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CZESLAW WALEK — PRAGUE PRIDE

Prague Pride is an NGO based in the Czech Republic (also called Czechia) which strives to make a safe environment where LGBTI people can be themselves. Alturi’s Joel Klausler recently spoke with Prague Pride’s Founder and Chairman, Czeslaw Walek, to examine how to help Ukrainian LGBTI refugees who are principal targets in Russia’s horrific invasion of Ukraine. Additionally, Walek shared the severity of the threats facing LGBTI Ukrainians and what’s at stake for the global LGBTI community.

By Joel Klausler, director of strategy

 

Prague Pride’s Motivation

Before the war began, Prague Pride was more focused on issues like LGBTI crisis alleviation, nondiscrimination in the workplace, and legislation for marriage equality. But, according to Walek, “the day the war began, a team member sent an email alerting the risks to LGBTI Ukrainians, and we knew we had to do something.” Ukraine and bordering countries offer low societal approval of LGBTI people and, according to Walek, “Czechs are generally more welcoming towards LGBTI people among post-communist countries.”  So, the Czech Republic offers the most hope for an LGBTI person fleeing Ukraine. Walek explains that Prague is an LGBTI-friendly city, and his team is committed to bringing security and belongingness to LGBTI refugees. 

The sexual orientation gender identity legal index (SOGI-LI) ranks countries based on the safety and equality of LGBTI residents. For context, Canada leads with a score of 10.0, the United States has a 6.6, and Russia lags with a score of 0.1. With a score of 6.7, the Czech Republic offers higher safety and equality to LGBTI people than the countries that border Ukraine. However, the Czech Republic doesn’t border Ukraine, so there are additional challenges for refugees to cross through other countries first when traveling from Ukraine to the Czech Republic. 

The mindset of those who manage to flee to Prague is disoriented. LGBTI people who managed to escape from the war are experiencing grief, shock, and trauma; Walek clarifies, “they have trouble understanding what’s going on,” and those staying are “fighting for their lives.” 

Threats and Vulnerability

All Ukrainian LGBTI people are susceptible to threats from Russia’s brutal invasion in different ways. Walek offers an example: “Transgender people with a male ID cannot cross the border of Ukraine. HIV+ men have difficulty obtaining medication and cannot cross the border.” The LGBTI people who stay in Ukraine face trouble every day because of Russia’s invasion, like attacks and looting of LGBTI shelters. Women who can flee face challenges in travel and finding new accommodations. The dangers are severe, and the vulnerability varies according to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). Czeslaw explains how his team can see the variance: “On social media of Ukrainian LGBTI organizations, we can see how they are fighting for their country, and how gay men are wearing uniforms and going to the front to fight for Ukraine. We can see LGBTI people staying in Ukraine to protect their country.”

Global LGBTI Response

Walek believes there are two reasons a global LGBTI response is warranted. 

First, it’s imperative to understand how vulnerable LGBTI people are within the refugee crisis. Most of the bordering countries are very homophobic. Walek remarks emphatically, “We must help them flee to a place where they can be safe and be themselves.” 

Second, Walek states that “global democratic values of equality and diversity are at stake.” The targeted violence towards LGBTI human rights organizations in Kyiv demonstrates Russia’s threat to the safety of the diverse LGBTI community. If there is no global LGBTI response, it will be a tragic failure for the international LGBTI community. The international LGBTI community has an opportunity to assemble a global coalition committed to providing safe places where LGBTI people can be free to be themselves. Failure to collaborate weakens each nation’s minority LGBTI population.  

Affirmative LGBTI Advocacy

There are a couple of ideal ways for individuals across the globe to support Ukrainian LGBTI refugees. For LGBTI people who are economically advantaged, Walek encourages them to “think about your comfort.” If you are willing to share some of your comfort with Ukrainian LGBTI people, you can support them by donating to HELP UKRAINIAN LGBTI REFUGEES. Your generosity supports Ukrainian LGBTI refugees finding safe shelter in the Czech Republic and Ukrainian LGBTI organizations while still operational. Any amount given is a small sacrifice for the sake of one independent nation.

The other way to help is equally important. Please consider assisting Prague Pride’s fight against disinformation by following Walek’s recommendation of helping “spread correct information.” The LGBTI people experiencing the violence of the Russian invasion are the people with intentionally truthful information. Hearing and sharing their stories educates and unites the global LGBTI community. In addition to international LGBTI news, Alturi offers its World Voices, where everyone can read the stories of underrepresented LGBTI activists. Sharing stories on social media provides an excellent opportunity to spread correct information. 

Prague Pride and Alturi Partnership

Prague Pride is systematically working to sustain its expanded workload and integrate the refugee crisis within its organization. Walek describes, “One month ago, Prague Pride wasn’t helping LGBTI refugees find legal documents, find accommodation, or get mental healthcare. This war was new, so we had to start fresh. Our partnership with Alturi helped make this possible.” This new crisis affects Prague Pride’s previous work, and there is no end to when this work will be needed.  

Prague Pride has already channeled its financial donations in several ways. First, Prague Pride will support Ukrainian LGBTI organizations while operating; specifically, Prague Pride works to provide safe LGBTI shelters. Second, Prague Pride helps LGBTI Ukrainians find refuge in the Czech Republic with legal support. Lastly, it offers to house LGBTI refugees arriving in Prague.  

There is still more to do. “Every week is different, and the future is uncertain,” Walek said. Specifically, the need for mental healthcare is growing, and the challenge of housing accommodations is getting more complex every day because of the number of refugees and limited housing availability. 

Please support Prague Pride’s actions to help Ukrainian LGBTI refugees find safe shelter in the Czech Republic and financially support Ukrainian LGBTI organizations while they are still able to operate.

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