SF Sisters headed to Prague Pride
by Heather Cassell
Two Sisters of the San Francisco order of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are going to Prague Pride to educate around LGBT issues and to spread goodwill in the Czech Republic.
Sister Vicious Power Hungry Bitch, 64, and Sister Roma, 53, will travel to Prague to participate in the weeklong celebration, themed "Love is Love," August 7-15.
The Sisters are two of 50 international guests of Prague Pride at the celebration that is also a human rights conference.
"This theme 'Love is Love' just couldn't be more important at this time," said Roma, pointing to current headlines in the news. "Now is the time for love. I'm excited to share the Sisters' message of love."
The sixth annual Prague Pride will also mark the beginning of a marriage equality campaign, #CzechMarriageEquality.
Sister Vicious PHB is also going to address freedom of expression around the world, she said.
Two Prague Pride organizers were in San Francisco for the past year, returning home last week. The Bay Area Reporter interviewed them before they left.
"We invited the Sisters because of their activism in the past," said Willem Van Der Bas, international public relations of Prague Pride.
Added Roma, "The thing about Pride celebrations anywhere you go in the world ... it's just our chance for our community to get together to celebrate each other, our freedom, and to take Pride in who we are. It's our special day ... to celebrate the obstacles that we have overcome and just look toward the future with hope and realize we are surrounded by love."
Their goal as ambassadors of San Francisco is to raise awareness around HIV/AIDS, the order, and to spread joy in the way only they can. During the week filled with more than 100 events at the Pride Village, the Sisters will speak at panel discussions about HIV/AIDS, be present at a screening of The Sisters, take a trolley ride through Prague, hold a trivia night, and meet up with Sisters from the Czech Republic, Germany, and other countries.
The Czech Republic is also battling a serious problem with HIV/AIDS and government officials' perception of individuals infected with the virus. At the beginning of the year 30 people were criminally charged with spreading HIV/AIDS and there are reports that 100 more people are set to be similarly charged, said Czeslaw Walek, chairman of Prague Pride who is married to Van Der Bas.
The country's LGBT community needs to learn how to fight for their rights, Walek and Van Der Bas believe. For too long the community believed that the government was going to take care of the issue, but "now we are starting to realize that this is something that we have to fight for ourselves, that this is our issue," said Walek.
"We are opening our eyes that we have to step up," he added.
This is one of the reasons the Sisters are going to Prague. They are taking their groundbreaking sex education pamphlet, "Play Fair," to distribute at Prague Pride.
"San Francisco's AIDS prevention model is something that you guys should be very proud of. It's not seen anywhere else. It is a model that is working," said Walek.
"The Czech Republic is making criminals out of people with HIV," said Roma, who said people living with the virus should be shown compassion, care, and treatment. "San Francisco is the epicenter where that movement started. We taught the world how to respond to the HIV/AIDS crisis and we are going to go and share it with our friends in Prague."
Love and Pride
The upcoming festival is one of the biggest and most colorful, attracting an estimated 76,000 Pridegoers throughout the week, said Walek.
Prague Pride operates on an annual budget of about $130,000, which is raised between corporate and private donors as well as the Prague city government and tourism board, said Walek. The U.S. Embassy has also provided in-kind support, he added.
The Sisters will also present the organizers, Walek and Van Der Bas, with proclamations and honors from California and San Francisco politicians and the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee.
Walek, 41, was a Fulbright scholar working on a global platform at Out and Equal Workplace Advocates during the past year. Van Der Bas, 44, joined him in the "gay mecca" for the yearlong adventure, learning about the LGBT community and movement.
They plan to take what they learned in San Francisco back to the Czech Republic, infusing it into their movement for marriage equality and LGBT family rights, said Walek.
The gay couple married in the Netherlands in 2010. However, their marriage isn't recognized in the Czech Republic. They can only be recognized as registered partners in a civil partnership, which doesn't grant as many rights as marriage. They refused and sued the government. The couple are awaiting the court's decision, which they anticipate will be against them, they said. They are prepared to take their case all the way to the European Court.
The marriage equality conversation has already started in the country. A recent survey conducted by Prague Pride found that 86 percent of respondents "said they want marriage," said Walek. "So, it's good."
They are taking their inspiration from America, Europe, and Ireland, which won same-sex marriage at the ballot in 2015, and Slovenia, which lost its referendum for same-sex marriage in a popular vote last year.
Walek and Van Der Bas have a five-year plan, starting with mobilizing the Czech LGBT community, financial support, and an education campaign that will kick into action this month at Prague Pride. However, the couple got a head start before returning home July 31. At their first American fundraiser with the Sisters in San Francisco July 26, they raised $2,000 for the Czech marriage equality campaign.
Marriage equality is the cause they've chosen because as part of the European Union, Czech citizens are already granted anti-discrimination protections in the workplace and in education, Walek said.
Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at 00+1-415-221-3541, Skype: heather.cassell, or firstname.lastname@example.org.