LJUBLJANA— There is music streaming out of the building and it gets louder when I enter the door. The building has two rooms, or clubs. To the right is the club Monokel for lesbians. If you instead keep going straight a head you will enter the club Tiffany, which is for gay men. The door that leads to Monokel is red with a silhouette of two girls holding hands. The bartender’s outfit matches the club: she is wearing black clothes and red shoes. The club is small and mostly empty. Sarah, (whose name is changed because of privacy), tells me that I’m early and in a couple of hours the place will be full.
I start to talk with Sarah about what it’s like to be homosexual in Slovenia. “It is hard because Slovenia is a conservative republic””, she says. She tells me that it is easier in Ljubljana than in other cities, because people are more open here. On the other hand she also tells me that she didn’t hold hands in public with her now ex-girlfriend.
At the end of March this year the people of Slovenia voted against the Family Code referendum which would have given homosexual couples the right to marry and adopt children.
“It makes me want to move”, says Sarah, who is upset by the results and she believes that it has been a step backwards instead of forward for gay rights.
The music is a little bit too loud like in most clubs which makes the conversation feel more like screaming than talking. The window is open and there’s a draft.
“How can the majority judge the minority? It’s not a choice to be gay”, she says.
A physical place to exchange ideas
It’s a warm and nice evening when I go to the Open Café. There are a lot of people and everybody seems happy. Barbara Rajgelj, who’s one of the owners of the café, tells me that they are celebrating four years existence today.
Rajgelj got the idea for Open when she spent a lot of time in London. She saw how many places there were for LGBT people and she realised the lack of these meeting spots in Ljubljana. Before Open Café there was only the double club Monokel/Tiffany and the monthly club Pink. Rajgelj wanted to create a place where LGBT people could go to in the day time.
“We wanted to be in the centre of town because it is important to be seen”, she says.
She says that she is happy that they profiled the café as a place for LGBT persons from the start. But even though it has a clear profile a lot of straight people also come there during the day to have lunch. Rajgelj is happy that straight people come for the atmosphere but she underlines the importance of it being a place for gay people to congregate.
“I wouldn’t like to see gays and lesbian be pushed out. They need to feel safe here, and with that I mean that they don’t hesitate to for example kiss each other”, she says.
Open Café is a café during the days and a bar at night. They have different activities now and then, like concerts and discussions. They are also involved in the Gay Pride festival which takes place on the second of June. During the Pride festival, Open holds discussions about the church. Rajgelj displays the flyer for this year’s festival. It shows the pope cutting the rainbow into pieces. Above is the text “Naprej v srednji vek”.
“Which translates to something like, “further towards the Middle Ages””, she explains and points to the flyer.
The first year they opened, at the Pride festival, the café got attacked. According to Rajgelj, eight skinheads threw torches at the building, and one man got beaten up. Some of the perpetrators got sentenced to jail. The other years have not been as bad, but there has been vandalism in the form of graffiti. I ask her if she thinks anything will happen this year.
“Hopefully not. We have police security 24 hours a day during the whole Pride festival week”, she says.
Rajgelj says she worked hard to get Open to where it is today. And she thinks it has been worth it.
“It is important to have a physical space where people can talk and meet. A space to create ideas”, she says.
“A lot of things came out of this place, for example the female DJ group Female ´s´cream started their career here. And my own activism started here”, says Rajgelj.
The same night in Open I meet Nejc Jelovčan and he is there to party. He thinks that Open is an important place.
“Open is really the only place where public LGBT and gender issue debates are happening regularly”, he says.
We sit outside along the wall of the bar, the pavement is narrow so all tables and chairs are against the wall. It is not much space, but people squeeze together.
Jelovčan tells me what he thinks of being gay in Slovenia.
“Slovenia is the least homophobic of ex- Yugoslavian countries, but because of its’ size, the LGBT scene only happen in Ljubljana. Except for larger towns, homosexuality is still a big taboo. Even where it’s not, the gay population is too small for cultural -and night life happenings”, he says.
Jelovčan grew up in a very liberal and open-minded family. His parents taught him not to judge any one by their skin colour or personal circumstances.
