Are rainbows for everyone? Slovenian referendum on marriage equality from a transgender perspective

Ana is an activist, a feminist and a co-founder of Institute TransAkcija, Slovenia’s first trans specific NGO, which enables support, informing, empowerment and alliance of transgender people in Slovenia. That is currently also the main focus of their work.They are a non-binary person, most skeptical of the most self-evident things, who as Mx Scully work to expose the X-files in the gender binary system and beyond. All of their their activism is based on the principles of transfeminism, intersectionality, and social justice.

On December 20th Slovenia held a referendum where voters were asked if they are voting for or against marriage to become a union of two people, not a man and a woman. 63 % of the voters rejected the bill which would enable marriage to be inclusive to people regardless of their gender and reinstated that marriage remains an institute solely between a man and a woman. The law which was rejected on referendum was proposed by the opposition United Left party and supported in Parliament in March 2015. Right after a conservative civil initiative gained signatures for launching a referendum, the decision approved by the Slovenian constitutional court, regardless of the recent changes in legislation regarding referendum, which should prohibit any referendum on matters of human rights. Out of all Slovenian citizens with voting rights, only 13% voted in support of marriage equality. A preoccupying two thirds of voters did not vote.

Slovenia map votes
Slovenia Map Voting Results – Black colour in the map represents those against equal marriage

The campaign which worked in favour of marriage equality was called THE TIME IS FOR and included representatives of political parties, non-governmental organizations, LGbt+ activists, civil initiatives and a large number of independent supporters and volunteers.
Despite the strategy of the campaign, which was intentionally very liberal and mainstream, with most of the faces of it being heterosexual cisgender people, publicly recognized people, family members of gay men, etc, we at TransAkcija decided to support it out of solidarity with LGBT+ people. Although marriage equality is not a part of our agenda, we find it highly important that there are no legislative mechanisms which enforce discrimination – marriage inequality is thus discrimination based on grounds of sexual orientation before the law.

We understand the reasons behind this kind of campaign and are proud of everyone who did their best during these intense, difficult times. We were hoping though that there would be more diversity in the campaign, and that transgender people would also play a part in it, or at least not be ignored as a part of the LGBT acronym that gets used all the time regardless of whether or not it actually is about gay men and a few token lesbians or all of us.

“I wish I could live in a world where everybody has the same right to marry” – Salome

The only transgender person who was publicly included in the campaign was Salome, the first out transgender woman, who has been famous in Slovenia for more than three decades. She also had a performance on Sunday evening and gave a very uplifting, funny and honest speech that made us feel a bit better after the referendum didn’t go through.

Gay is OKAY

It sure is. But what about transgender, bisexual, asexual , intersex, queer people, etc. – what are we like? Are we OK, too? I’d like to hear that.
Due to the discourse (of the campaign, but also generally speaking), which includes only gays and lesbians, same-sex orientation, and homosexuals all non-monosexual identities (bisexual, pansexual, queer, etc) and gender identities that aren’t cisgender get erased. That is why the acronym LGBT should be used with caution and respect – to use LGBT only when we truly mean lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual people (at the very least). There is enough invisibility of all bisexual, transgender, asexual … Identities as it is, and such discourse only adds to it.
In addition, what happens with this type of campaign and general discourse on social media is also that it reinforces the assimilationist, normative picture of the whole community. It means that for the time being we all have to be a little more careful, a little more quiet, not “too radical” or radical at all, because we don’t want to be the ones to blame if we lose.
In this case it meant that even when gender identity and transgender people were brought up by opponents (because this is really the only time these were specifically mentioned), our side never took a stand regarding us. We never heard anyone legitimizing and acknowledging that transgender people exist, that marriage equality could also benefit transgender people and that we are valid. It was never heard that transgender is OK, too.


This brings us to the next point, namely the most important debate on national television, where both sides were present, with 35 speaking representatives sitting on two separate tribunes. What stood out already in the first 15 minutes was that opponents were specifically mentioning transgender people. However, the wording they used was not accurate, rather they came up with brand new terminology, namely transsexuals and queersexuals, which made us all wonder – who are these queersexuals?
Afterwards when asked about it, the leader of their campaign, offered the following in depth, expert explanation: «queersexuals are the people who say that they are transitioning from one gender to another, every day, or even claim that they have no gender, which according to the opinions and feelings of mothers and fathers in this country and worldwide is not something normal.»

Transgender people and gender identity were mentioned for the first time in this sort of campaign both in the TV debate and on their websites, the fact most probably due to the increased visibility in transgender activism in the past year. We had anticipated that these topics would get abused but we had hoped our side would support us. The opponents have been talking about the so called gender theory, which according the supporters of this theory, which is widespread in right wing / traditionalist / nationalist discourse over Europe, is an ideology with which we want to indoctrinate the children, and which promotes the idea that we can choose our own gender (the horror!). As such it is of course tragic for anyone involved, and especially for children. It is all about the children after all. Right?

Their line of argument was built on lies, misrepresentations of facts and it was just downright degrading for the whole LGBT+ population. Many of us felt that the proponents didn’t take a stand, or countered the hateful comments. I suppose everyone was hoping Slovenian public would see for themselves that their people are not to be trusted. But was that really enough? Clearly not. Not because they won the referendum, but because giving space to such hate speech and individuals who were mostly catholics and nationalists from organizations such as “It’s about the children”, “God’s Children”, “Plum” (yes, that’s right) sent the wrong message to the public, and national television should not have allowed it. Actually, it shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere.

ljubljana pride
Ljubljana’s 2015 Pride


I would like for everyone, especially people involved in the campaign and people from LGBT+ community, before continuing our battles on different frontlines, to sit down and rethink the strategy. Not only the strategy of this particular campaign, but more broadly how to be an ally to transgender people, and how mutual solidarity is essential for strengthening our activism.

One of the most important values of TransAkcija is solidarity and we truly respect that in our work. We are all going to need it if we are to survive and become stronger in this country of ours, in this world of ours. All it takes is some self-reflexivity and being aware of your privileges and how to use them as an ally, and most importantly – if you aren’t sure (because honestly most of the time we can’t be sure), ask the people you are working with/for. Listen to them. Listen and learn. And use your position in the best way you can, but without taking credit and space from the ones you are allying with. We will be incredibly grateful if you just try. There is enough rainbow for everyone and only together we can make it.

Ana Grm, Institute TransAkcija

Share also in Português/Portuguese: SERÁ QUE O ARCO-ÍRIS É PARA TODOS? – O referendo na Eslovénia sobre a igualdade no casamento, numa perspetiva Trans

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