A small picturesque gem in central Europe, the Czech Republic has progressed far since communism ended in 1989. Most notable is the legalization of same-sex relationships and the open attitude Czech people have toward homosexuality. Except for minor right-wing and religious protests the LGBT community is alive and well with numerous organizations, venues and events. Across the country are charming towns, ancient castles and immaculate pensions with tasty food
The Czech Republic is gay friendly. In Prague the scene is both easy and difficult to find. Easy: Go to the Club Heaven accommodations and book a room. The price (double US$60) is modest for nice digs with private bath, spacious room with heated floors, TV/DVD, lots of lights. The cost includes admission and a tour of the other half of Heaven next door: a walk through dark rooms with videos, a lounge, a bar and a tiny theatre for viewing hard core flicks. Not exactly Academy Award stuff but it serves the purpose. (photo right, National Museum)
Our guide through this erotic labyrinth was Jurka, one of the managers who also checked us into our room and was very helpful to explain things. Before going off to accommodate other arriving guests (he said most LGB visitors are from Italy and Germany) Jurka gave us the bi-monthly magazine ‘Gay Kontact’ (no website) a glossy magazine that does what its title says. Inside are 60 pages of news, editorials, interviews, feature stories, travel articles, venue reviews, scene and entertainment news, health commentaries, biographic sketches, film reviews, sexy fashion spreads and a wide selection (with a map) of clubs, discos, saunas, restaurants, sex shops—including the one exclusive lesbian bar Jampa Dampa. Gay Prague at our fingertips–easy.
Difficult: What was missing was a listing for any advocacy group. Jurka described why. There is little political or activist scene in Prague, no LGBT center, no big gay pride parade although there is a modest annual lesbian festival called the ‘NOT ONLY Lesbian Cultural Festival’. This was a surprise since Prague is one of the most pro-gay cities in Europe!
But, Jurka went on the say, this is not because of repression or being banned. “It’s because here everything is legal. No gay activity is illegal, except for violence, drugs or under-age activity. There is nothing to fight for. Here you can register your relationship, which is the same as getting married. You can walk down the street holding your boyfriend’s hand and no one will say a thing.”
Indeed, the largest and most active LGBT rights organization Gay Initiative, headed by Jiri Hromada, closed last year having declared its work finished with the legalization of LGB couples in Czech. Jiri recalled in an interview that in 1990 only ten percent of Czechs tolerated homosexuals contrasted with seventy percent in 2008, according to the polls. Hromada finished his work when the group felt that it had achieved its goals.
He said, “our goal from the start in 1990 was not to be needed. We had achieved what we set out to do and now it was time for the younger generation to take over and fight for their own needs… One of the reasons I accepted the nomination (for parliament) was to prove to others that sexual orientation is not important and that people should judge others by their capabilities.”
A Liberal Country
The Czech Republic is clearly more liberal and advanced for gays than its neighbors to the east like Poland or the Baltic States to the north or Balkans to the south. There are more than 50 LGBT venues listed in Kontact magazine as well as in the separate ‘Gay Prague’ map available free to visitors. (photo right)
Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1962. The age of consent was equalized in 1990 (at 15). The Army doesn’t question the sexual orientation of soldiers, and allows homosexuals to serve openly. Homosexual prostitution was decriminalized in 1990 so Czech has its share of hustlers who inhabit some gay clubs looking for ‘take-out’ service. Others ‘workers’ prefer the city streets or highway gas stations dressed in tight white T-shirts.
In an interview Tereza said: “The Czech Family Act says the main cause for marriage is to raise children. There are also many other justifications for marriage, such as mutual economic, social, psychological support that people give to each other. That’s one thing. There are many childless marriages and they have not been cancelled because there haven’t been any children.
“The other thing is that many gay couples do raise children, be it from previous marriages or from the current relationship they live in. So this argument doesn’t work either. I also know that there are people who have been through the Communist times and they see this as the country saying – OK, we now take you as fully-fledged citizens and we do accept you for this.”
Current Scene in Prague
We first found Alex busy in the kitchen of his chic cafe-restaurant Alex Bistrotnot far from the heart of Prague on Jecna Stret. Italian by birth, he has lived in the city for seven years after having tasted London and Paris. “This is a much smaller and more comfortable place,” he said one day over lasagna and salad at his cafe. “It’s easier to know people because you see them more often.” Open and friendly he described the gay scene in Prague as “comfortable, not hard like in big cities.”
In conversation with Alex, he considered the current gay male sex scene in Prague. He said there is no question that the ‘volume’ of the scene is not lacking in the city. After only a few days any visitor would fully agree.
After years of living here he has no complaints about the wide variety of LGBT social and entertainment places as well as the behind-the-scene friendship networks that exist among LGBT citizens. “If you are a gay man or woman and come here you will not be alone for long. If you want immediate sexual contact that’s available. Or if you want to develop friends it’s easy because gay people are not afraid here. They extend friendship; they don’t hide it.”
However, Alex was not entirely pleased with the current scene. “A few years ago sex, drugs and alcohol were cheap to get in Prague. People came here (including the Soviets) to get all three because the country was behind the Iron Curtain. Communism kept prices low with state support, which of course eventually bankrupted the system along with corruption. But no longer, especially sex. The ‘nice boys’ are unwilling to put out for low wages; they now offer themselves as prostitutes at high rates. There used to be an easy, relaxed gay scene (in the bars and clubs) here but now,” Alex lamented, “it’s falling into a commerce system. If you go out to a bar intending to hook up for casual pleasure it’s likely you will be asked for money before you get to your hotel or home.”
He thought Prague was now ‘categorized hunting’ for sex, which was both frustrating and degrading. “Sex should be a way of making friends, not shopping. Compared to Prague the USA or UK or Paris are more ‘open’, that is open to casual sex and friendly exchange.”
Escape to Paradise is an example of what Alex was talking about; it’s a bar with disco boys dancing in front of customers, performing underwear gyrations, naked body painting and even live oral action on the small stage. While the colored lights focus on the dancers, around the periphery of the lounge, dressed in white, are the available call boys who cozy up to potential johns, asking them to buy drinks and hopefully hire them for take-out services (the range is from US$100 to $250 depending on the action).
The night we were there was slow for these ‘merchants’ as they wandered around looking bored, so we chatted with two of them and asked where they were from (Prague, Milan) and what they had in mind for the future. With this second question, Mr. dark and swarthy Milan wandered off but Mr. tall blonde Prague responded, “connections…it’s all about making connections with the right people to get ahead.” He was about to fly to Hawaii for a week with one of his rich johns followed by a stop in Chicago to see another. There was no mention of professional school or developing a skill for use after his current allure faded. By the time that happened he figured he would be rich. Maybe.