“Even so, coming out was not easy for me, but when I did, my parents were both supportive and more concerned about my education and occupation than my sexual orientation. My brothers and sisters are also very supportive, and my boyfriend is always welcome to family gatherings”, he says.
Jelovčan works for two Slovenian IT companies. He has been open with his sexuality at both the places and it has never been a problem.
“It can be a little bit awkward sometimes, since I don’t tolerate chauvinism and I’m open about gender issues and sexuality in general, but it seems it’s a good way to find out about misconceptions and stereotypes people have in mind about LGBT individuals. I think being completely confident in my sexuality is more of a shock to people than me being gay. I’ve never had negative feedback from co- workers just on basis of my sexuality.”
“I’ve had co-workers apologizing to me about the outcome of the Family Code referendum. IT guys know how to be sensitive”, Jelovčan says with a smile.
The lack of role models
It is not easy to find Legebitra because of the lack of real signs. Legebitra is an organisation that works with youth and LGBT questions. They are situated at the end of the street Trubarjeva, next to the bike shop. The day I visit them the sun is shining and the air is damp. The only sign I see is the small handwritten one on the doorbell. A big wooden door leads to a small courtyard.
Legebitra works with counselling young people and educates them about safe sex. But they also have more fun activities now and then. The day I visit them they are having a graffiti workshop. They also participate in the Pride festival. When I arrive, the workshop has already started. There are 11 people silently watching Miha Kosmač, who’s a graffiti artist, while he demonstrates how to make graffiti.
“This is roughly the basics”, he says and there is some scattered laughter.
After the introduction canvases are handed out and the group begins to create their own graffiti.
Everybody is concentrated on his or her own work. The theme is identity.
Eva Gračanin is one of the people who work at Legebitra. She says that everybody is welcome in the organisation and that no one ever asks what your sexual orientation is, even though the organisation is focused on LGBT youth. She thinks that it is harder to be homosexual in the countryside.
“You feel like you are the only gay there”, she says.
She explains that it is easier to be gay in a city because you can be anonymous. On the other hand, she thinks it is important for people to come out as well.
“I’m not forcing anyone to come out”, she says, though she she underlines the importance of visibility.
“We need people to come out in politics and show business. We are lacking role models, she explains. She mentions that a lot of people from show business supported the Family Code referendum, which is a step forward”, says Gračanin.
When everybody is done with their graffiti its time for pasta salad. Most of the participants are sitting inside because of the damp weather outside. One person suggests that maybe they should move their paintings inside because it might start to rain. Just seconds after they get the last graffiti inside the clouds starts to gather and the first drops of rain is falling. The thunder is rolling in the distance and it is time for me to leave.
I remember what Gračanin told me about the mayor of Ljubljana, Zoran Janković . Every year at the Gay Pride festival he gives a speech. He is famous for ending his speeches in this way:
Danes je Ljubljana najlepše mesto na svetu tudi zaradi vas.
Today Ljubljana is the most beautiful city in the world because of you.
Legebitra is an abbreviation for lesbians (in Slovenian lezbijke), gays (in Slovenian gejs), bisexual persons (in Slovenian biseksualne osebe) and trans persons (in Slovenian trans osebe).
They are a Non governmental organisation that focus mainly on providing support for young LGBTs. They have counselling for young people and they educate about safe sex. They also do other activities like workshops and discussions. The organisation is involved in the Gay Pride festival. They publish the magazine Narobe. There you can read about LGBT issues around the world.
Twice a year they organise a three days camp. For every camp they chose a theme that they then have discussions about.
Address: Trubarjeva 76 a, 1000 Ljubljana
Family Code referendum
The 25th of March 2012 there was a vote about the Family Code referendum. This referendum was about giving homosexualcouples the same rights as traditional couples. This would means that gay couples would have the right to marry and adopt children.The people of Slovenia voted no with almost 55 %. In Ljubljana more people voted for the referendum than against it.
Trubarjeva 76 a, 1000 Ljubljana
Hren 19, 1000 Ljubljana
Masarykova cesta 24, 1000 Ljubljana