Pride Voices presented five personal journeys

People from various backgrounds discussed LGBT issues around the world

Most people are familiar with the Prague Pride March, which will start Saturday, Aug. 12, at Wenceslas Square with people gathering at 11:30 am and going through the city to Letná park.

But Prague Pride is an entire week of events. One of the other highlights is Pride Voices, where several international guests relate their experiences. This was the fourth year for Voices, and five speakers addressed an audience at the French Institute on Aug 10.

The first was Irina Roldugina, who has been researching LGBT history in Russia and the Soviet Union. She said that the common idea is that there is no such history, and there were only one or two LGBT figures such as Pyotr Tchaikovsky. And even he is often described as a bachelor who never found the right woman to marry, even though his own writings and published diaries make it clear he was gay.

Roldugina said that she has found that there were active LGBT communities in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, but the situation changed under Stalin and people were forced back underground. She showed a rare photo of a drag ball from 1921 as evidence. It is important for the LGBT community in Russia today to know that there is a history, she said, as they are again facing oppression.

The next speaker was Dutch police officer Ellie Lust, who is chairman of the police group Pink in Blue. Members of the LGBT community often see the police as the enemy, or perhaps just indifferent. As a result, violence against LGBT people often goes unreported. Ellie Lust said that the police in Amsterdam tried to address that situation by creating a special phone line where people from the LGBT community could reach a sympathetic officer. One case she recounted involved a meetup gone wrong, ending in robbery with the victim handcuffed. The victim would have been too embarrassed to report it to the standard police line but was willing to call the special Pink in Blue number.

The Dutch police also now have a big presence at Pride events including the annual Canal Parade. The first year they participated only eight officers were in the event, but they got such a positive response that the Pink in Blue barge is now filled and even has visiting officers from other countries.

Lust hopes that one day a special unit to help the LGBT community won't be needed but right now the phone line gets calls every day.

The third speaker was Osamu Okamura, a Czech-Japanese architect who is not an LGBT activist. He is one of three brothers. If the last name sounds familiar, it is because his older brother Tomio leads a right-wing party. Osamu related his own tale of having to come out to himself, told alongside a somewhat humorous account of the architecture he grew up with and the projects he worked on. The highrise houses where he was born in Tokyo and the bridge over his new home in Prague's Nusle area were both known for suicides, for example.

He now works with Re-Site, a project to make cities more livable. He pointed out that the city is a shared space and the LGBT community has a right to use it with events like the Pride March, but that people with opposing views also have the rights to use the city. Respect for different points of view can help minimize conflicts.

The current situation in Asia was explored by Jennifer Lu, who has been involved with the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association for LGBT rights for about 15 years, and she has been a key player in advancing the idea of marriage equality. This year, the Constitutional Court ruled that the current marriage laws were discriminatory and the legislature has two years to change the law. Three drafts are currently being considered. This will make Taiwan the first country in Asia to have marriage equality.

She also showed a video that displayed the diversity of the LGBT community in Taiwan, and photos showing the unexpectedly large turnout at a rally in support of LGBT rights.

On a personal note, she said that the older generation still does not respect LGBT rights and has a negative attitude. Negative attitudes to LGBT issues are common in Asia, she said.

When Jennifer Lu held a large symbolic marriage celebration with her partner, her father did not come. He said he had to play golf that day. Lu said that she will get married again once the marriage law is finalized, but it will be a smaller ceremony.

The final speaker was Jayne Ozanne, who talked about being LGBT in the evangelical Christian church. The ideas are not incompatible, she said. And to someone who is religious, the idea of changing your religion is the same as the idea of changing your orientation, she said. Neither is possible.

She struggled for a long time with accepting that she was a lesbian, and went through quite an ordeal that included a stay at a mental hospital.

She discussed conversion therapy, saying it does not work because you can't fix things that shouldn't be changed, and it is not a mistake to be a member of the LGBT community.

Finally she had to accept that she was both LGBT and religious. Since then, she has been working to make that possible for more people.

She has been active in getting the Anglican Church to accept that the LGBT community is an important part of the religious community, and has been getting senior Church officials to come to her side. She has also written a book with contributions from other religious figures with explanations of how religion and being LGBT work together. The book is meant to help LGBT members have useful discussions with relatives and other people who think the two things are not compatible.

A few days before Pride Voices, there was a cocktail reception at Lichtenstein Palace in Kampa, and one of the speakers was Prague Mayor Adriana Krnáčová (ANO), who spoke about the difference between simply tolerating LGBT people and respecting them. She voiced her support for marriage equality in the Czech Republic, rather than just registered partnerships, which are not the same.

She also said that in an election year politicians show their true colors, and she is disappointed at the politicians who are promoting narrow definitions of what a family should be and other restrictive ideas that hurt the LGBT community.

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