Being queer in Slovakia? A nightmare

LGBTQ Kundgebung nach Mord in Bratislava
© picture alliance/dpa/CTK | Michaela Rihova

Slovak queer people barely enjoy any rights in their homeland. In the still strongly catholic country, there are no officially approved partnerships for people with same-sex orientation. On the contrary, marriage is anchored in the constitution as a unique bond between a man and a woman. Almost 63% of Slovaks are currently against expanding rights for the LGBTQI+ community, and Slovakia has now ranked last in various European rankings of LGBTQI+ acceptance for several years in a row. The anti-LGBTQI+ and anti-gender narratives of top Slovak politicians and the Catholic Church, which still enjoys great influence in the country today, are contributing to this.

How "anti-LGBTQI+" has become a „trend"

The Slovak Republic, which only emerged as an independent democratic state in 1993 after the division of Czechoslovakia, was for a long time mainly preoccupied with the tasks of social, political and economic transformation, which continued even after ist accession to the EU in 2004. While the first equality measures for the queer community were already being taken in many northern European countries at that time, this issue was repeatedly pushed into the background in Slovak politics.

The first steps towards equality for the queer community were only taken in 2012, when the Parliament voted on the draft law on registered partnerships presented by MPs from the right-wing liberal movement Sloboda a Solidarita (SASKA) (English: "Freedom and Solidarity"). However, the bill received very little support and was not adopted. In 2013, the Committee on LGBT Rights in the Government Council for Human Rights - an advisory body for the government to protect the rights of minorities, promote the principle of equal treatment, equal opportunities and gender equality – started its work for the first time. The reaction from conservative, catholic circles was not long in coming. That same year, the ultra-conservative NGO “Alliance for the Family” 

was founded and began organising a referendum on LGBTQI+ rights. Simultaneously, in June 2014, after an agreement between the parties SMER-SD ("Direction-Social Democracy") and KDH ("Christian Democratic Movement"), a constitutional law was passed defining marriage as a unique union between a man and a woman. The Oľano ("Ordinary People and Independent Personalities") MPs, the ruling party from 2020 to 2023, also voted for this bill at the time. Nevertheless, this was not enough for the "Alliance for the Family" and the referendum they initiated to reject equal rights for same-sex partnerships and marriages, was finally held in February 2015. Due to a very low turnout, however, it was declared invalid.

After the parliamentary elections in 2016, several ultra-conservative Catholics entered parliament as candidates of the right-wing conservative Oľano and the far-right ĽSNS ("People's Party Our Slovakia"), who repeatedly tried to introduce a fundamentalist agenda into Slovak legislation and to attract attention with rhetoric against the LGBTQI+ community. At that time, populism was already on the rise in Europe, to which the LGBTQI+ community was now also falling victim. Anti-LGBT and anti-gender bigotry was now also gaining ground in Slovakia. During this time, the LGBTQI+ community became an issue for society as a whole and the subject of election campaigns in the country.

The current situation

Today, the situation of queer people in Slovakia is at its worst. As partnerships are not regulated by law, LGBTQI+ people are not legally considered related to their partner and cannot, for example, obtain information about their health, inherit, not to mention adopt children. In 2019, SMER-SD leader and then Prime Minister Robert Fico even planned to propose a constitutional amendment that would ban the adoption of children by same-sex couples. The Slovak authorities also do not recognise marriages contracted abroad. In the case of gender transition, trans people are forced to divorce. Legal and medical sex changes are allowed in Slovakia, but only on the condition of castration, i.e. loss of reproductive ability. Only recently, in March 2023, a bill on the prohibition of legal transsexualisation, introduced by an MP from the Oľano parliamentary group, was sent to the second reading.

There are several reasons for the increasing deterioration of the situation. Slovakia is historically strongly influenced by the Catholic Church. The history of the Slovak state is closely linked to Catholicism, the priests and "Slavic apostles" Cyril and Methodius are perceived as fathers of the nation and homeland. The Church and its representatives have always played an important role in society and enjoy respect, with many priests also holding high political offices. Although today not all Slovaks are catholic and actively practise their faith, the catholic, conservative way of life and worldview dominates the society. Although the Church in Slovakia has no constitutional competences, in practice it often influences public opinion, especially through priests who are actively involved in politics or who give their opinions on current political events to the community in churches during services. The so-called pastoral letters, letters from a bishop to the faithful of his diocese, do their part too. An interesting fact is that in Slovakia the views of the Church in politics are taken into account and represented not only by purely Christian movements, but also by conservative parties on the right and also on the left, which do not call themselves primarily Christian. When it comes to LGBTQI+ rights, even the left-wing pro-Russian politicians from SMER-SD talk about Christian culture, traditional family images and a threat to children.

The "Alliance for the Family" also remains active and enjoys great popularity in conservative circles. Every year, parallel to Bratislava Pride, the Alliance organises its own March for Families, which aims to represent the fight for the preservation of traditional families and against the rights of the LGBT community. Many representatives of conservative political parties take part. In addition, the alliance fights against abortion and the possibility of gender transition.

Escalation and uncertain future

Especially in the last two election periods, LGBTQ+ became one of the biggest campaign issues. Populists exploited the traditionally conservative worldview of Slovak society to arouse and spread fear and hatred towards queer people. The fact that this actually has an effect on society can be seen in sometimes absurd everyday situations. For example, a kindergarten put on a performance on the theme of "The Wandering Drop of Water", in which a rainbow appears in the sky after a rain. Some parents, however, saw the rainbow as a symbol of the LGBTQI+ community and protested against it. The play became a public affair and the parents were supported by an aggressive internet mob. The kindergarten was forced to publicly apologise.

Even in the current election campaign, you can find slogans and posters promising to protect Slovakia from LGBTQI+ and gender ideology. The hate speech of top politicians leads to tragic consequences. Statistics show that society became more homophobic and extreme under this influence. According to the latest GLOBSEC study from March 2023, the majority of Slovaks, 63% to be exact, do not want equal rights for queer people. By comparison, in Poland it is 38%, in Hungary 37%. Another consequence is the constantly increasing attacks and violence against queer people. A sad peak was the brutally planned murder of a homosexual couple in front of a gay bar in Bratislava in October 2022. The 19-year-old killer wrote on Twitter immediately after the crime and before he killed himself that he acted out of hatred towards LGBTQI+ people and had no regrets.

This event shook many people in Slovakia and Europe. The European Parliament appealed to the Slovak government to improve the situation of the LGBTQI+ community. However, after this tragedy, more violent incidents against queer people took place instead. The government did not take any major steps since then and many politicians continue their homophobic narratives. The party that has been most active in fighting for the rights of the LGBTQI+ community since its beginning is the liberal Progresívne Slovensko ("Progressive Slovakia" - PS). LGBTQI+ rights are a core issue of its agenda, also in this election campaign. However, this is something the party is criticised for by conservative parties and puts PS at a disadvantage with conservative voters. According to the latest election polls, Progressive Slovakia is currently in second place and the party's support is growing. However, first place is still held by the populist and pro-Russian SMER-SD party. A coalition of the two parties is, nonetheless, very unlikely.

Therefore, the future of LGBTQI+ people is uncertain. What is certain is that queer people in Slovakia cannot live a fulfilled life, but have to live in fear. This crucial question of the future was also the motto of one of the local Pride festivals in Slovakia: Love or Fear?