March 28, 2018
With the group having just moved into new offices, and busy with preparations for this year’s Pride Festival, we were lucky enough to site down for an interview with Simona Muršec, the president of Ljubljana Pride, to find out more about the history of the event in Slovenia, it’s current activities and goals, and how you can help achieve them.
What can you tell me about the story of Pride in Slovenia?
The first protest march happened in 2001, and it turned into the first Pride parade. It was a protest against discrimination of two gay poets in Ljubljana, who were refused service in a café. Then in 2002, on the commemoration of that incident, but also within the wider framework of Pride within the Balkans, we had the second event, which was an official Pride Parade. For the first few years various organisations in the community took turns to organize the event, then in 2009 the Pride Parade Association was established, and this is us.
Between 2009 and 2014 the organization was focused on the Parade, but things also grew over time, to events outside that one day a year. Since 2015 we’ve been working more as a youth organization – with youth here meaning 15 to 29 – and doing a lot of other work in addition to the Parade. In the last few years we’ve really built up quite a large, international festival. Pride Parade Festival, as it’s called, lasts 9 days or more, with the Pride march as the final event.
This year it starts on June 15, and every day there will be political, artistic and social events, and then on June 23 the actual march will take place, ending up with a political programme, some concerts and parties.
What are the main issues you’re dealing with?
We work primarily with LGBTQI+ youth, so 15 to 29 years of age. We’re dealing with the issues they face in high school, or in university, and as they’re entering society and the job market.
There’s quite a lot of violence and discrimination faced by this group, especially in schools and extended families, but in fact the most unsafe space for them is in public, on the streets and in bars. But another big issue is discrimination in public services, such as in hospitals, educational institutions, places for social welfare and official business. This is obviously a big deal with young people, who are starting to live independently and need to enter the system, at which point they face discreditation, discrimination, various forms of violence, the refusal of services, and so on, because of their sexual or gender identity.
People are still very open, even proud, of their prejudice in this country. In some ways this goes back to the early history of independent Slovenia, in the early-90s, when things opened up and people could say anything they wanted, and of course this opened the door to all kinds of hate speech. For example, Zmago Jelinčič, leader of the Slovenian Nationalist Party, who ran for president back in the day, would use very radical, racist speech against the Roma, and he did the same with homosexuals, and those attitudes are still out there, in public. They never got sanctioned.
How big a role does the Church play in all this?
The Church is the main player. The first state to recognise Slovenia was the Vatican, and very early on the state returned a lot of property to the Church, so Catholicism is very powerful here, with infrastructure, money, networks and resources. It’s been very active and open in working against marriage equality. If the Church just said that they didn’t agree with homosexuality, but that people should be free to live their lives, then that would be a huge difference, instead of actively campaigning against equality.
What about marriage equality? [Note: There was a referendum on this issue in December 2015, but the side rejecting a change in the law won the vote.]
We’re obviously supportive of more rights for LGBTQI+ people, and we supported the “yes” campaign in the referendum. However, our primary concern isn’t marriage, or the reproduction of conservative social structures. Everyone should have the right to get married, but we’re much more focused on working against violence and systemic discrimination.
Last year, for example, we focused on the intersex community and the issues they face in the health system. We also support legal gender recognition and hate speech prevention. So our approach is a broader one, working for general human dignity and an end to discrimination, rather than the issue of marriage.
We also position ourselves as an anti-racist organization, bringing up the issue of intersectionality. This is quite new in Slovenia, if we consider the intersectionality of LGBTIQ+ identity and other socially marginalised identities, with groups who work with various communities often sticking to themselves, and it takes a lot of work to build bridges. So, for example, groups working with the disabled or immigrants, they don’t always think that the individuals they serve could also be gay. And the other way around, of course, so we have events for the LGBT community and nobody thinks about accessibility.
Do you have much contact with Rog, in Ljubljana?
We have some contact, mainly because some of our related groups, such as the Queer Feminist Group, also work there, and we have some links with Red Dawns. The links are not so much on the organisational level, but rather on the level of singular people who work or volunteer within Pride and within Rog communities or spaces.
Have there been any positive developments?
Yes, we’re now at a point when talking about LGBT rights, especially sexual orientation, is no longer taboo, it’s not an issue that society can avoid. Even those who don’t like it, who don’t want to see it, are starting to think that people should be able to live how they choose.
In the 90s, and before, this wasn’t even an option. Now you can live as a gay couple, and you won’t always be accepted, but if you live in an urban centre you can be open. The next battle here is for social and political acceptance of transgender people, so that they can implement their right to live too.
Finally, how can people help with this year’s event?
Anyone can come, and one thing I think is special about our group is that we’re half Slovenian and half non-Slovenian, so we work in English on a daily basis. We’re open to anyone who’s here and wants to get involved, no Slovene needed. We have European Voluntary Service (EVS) volunteers, Erasmus students, people working here short term, and so on – everyone is welcome. We need allies.
If you’d like to volunteer to help with Pride 2018 then you can learn more here, and while the page is in Slovenian it’s easily understandable with Google Translate. There are a wide range of activities you can help with, with options for even the busiest people to take part, and even if you can only do so online. You can also follow the group on Facebook or its English homepage, and learn about upcoming events here.