Many Religious Right leaders have thrown their support behind anti-gay laws around the world that not only criminalize gay sex but also limit free speech by making even the advocacy of LGBT equality illegal. Another tactic is to limit the free speech of equality advocates by restricting public criticism of their opponents.
In Croatia, a county court has upheld a ruling of the Zagreb Municipal Court that Zagreb Pride, an LGBT rights group, had violated the personal honor and dignity of a journalist by placing her on its annual list of candidates for “homophobe of the year” in 2013. The Court ruled that Zagreb Pride must pay more than 41,000 krona (a bit over $6,000) in fines and court fees. Zagreb Pride officials contend this case is an outgrowth of an organized campaign by conservative Catholic groups and their allies that led to a 2013 referendum banning marriage by same-sex couples.
The journalist, Karolina Vidović-Krišto, had been placed on the list after producing a television segment in December 2012 which used the research of American anti-gay activist Judith Reisman, who is affiliated with Liberty University, to criticize sex-education curricula. When Vidović-Krišto was suspended by state television after the show, Reisman rallied to her defense, and the journalist was reportedly among those who helped organize Reisman’s 2013 trip to Croatia. Reisman also visited in 2014.
As reported by the Croatia-based Center for Education, Counseling and Research (CESI), Reisman was brought to Croatia for a series of public appearances by Stjepo Bartulica, a member of the Catholic order Opus Dei and a Commissioner for Religious Communities in the Office of the President of the Republic of Croatia.
Reisman’s record of anti-gay commentary is long and well-documented. For example, Reisman has:
- said that sex ed turns children into prostitutes and “little sexual deviants”;
- said that sex education classes are designed to brainwash children into thinking they might be gay, transgender or “all kinds of other things” and “these kids become fodder for adult predators, that’s exactly what they become”;
- appeared in an anti-gay “documentary” called “Light Wins,” in which she argues that parents should sue teachers and school administrators who allow students to read gay novels, which she says violates a federal law that makes it illegal to “groom children for sex”;
- said Gay-Straight Alliance clubs and anti-bullying campaigns are modeled on Hitler Youth efforts to “sever schoolchildren from their parents’ religious and sexual training”;
- called GLSEN “a modern version of the Hitler Youth” and said that “the whole point” of GLSEN’s anti-bullying efforts was to promote pedophilia;
- claimed that “the aim of homosexual males and now increasingly females is not to have sex with other old guys and get married but to obtain sex with as many boys as possible”;
- joined her Liberty colleague Mat Staver in Jamaica in December for a conference organized by those working to preserve laws criminalizing consensual gay sex;
- wrote that condoms are not meant for anal sex and called for a “class action lawsuit by AIDS victims and their loved ones” against the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Planned Parenthood and teachers and school systems that promoted condom use;
- and warned that the Boy Scouts’ vote to end the ban on participation by gay youth would lead to increased pedophilia, and agreed with right-wing radio host Rick Wiles that the Boy Scouts change was about “getting sexual predators into the Boy Scouts.”
Reisman also believes that pornography should be outlawed.
Not surprisingly, Reisman’s visit to Croatia was controversial and was criticized by some scientists as well as activists. Reisman faced a number of outspoken critics, whom she denounced as “thugs.” She spoke to parliamentarians and to college students, by whom she was not well received ; when she responded to critical questions by charging that students had been indoctrinated by communists, the school’s dean asked whether she realized how young these students were. He also challenged her credentials to speak about brain chemistry in regard to her promotion of an “erototoxin” theory that pornography leads to “mating confusion.”
Zagreb Pride officials, who say that challenging anti-gay rhetoric and actions are central to their reason for being, are calling the recent ruling an attack on free expression. The Croatian Journalists Association hosted a Zagreb Pride press conference last week.
"The Constitution guarantees us the freedom of speech, and Zagreb Pride's mission is to publicly reveal homophobia, so our basic duty is to react every time we see someone acting against homosexuals," Zagreb Pride representative Marko Jurcic told a news conference in the offices of the Croatian Journalists Association, calling on citizens to support the association and freedom of expression.
Another report from the press conference quotes Jurcic calling for solidarity from citizens in support of free speech and human rights. Also speaking were Sandra Benčić from the Center for Peace Studies and Natasa Bijelic from CESI, who put the case in the larger context of the growing neo-conservative threats to sexual and reproductive rights in Europe.
Zagreb Pride leaders have vowed to challenge the decision to the Constitutional Court as a matter of freedom of expression, and to develop a strategy for taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights.