Half-Way: Queer Student Experiences at NYU Prague

Coming to NYU—or to any school—as a member of the LGBTQ community comes with plenty of challenges and anxieties. Coming to an NYU site in a foreign country as a queer person is arguably even scarier. Being a gay man myself, I have become interested in discovering the queer scene here at NYU Prague. Understanding that others may share my feelings, I decided to look into the experiences of some other LGBTQ students. In total, I interviewed five queer students: Sasha, Jenny, Connor, Jasmine, and Jonathan. RA Tery also shared her thoughts with me to help give more insight into queer culture at NYU Prague and in the city overall.

I first wanted to ask my queer peers about something I have up to now found to be a challenge here at NYU Prague: connecting to the community. Upon speaking with the other students, I found that I was not so alone. Jasmine is a junior who identifies as a lesbian, and she was the first to answer my question. “I would say I don’t feel particularly connected,” she said, “just because we’ve only been here for a month and a half.” She told me that she wasn’t sure how to get her foot in the door. Jenny (junior, bisexual) and Sasha (sophomore, bisexual) are two friends who have had a similar experience to Jasmine’s. Jenny expressed that she had spent the first month at NYU Prague “orienting” herself to life here, and that she and Sasha are just now looking into ways to engage with Prague’s queer community. Connor and Jonathan, however, have not found such connection so difficult. Connor, who is a junior and bisexual, shared that he has made some queer Czech friends who have shown him around. On the other hand, Jonathan, who is a junior and gay, noted that the low number of students in the NYU Prague program overall has made it so that he and other queer students have “naturally drifted toward each other”. While I find the girls’ experiences much more relatable to my own, I am pleased to know that it is not the same across the board.

In our conversation about making connections, we found ourselves discussing the perhaps more controversial subject of dating apps like Tinder. I was very intrigued to find that Tinder in Prague actually lends itself as an effective means of making queer friends. Connor shared that, since coming to Prague, he has used Tinder exclusively for making friends. “I don’t specifically say ‘only friends’, but after I start talking, they usually understand,” he said. Tery also weighed in on the topic, offering some native Czech knowledge. She explained that it is very common for queer residents of Prague to act as “tour guide Czech friends” and use Tinder to connect with students like us or with those from other foreign exchange programs such as Erasmus.

I was also interested to know how the day-to-day experience of being queer in Prague differs to that back at home. While New York City is a very liberal and accepting environment for our community, some of us may come from places elsewhere in the US where being openly queer is not so easy. Hopeful that this would not be the case here, I asked the others how they feel they are perceived by locals as queer people. Luckily, across the board, none of the students felt that they were looked down upon, discriminated against, or otherwise poorly treated by Czech people for their sexual orientation (be it for lack of “looking queer” or not). This is not to say that Prague is just as open to the queer community as New York. Connor expressed his feelings on this, pointing out that queer people in New York are usually very “outwardly there”. He shared an experience from this past summer in which he walked the New York streets in drag makeup very comfortably, but he said he would be more hesitant to do something like that in Prague. Tery added her thoughts to this, stating that here in Prague, people still stare at her and her girlfriend holding hands in public. However, while she admits that being openly queer is “just not that normal, even in Prague,” we are fortunate to be here because queer people in the rest of the Czech Republic are still looked upon much more harshly and thus are much more afraid.

Speaking of being “outwardly there”, we discussed the presence and visibility of queer couples in Prague. For the most part, the students told me that they do not see many queer couples around the city. Jasmine said that she has seen some, and she raised an interesting point: “Weirdly enough, I’ve seen more lesbian couples than I’ve seen gay couples.” We all know that in the US (and much of the Western world), gay men tend to dominate the image of the queer community, so I found this to be pretty strange. Tery added to the conversation, explaining that “people here are more comfortable with lesbians than gays”, making them more comfortable with openly expressing their identity. While this definitely shows a cultural perception of gay men as less masculine (and therefore less respectable) than their straight counterparts, I nonetheless found the difference between Prague and New York in this sense to be very interesting.

I also asked the students whether they had gotten the chance to explore Prague’s queer culture, through events, gatherings, or what have you. Not so much to my surprise, everyone’s experience up to this point has been limited mainly to checking out different gay bars. Jenny mentioned a bar called Friends (which, according to Tery, is the most popular), which hosts various events throughout the week, including one on Wednesdays where everyone is given a different colored wristband and mingles with one another to meet new people. Also, Jonathan says he enjoys going to a gay club in Prague 2 called TerMIX, as “the music is amazing … and the energy is overall so positive and welcoming to all”. While these are certainly fun ways to spend time with others in the queer community, I was more hoping to get some insight into ways to get involved outside the bar scene. Luckily, Tery was able to offer some suggestions, such as the upcoming Mezipatra queer film festival (November 8-23) or getting involved with queer/trans youth through the Trans*parent organization.

While it is evident that many queer students here (including myself) have not up to now been able to fully immerse themselves in Prague’s queer culture, it is comforting to know that there is a place for us here. However, I am left with one more pressing issue. I decided to write this article because I myself felt that I was missing out on connection with my community, and I wanted to see how other queer students felt about this. That being said, what has struck me most is the lack of any official space here at NYU Prague for queer students to come together. Naturally, I pooled for opinions from the others about this as well. We brainstormed multiple ideas: Jonathan suggested forming an official gay-straight alliance at NYU Prague, Jenny thought it would be nice to organize a periodical night out for dinner and maybe drinks, and Sasha joked that we could create a “gay trap” by holding an event (specifically with food) in RD to help queer students get acquainted.

And that brings us to now. While an official queer organization at NYU Prague is likely not an achievable goal at least until next semester, I am happy to have had this discussion with my peers so that we could get the ball rolling in trying to bring queer students together. With that in mind, Tery has decided to organize an “NYU Prague Queer Meetup” on Thursday, November 1 at 6 pm. We will be going to a queer café near the academic center to get to know one another and share our thoughts. All members of the community and all allies are welcome. We hope to see you there!

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