From stage actor to gay rights activist
Jiří Hromada talks gay rights, tolerance and theater
Posted: June 29, 2011
Like most of his generation, Jiří Hromada, widely considered the founder of the Czech gay rights movement, says the Velvet Revolution changed his life. But unlike most, Hromada's experience of the revolution was more personal than political, wrapped up with questions of identity.
Hromada, whose work as an activist for gay rights culminated in 2006 with the legalization of registered partnerships between same-sex couples, was working as an actor at Prague's E.F. Burian Theater in 1989 and had no thoughts about gay rights. When the theater closed shortly after the revolution, however, Hromada took a job as editor at SOHO, a magazine published by the Association of Homosexual Citizens' Organizations (SOHO), and began working more in activism, finally accepting the post of president of SOHO, and later of its successor, the Gay Initiative.
"The revolution opened my eyes. I used to be a romantic, living only for the theater," he tells The Prague Post. "I realized that it is just not possible to live like that. The dissident group around Václav Havel simply changed my thinking and made me realize that freedom is so much more fundamental than a big ego filled with dreams of acting."
Hromada's first success with SOHO came in 1990 when the group lobbied for the legal age of consent for both heterosexuals and homosexuals to be 15, as it had previously been 18 for homosexuals.
Born: June 14, 1958, in Chomutov
Education: Dramatic art at DAMU (Theater Faculty at the Academy of Performing Arts) in Prague
Previous profession: Actor at E.F.Burian Theater in Prague, magazine editor, adviser to human rights and minorities ministers Džamila Stehlíková and Michael Kocáb
Interestingly, Hromada says his journey from stage to podium was aided by his experience as an actor.
"My acting career gave me a lot of useful contacts. The Chamber of Deputies was full of actors and artists at the time, since the first democratic elections favored mostly personalities," he says. "While the nation used to be rather narrow-minded and superficial, the discussion our initiative launched opened up the way to create a space for breathing a little bit more freely."
After more than a decade of work, Hromada's activism achieved its greatest success five years ago, when the government overturned a veto by President Václav Klaus on a bill legalizing partnerships for same-sex couples, an event Hromada considers a rousing success. Honza Vaněček, a gay man living in Prague, says Hromada's efforts were instrumental in changing the way Czechs think about homosexuals.
"The myth held under communism that homosexuality is a disease that needs to be cured has finally been wiped out, and Czech society is becoming much more open these days. But were it not for Hromada, we would have had no registered partnerships," he says.
Having achieved his goal with the Gay Initiative of gaining legally recognized partnerships, Hromada disbanded the group. Over the past five years, he has been acting, writing and working as an adviser to human rights and minorities ministers Džamila Stehlíková and Michael Kocáb, while occasionally wondering if someone would pick up where he left off. He can relax, now that a new young gay rights group called PROUD (meaning "stream" in Czech and an acronym for Platform for Equality, Respect and Diversity) was founded in May to continue the fight for equal rights.
PROUD member and Gender Studies PR Manager Kristýna Ciprová acknowledges Hromada as the "most outstanding person who opened up the issue" of gay rights, but criticizes his approach for "only" managing to achieve registered partnerships, while PROUD seeks gay marriage with full equal rights.
Despite such criticism, Hromada is generally positive when looking back at his work. But a note of sadness sneaks into his voice when reminiscing about attempts to lead dialogue with church representatives, which Hromada says was the biggest challenge he has faced.
"I could not understand their attitude, since I am faithful myself, but my relationship with God is rather open and filial, and I am convinced my existence is his wish that I am supposed to fulfill. But I could not have talked to the officials about all this and be open about my homosexuality at the same time," he said.
Hromada says his proudest accomplishment is that society's acceptance of gays has increased from 10 percent to 70 percent, according to the Public Opinion Research Center, since the late '90s. But Hromada cautions that the public opinion reflected in the surveys can be quickly changed by altering questions. When a survey asks if people accept gay marriage, 30 percent will answer yes, while, if the survey asks about acceptance of registered partnerships, the number suddenly jumps to 70 percent, he says. Hromada took issue with a recent University of Chicago study that found Czech society was growing less tolerant of homosexuality. (See "Attitudes toughen toward homosexuality," June 8, 2011).
"I smile over these efforts to distort the facts," he said. "I wonder if Americans attempted to carry out a similar survey in their southern states, I wonder whether they would even get to ask these questions in the first place."
"Czech are puritans when it comes to questions of sexuality as such. Therefore, our philosophy was to de-sexualize our issue," he says. "What happens in peoples' bedrooms is their own business."
Klára Jiřičná can be reached at
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