/From a special correspondent in Slovakia/
“When you raise your child from a young age, it means everything to you. He’s well-behaved, he’s studying… and now someone’s going to say he’s a vermin? Just because he feels gender dissonance?” Peter Zaklai asks eloquently but angrily. Together with his wife Renata, they have two sons, one of whom is a twenty-three-year-old trans man.
Zaklai refers to the recent words of the chairman of the Slovak Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), Milan Majerský, who called LGBT+ people, i.e. lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans people and other queer people, as “pliaga”, which is a Slovak term that includes vermin, threat, calamity, pestilence or even destruction.
Majerský, whose once-governing party is now hovering around the five percent threshold for entering parliament, then specified that he does not consider LGBT+ people to be “plagiarism”, but their registered partnerships or marriages.
It’s not just about LGBT+ people
The words of the Christian Democratic politician touched the Zaklai couple deeply. The same goes for Zlatica Maarová, who three years ago founded the Association of Parents and Friends of LGBT+ People in Slovakia.
“Such statements do not only affect LGBT+ people. Behind them are also families, siblings. Around every single LGBT+ person there are 10 other people who also perceive it,” he says under the Bratislava statue of Milan Rastislav Štefánik, where we also met the Zaklais.
“We are trying to create the largest possible community of parents in the whole of Slovakia, to connect and connect them, to strengthen their feeling that they are not alone here, that there really are many of us,” explains Maarová.
Mrs. Zlatica founded the association with only two people. “Then there were four of us, then there were about six and a half, and then it started to pack up. Now there are over 230 of us in the group, there are about 150 parents and the rest are family members and also ‘allies’, i.e. allies of LGBT+ people,” he says.
The association also organizes weekend stays twice a year. The Zaklais also attended one, and according to them, it opened their eyes. “It was not easy. I felt like our whole world had come crashing down because our beautiful little girl was suddenly going to turn into a man. I saw it as a product of fantasy and a new era,” recalls Renata Zaklaiová of the time when her son confided in them.
But she started reading and educating herself about the topic. “One finds out that one is not the only one in the world or in Slovakia. When I discovered the association of parents and friends last year, it helped us a lot,” she says. She and her husband then went on one of the weekend getaways and agree that it was the best thing they could have done.
“Those people basically opened our eyes. They have similar stories, they have a lesbian, gay, trans child in the family… You realize that you are not alone in this, that it is common, that these are normal families, and you begin to perceive it differently,” says Peter Zaklai.
“The worst are those who don’t know anything about it”
The parents say that they were greatly influenced by the setting of Slovak society when accepting the situation. “We have been learning everywhere, in the media and on social networks, what vermin our children are. But when you get to know LGBT+ people and their parents, you find out that they are such wonderful, understanding, loving people. I now seek out their company because I feel really good among them,” adds Mrs. Renata’s husband.
Acquaintances who have known their son since he was a child and who had the situation explained to them accepted and understand his transition. “It is very difficult with those who do not know anything about it and only preach something. I have such a problem with homophobia at work. People are boxed in there, they don’t know anything about it, but they don’t want to educate themselves,” says Peter Zaklai, who works in a Bratislava refinery.
Spouses complain that homophobia and aggression have been increasing recently. He also sees the blame in social networks and the absence of the topic of LGBT+ people in education. “Ignorance is one thing, and the strengthening of hatred by politicians is another,” says Zlatica Maarová on the topic. According to her, an acquaintance of hers who works in Slovakia in an IT company also experiences homophobic expressions.
Both Zaklai and Maarová also remember last October, when a terrorist murdered two queer people – Juraj Vankulič and Matúš Horváth – during an attack on the Tepláreň enterprise in Bratislava.
“Even before, there was fear about LGBT children, but that maternal instinct suddenly woke up. What if our children were sitting there?” says Renata Zaklaiová. “Not only queer people, but also heterosexuals had to sit there. It doesn’t matter at all. What on earth is it about this kind of business? A person can go there for coffee… and someone starts shooting at them?! It’s sick!” Peter Zaklai testifies for his wife.
The couple remembers that the society reacted spontaneously and in solidarity in the first moments. “It slowly died down after that, but we pulled together as an association because it was a huge tragedy. We wrote letters to the authorities, we supported each other, because it was a tragedy for all parents as well – it affected each of us. We were very sad, uncomfortable,” says Mrs. Renata.
At that time, the group recorded a 300 percent increase in interest in membership, which, according to Zlatica Maarová, testifies to the fear caused by the attack on the Tepláreň and to the fact that it helped people to be together.
But the shooting in the center of Bratislava did not cause political changes. No laws have changed despite political proclamations, and LGBT+ people are once again the target of hateful and homophobic rhetoric in a tense election campaign.
“I noticed more support from people, but it’s only from people I know. We haven’t noticed any political changes.” Zlatica Maarová points out that there is still no registered partnership institute in Slovakia and the debate on equal marriage is a de facto taboo in politics.
Her family is also directly affected by the topic. “My daughter is married to an Englishwoman, they got married abroad, but decided to live in Slovakia, where they are raising their children. Paradoxically, my daughter is here as a foreigner, an Englishwoman, because the state forced her to return her Slovak passport, when a few years ago it did not allow dual citizenship,” explains Maarová.
The first grandchild was born to the daughter and her wife seven years ago in Austria, which, unlike Slovakia, allows both mothers to be listed on the birth certificate. Now Mrs. Zlatica is a grandmother of three.
“Now they have twins. But it was terrible vicissitudes, they thought they would be born again in Austria, but since they are twins and it was a high-risk pregnancy, it was financially burdensome that they decided to go to England. There were other complications associated with this,” he calculates the problems that rainbow families in Slovakia face.
The association, which Zlatica Maarová founded, now, shortly before the parliamentary elections, came up with a public request addressed to the parents of all children, not to allow politicians and church representatives to “humiliate and threaten any child”.
“The statements about LGBT+ people in the campaign were the last big push. When you hear about a pest and the next day the author of the statement confirms it, that’s enough,” says Maarová. This is not a harsh challenge, but a request to other parents. “We’re just asking. I can’t even be angry anymore, I’m just sad and begging,” she adds. However, she still has some hope for improvement: “Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do this,” concludes the Slovak mother.
Reporter in Slovakia
Exclusively: The reporter and specialist of Seznam Zpráv na Central Europe went to Slovakia to map the mood there before the early parliamentary elections, which will also determine the future direction of Central Europe.