Polish Gays Fighting Back

Polish Gays Fighting Back|Polish Gays Fighting Back

Demonstrations in at least eight cities respond to recent police abuse in Poznan

Pro-gay demonstrations were held in cities all over Poland this past weekend to protest the banning and police repression of a November 19 gay March for Equality and Tolerance in Poznan, in which 68 of some 500 demonstrators were assaulted and arrested.

Despite severe winter weather, thousands of demonstrators joined the weekend demonstrations not only in Warsaw, the capital, but also in the cities of Gdansk, Elblag, Rzeszow, Lodz, Torun, Wroclaw, and even Poznan itself. The demonstrations were called by a hastily formed Solidarity With Poznan National Committee, initiated by the Campaign Against Homophobia (KPH), the four-year-old, all-volunteer organization that is Poland’s largest gay group. The Solidarity Committee was co-sponsored by local branches of the Polish Social Democratic Party, the Green Party, the Democratic Party, the Young Socialists, and a raft of human rights and women’s organizations.

In a statement, the Solidarity Committee said that the banning and repression of the previous weekend’s demonstration in Poznan “showed that Poland is not a place where the law is fully respected.” Targeting the pro-gay demonstrators, the statement said, proved that these “citizens are deprived of their right to express their beliefs and ideas, but the authorities let fascist groups and the police attack innocent people.”

In the banned Poznan demonstration, police did not intervene when members of the All Polish Youth––the attack-dog militia of the virulently anti-gay, anti-Semitic, extreme-right League of Polish Families party––threw eggs and projectiles at the gay demonstrators while shouting “Gas the fags!” and “We’ll do to you what Hitler did to the Jews!” Instead the police arrested the gay demonstrators marching despite the ban, who were carrying lighted candles and chanting, “This is a funeral for democracy.”

The secretary-general of the gay group KPH, Tomasz Szypula––one of the 68 gay demonstrators arrested in Poznan––said later, “The police treated us like they treat football hooligans.”

The banning of the Poznan march was testimony to the new, aggressively homophobic climate in Poland since the new national government was elected on October 23. The new Polish President, Lech Kaczynski––head of the ultra-conservative, pro-Catholic Law and Justice Party––as the mayor of Warsaw had previously banned the capital’s gay pride marches two years in a row, declaring they’d be “sexually obscene” and that he was opposed to “propagating gay orientation.” Those elections also saw two extreme-right, neo-fascist, ultra-homophobic parties––the peasant-based Self-Defense Party and the League of Polish Families––together rack up nearly a fifth of the vote. Altogether, right-wing parties got 77 percent of the vote.

Also last week, a visit to London by Poland’s equally homophobic new prime minister, Kasimierz Marcinkiewicz, was met with a demonstration co-sponsored by the International Lesbian and Gay Association and the militant British gay rights group OutRage. When Marcinkiewicz arrived for a November 24 speech at Chatham House, he was forced to slink in through a side door to avoid the gay demonstrators. Marcinkiewicz is a fundamentalist Catholic who––shortly after being named prime minister by the conservative parliamentary coalition led by President Kaczynski’s Law and Justice Party––declared homosexuality “unnatural,” adding, “The family is natural, and the state must stand guard over the family.” Marcinkiewicz went on to say that if a homosexual “tries to infect others with their homosexuality, then the state must intervene in this violation of freedom.”

One of the first acts of Marcinkiewicz’s government was to abolish the Office of the Government Plenipotentiary for the Equality of Men and Women, which was responsible for protecting sexual minorities against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Polish gay groups are concerned that there’s more to come on the new government’s agenda. The new president’s twin brother, Jaroslav Kaczynski—the de facto head of Poland’s Parliament and chief of the Law and Justice Party’s parliamentary group––has previously proposed banning gay men from teaching in the schools.

Amnesty International, in a statement released November 25, warned of the heightened “climate of intolerance in Poland against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community,” and denounced the banning of the previous weekend’s gay march in Poznan as “dictated by intolerance.”

In sharp contrast, there has been total silence on Poland’s new homophobia from the largest U.S. gay groups, the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Neither has bothered to issue so much as a press release on the banning of the Poznan march or a statement of solidarity with this past weekend’s gay protests.

A new poll shows that Poland is one of Europe’s most homophobic countries. Released in Prague November 28 by the Czech polling institute CVVM, the four-country poll said 70 percent of Poles are opposed to gay marriage, compared to 58 percent of Czechs, and 69 percent of Slovaks and Hungarians. In the poll, asked if they knew a homosexual person, only 14 percent of the Poles, 8 percent of the Hungarians, and 30 percent of the Slovaks said they did, compared to 43 percent of the Czechs. Registered partnerships of gay couples were opposed by 47 percent of the Poles, 58 percent of Hungarians, and 53 percent of Slovaks, but only 30 percent of the Czechs.

On November 28, a prominent member of the European Parliament called for the European Union to take legal action against Poland in the wake of the banning of the Poznan march. Baroness Sarah Ludford, the British Liberal Democratic Party’s European Justice spokeswoman in the EuroParliament at Strasbourg, called for stronger EU action against Poland for its homophobia.

“Repressive and intolerant behavior is quite rightly condemned when it takes place in a country seeking EU membership. But when it occurs in an existing member state, a blind eye seems to be turned. This is gutless hypocrisy,” she charged.

The EuroParliament member for London, Ludford added, “The Polish situation shows the need for three things. There should be wider EU gay equality laws going beyond the current coverage of employment rights; a political willingness from Brussels to treat homophobic speech and actions as a severe breach of EU human rights principles; and infringement proceedings for failure to implement specific EU laws on workplace equality.”

Poland is the signatory to two treaties requiring guarantees that all individuals enjoy human rights without discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. There has been, of course, no protest from the U.S. state department of Poland’s violations of these two treaties.

This weekend’s Poland-wide Solidarity demonstrations were a success, despite freezing cold, rain, and snow. More than 1,000 turned out in Warsaw. In Gdansk, where the union movement Solidarity was born 25 years ago––an act which eventually led to the toppling of Poland’s Communist dictatorship—solidarity members joined hundred of gay demonstrators, despite the fact that this march, too, had been banned by the city’s mayor and that some participants were roughed up. In Poznan, police outnumbered the demonstrators.

Simultaneous demonstrations were held in front of the Polish embassies in London and Berlin. Earlier in the week in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, sponsors and attendees at the gay film festival Mezipatra joined in a protest at the Polish embassy, presenting a letter denouncing the ban on the Poznan gay march.

Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at http://direland.typepad.com/direland/.