Career & Education

Rewriting norms in Croatia with children's same-sex family book

Sunday, February 04, 2018

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ZAGREB, Croatia (AFP) — In Croatia's first children's book about “rainbow families”, two mothers help their son Roko to put on his skis. It's part of a simple story aimed at changing attitudes in the staunchly Catholic country.

Created for kindergarten-age children, the picture book describes the everyday life of two four-year-olds: Ana, who has two fathers, and Roko with his two mothers.

“Ana likes it when her dads read her a goodnight story,” states the caption under one of the illustrations.

“Last year mum Ines and mum Lucija helped Roko to put on skis for the first time,” says another.

Daniel Martinovic, of Rainbow Families, an association of lesbian, gay and transgender people who have or plan to have children, launched the book in the capital, Zagreb, last month.

“We made it for our children because we wanted them to be able to read about families like ours,” said the IT expert, a “proud parent” of a three-year-old.

The launch of My Rainbow Family was attended by a few dozen guests and numerous reporters — but no children of same-sex parents.

Martinovic said gay parents were still afraid of prejudice, condemnation and potentially violent reactions in the conservative country of 4.2 million people.

Nearly 90 per cent of Croatians are Roman Catholic, and a Church-backed group earlier this month criticised the book, which it described as “controversial”.

“It is an action hiding a clear political and ideological agenda,” the Vigilare organisation said, in an open letter to the education minister.

The group claimed that the publication would be donated to schools and kindergartens and asked the minister to consider blocking this — but Rainbow Families denied that such donations were being planned.

Five hundred initial copies of the book were published for distribution free of charge to those interested, and an online edition is also available in Croatian and English at www.dugineobitelji.com.

While the book was conceived for children of same-sex parents, it can help other youngsters, including those who are adopted or living with grandparents or a single parent, said co-author Ivo Segota.

“These are all realities that exist in Croatia,” said the 35-year-old biologist, who is gay and who hopes to have children with his partner.

Croatia, the European Union's newest member state since 2013, has seen a gradual liberalisation of gay rights in recent years, with homosexual couples able to register as “life partners” since 2014.

The law granted them the same rights as heterosexual married couples on matters such as property, inheritance, tax, health and social insurance.

And attitudes in patriarchal Croatian society appear to be changing at a slower pace than the law.

Visits to the doctor or a first day at school still draw whispers and sideways glances, same-sex parents say.

Recent years have also seen a growing wave of nationalism and hardline conservatism.

Rainbow Families, which has about 80 members, provides education to social workers to try and improve the situation for families of same-sex parents.

“The situation is changing for the better, and we hope that one day... families won't be afraid of being different,” said Martinovic.

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