Stay Informed

Your go-to source for the latest trends impacting gender justice and women’s rights around the world

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Activists Challenge Regressions In Croatia

In this section, we invite readers of Facing Fundamentalisms to share a brief summary of recent events relating to religion, tradition, culture and rights-based organizing in your contexts. 

Thank you to Jay Postić, a founding member of Zagreb Pride in Croatia, for this issue's Voices from the Roots submission.

During a few short weeks last May, in a country of just 4.3 million, clerical coalition U ime obitelji (In the Name of Family) obtained over 750,000 signatures calling for a constitutional referendum to limit the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman. The active advocacy of the church and its allies (engaging large numbers of volunteers collecting signatures in public spaces and knocking on doors) took rights-based advocates by surprise. While the church's exclusionary rhetoric about LGBTIQ people has been apparent since 2002 when Zagreb Pride held Croatia's first ever Pride March, the backlash has not taken the form of such active and organized campaigning until the past few years.

We noticed more intense homophobic and transphobic rhetoric from the church in late 2012, with messages of exclusion, fear and hatred toward LGBTIQ individuals voiced by the head of the Catholic Church in Croatia. Zagreb Pride responded to the charge that homosexuality was ruining the country by calling for allies to gather in front of Zagreb's main cathedral for a "Love Thy Neighbour" protest, using religious messaging against the church's own violent biblical interpretation. The protest engaged LGBTIQ and other rights activists and allies to send the message that we are not going anywhere, and provided an opportunity to show our solidarity and resolve, but 2013 brought even more intense campaigning from the church.

The Love Thy Neighbour protest and the campaign for a constitutional referendum launched by In the Name of the Family in mid-2013 brought into stark relief the strong opposition that right-wing forces are able to mobilize. Perhaps since the steady decline in the presence of counter-demonstrators and police at Zagreb's Pride March since 2011, we began to feel more confident, but recent events have shown the importance of remaining vigilant, as greater visibility has also attracted greater backlash and mobilization from anti-rights forces. Still, there is no going back; 15,000 participated in last year's Zagreb Pride March.

Working in a coalition of 88 different civil society organizations (including women's rights, human rights and other rights-based groups), Zagreb Pride responded to In the Name of the Family's campaigning in several ways. Zagreb Pride and allies initially addressed the Constitutional Court about the legality of the referendum; in late November, the Court ruled that civil society organizations don't have any standing to challenge the referendum. In the Name of the Family's petition for a referendum was successful, the vote was called on December 1st, the coalition had three short weeks to organize and campaign, but the Vote No campaign managed to raise €80,000 in cash and in-kind donations, and joined forces with celebrities and public figures, engaged with media and tried to publicize their message. Coalition members organized actions under slogans like "Everyone has a right to happiness," "Every one of us is a minority," and "Come out against discrimination," as but some examples.

While the Vote No coalition had much fewer resources, polls showed that our active campaigning did increase opposition to the referendum question, with 34% voting against the amendment; though the Yes side won, only 35% of registered voters participated (lower than in any past referendum or election) and we were able to impact a proportion of those who did vote, so we can see this as a kind of victory still. If we dig deeper, it is actually only 25% of Croatian voters who voted yes to the referendum, compared to 86% of the population that self-identifies as Catholic, perhaps an indication that the issue is not so relevant to most of the public as religious fundamentalist forces would like us to believe.

At the same time, Croatia's parliament is reviewing a bill to recognize civil partnerships (Bill on Life Partnership), so Zagreb Pride and our allies continue to advocate on this issue, through media and through public consultations and lobbying to strengthen the bill. We are also preparing for a referendum to prohibit use of the Cyrillic alphabet, as our intersectional perspective guides us to show common cause with minorities targeted by exclusionary ideas. The Catholic fundamentalist forces and other right-wing elements continue to try to chip away at minority rights, but we will not stop advocating for the rights of those who otherized by such exclusionary ideals.