For many years, being out and gay in places like the Czech Republic was viewed as an affront. Yet in recent years more and more people are coming out publicly there to help advance acceptance.

Jan Cmelik, a gay tennis player living in Prague, opened up recently to Outsports about being out and gay in the Czech Republic.

“The situation of the LGBTQ community in the Czech Republic is getting better,” he said. “Prague as the capital is more accepting because of the diversity of people, but the situation in small cities and poorer regions in Czech Republic is not that good.”

It’s a sentiment reflected by Olympic snowboarder Sarka Pancochova, who has been out and proud for several years.

Cmelik has seen a faster rate of acceptance in the capital city of Prague, where he was born and raised. That reflects the rate of acceptance around the world, where it seems to increase faster in larger cities.

“I’m 26 years old, and up until last year I did have a problem with that. I felt like I was judged for being different, but I realized that everything is in my head and I shouldn’t care. So now I do what I want, what I feel is right.”

Jan Cmelik is hoping his being out and proud as a gay man helps advance acceptance in the Czech Republic, including the sports world there.

With a few friends, Cmelik created a gay tennis group in Prague three years ago. Now the group has over 100 members and its own Instagram page. They organize tennis tournaments monthly, as well as hosting the Prague Friendly Tennis Open, a tournament that’s part of the Gay and Lesbian Tennis Alliance.

Cmelik, like so many worldwide, was worried about his family’s reaction because they are Christian. Most of the country is not religious, but his family is.

“I was very worried how my parents and my grandmom would react because my mom and grandmom are Christians,” he said. “They go to church every Sunday, and my father is very strict. But everything was and is OK. I came out when I was 18. I’m so glad I came out that young.”

Like Pancochova, he advocates for a stronger position on homosexuality from the federal government. Right now, same-sex relationships are not legally equal to those of opposite-sex couples.

Cmelik sees that as a hurdle to complete acceptance.

“The government of our country isn’t helping,” he said. “In the Czech Republic, people with the same sex can’t marry each other. We only have the civil union — registered partnership — which doesn’t give as many rights as marriage. For example, there isn’t the community property law, and there are problems with adoption.”

Until then, Cmelik will continue to live his life out and proud to inspire others in the Czech Republic to do the same.

You can find Jan Cmelik on Facebook, or on Instagram @cmelik_jan.

If you’re an LGBTQ athlete looking to connect with others in the community, head over to GO! Space to meet and interact with other LGBTQ athletes.