on social media targeted LGBTQ+ people. However, in neither country the law does not recognise sexuality or gender identity as protected characteristics under hate crime or hate speech offenses.

Our leaders must face the reality that their inaction is not only perpetuating, but also enabling the discrimination and violence faced by the LGBTQ+ community. They must take responsibility and address the deeply rooted homophobia and transphobia that continue to plague our society.

Juraj and Matus deserve better. The countless other queer individuals who have suffered at the hands of bigotry deserve better.

It is time for our leaders to wake up to the reality of the queer experience in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It is time for them to acknowledge the pain and suffering caused by their inaction and to take meaningful steps towards change. Only then can we begin to heal the broken hearts and shattered dreams left behind by the Bratislava tragedy.

Now, we must stand united as a community and make our voices heard to demand justice for Juraj and Matus, and for every queer person who has been forced to endure hatred, discrimination, and violence. We must push our leaders to put an end to discriminatory practices. We need to fight for equality.

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