Liberté! Égalité! Homosexualité!

Polandian is always there to report on interesting things going on around the country. On Saturday the 7th I went to Warsaw to experience the Warsaw Pride March…

Parada Równości 2008

We’re Polish, we’re queer and we’re not going away. photo: PAP

Warsaw Pride is a march in support of gay and lesbian emancipation, non-discrimination and equal rights. Homosexuality is a very controversial issue in Polish public debate. There are four factors that contribute to this in my opinion:

1) Sexuality in general, of any kind, is a rather sensitive subject and surrounded by hypocrisy. It would be tremendously difficult for a politician to admit, for example, that sex is a source of pleasure and health — not only a means of procreation. Public debate is prudish, sex is a bit of a taboo.

2) Poles find it very easy to discriminate on any grounds and feel they have the right to judge other people’s lives, and to interfere in them (as to any Polish people, this unfortunately also applies to Polish gay people).

3) Sexual education is poor, so is education on peaceful coexistence, on solving disputes, on coping with one’s emotions and frustrations… Many people therefore unload their frustrations onto whoever is the easiest target at that moment. Could be gay people, could be someone else.

4) The gay rights movement is not very strong. It is probably the strongest of all the grass-roots democracy movements in Poland, but only a tiny percentage of Poland’s 1.5 million gay people are involved. Gay Poles, like other Poles are not eager to associate, to use democratic process or to realise their interests in an organised and professional manner. But this is a universal Polish problem. Other associations, for instance associations of disabled people, are even weaker and virtually unable to provide results for their communities.

My perspective on the Warsaw Pride event is the perspective of a gay person, a gay man who is Polish and who loves this country, who is young and wants to make a change.

This year the colourful crowd started gathering on the square between the Blue Skyscraper and the City Hall a few minutes before 2 pm. The weather was, as every year, very good – sunny and warm. A picnic atmosphere encouraged people to sit back and relax in the square, or to walk around and check out the diverse people who had turned up… there were elderly ladies waving rainbow flags, cool students, guys in wheelchairs, families with children, pensioners, gay couples, beautiful drag queens, muscle guys without t-shirts, socialists, greens, anarchists, people wanting to legalize marihuana, a priest, famous people: authors, professors, philosophers, newspaper editors, gay rights activists, actors… Sources say there were 7 to 8 thousand people — people who want things to be different.

Marszałkowska

Parading down Marszałkowska, one of the main streets of Warsaw.
photo: Joe Ruffles

Marszałkowska

Further down Marszałkowska.
photo: Bogdan Yakovenko

It was truly amazing to see such a huge crowd of positive people in Poland. No haters, no bad feelings, having fun, being open-minded… I certainly hope these people are the future of this country and that they will change the face of this earth… I hope that we will build somewhere better and easier to live in…

This is only a tiny percentage out of million and half of gay, lesbian, queer and transgender people in Poland. Even tinier if we add their friends and families.

There were many banners, slogans carried, as well as flags: Polish, Swedish, British, Israeli, Canadian, Dutch, EU, and of course rainbow.

Warming up before the march on Bankowy square.
photo (left and right): Joe Ruffles

Anti-gays also turned up – 100-200 of them. Haters, Christian fundamentalists, nationalists… you name them, they were there to look us the eye. Many among them were violent, hence a strong presence of police and special agents in disguise

Police and FBI
Police and the FBI. photo: Joe Ruffles


The common cheer was supported by the music provided by speakers on nine floats – a record number. Among the trucks of LGBT organisations, gay clubs and political parties, was also an ecological float of The Green Party (Zieloni 2004) which was moving by muscle power, rather then by burning petrol (or gasoline as they say across the pond).

From one of the floats Brazillian-style female dancers distributed leaflets about safe sex. M25, one of the gay clubs provided the best music (Skinni Patrini were giving a live performance), and half-naked muscle guys (very popular with the crowd), and also had a VIP area with golden cushions. We spotted Kinga Dunin, Jacek Poniedziałek, Krystian Legierski and Maciej Nowak sipping something that looked like champagne (forbidden during the pride), but we didn’t taste it, so it could have been bubbly apple juice.

Anarchists moved around by foot – in a boat. Try to work that one out.

Some of the floats:

KPH

Zieloni 2004left: The Green Party; right: Kampania Przeciw Homofobii
photo: Bogdan Yakovenko

ASDPL

left: Socialdemocratic Party of Poland; right: Anarchists (European float in the background)
photo: Bogdan Yakovenko

The only public institution to fly the rainbow flag and support the LGBT emancipation movement was the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Warsaw. It was noticed by the people.

British Embassy

The British Embassy in Warsaw, in front of which marched the Gay Pride. photo: Bert Kommerij

This year the march has ended in front of the prime-minister’s office. When will we see a rainbow flag there? The place was not picked by accident, it was intended to encourage the new government, currently preoccupied with the policy of not doing anything, to act. To meet with LGBT organisations, to recognise the need for legislation acknowledging the reality of existence of same-sex couples. To implement policies preventing intolerance within public institutions and businesses and between individuals. No one at the prime-minister’s office was there to meet the demonstrators. Warsaw Pride this year, unlike previously, ended without concluding speeches, which some people found disappointing.

At the PM office

Approaching the Prime-Minister’s office. Photo: Bogdan Yakovenko

Wish you were there? Next parade in 2009! And 2010 will see a massive influx of gay people, camp, lederhosen, and wigs as Warsaw will be the host of Europride! It will be the first time in history that this event will be held in a former Eastern bloc country.

How was the parade received by the Polish media? News channels did some live broadcasts, however prime-time bulletins barely mentioned it. Traditionally mainstream media presented bigots and haters as equal sides in the argument.

At the time of the parade Prime Minister Donald Tusk was in his home town of Sopot. Asked about the parade he reportedly said that “Everyone has the right to manifest their opinion“. He also stressed that “such controversial” events as Warsaw Pride and countermanifestations are becoming more “civillised”, and no longer end with “physical violence and abusive language”. And added “And that’s how I understand the role of a prime-minister — to guarantee the safety and freedom for people to express their opinions, with whom I don’t always agree”. According to Mr Tusk “with many demands expressed at the Warsaw pride every decent person would agree. No one can be discriminated, everyone should be equal in rights, and should be able to count on tolerance and friendliness from others”.

It is a different language then what we used to hear during the reign of the Law and Justice party and Kaczynski brothers. But no difference in policies.

It proves that time itself won’t change anything for the better. If we want things to change, we have to fight for it, we have to fight for our freedom and dignity, we have to make LGBT rights a matter of political dispute. We have to be active and organise ourselves – no one will give us anything, we have to take it for ourselves.

– – – – – –
Big thanks to the authors of the pictures for their consent to have them used in this post.

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45 thoughts on “Liberté! Égalité! Homosexualité!

  1. guest says:

    british ref robbed us !

  2. Pawel says:

    I know! Right?
    Can they take it back?

  3. Eh, they gave Poland the first goal and, basically, took it back later.

    Also, Pawel: What else can I say other than …my wife and I fully support you and anyone else fighting for tolerance/acceptance, more rights, etc for GLBT’s. Good luck, god speed and ’nuff said.

  4. scatts says:

    Pawel, lots of support from this house also! I’m afraid I’m a bit old fashioned and so can be inclined to say the wrong thing from time to time but my heart’s in the right place. As soon as Poland realises that mixing church and state doesn’t work, you’ll get what you want because the country really has no option already and when they split church from state they’ll have no excuse either.

    The British ref was simply displaying a very English sense of fair play. Poland should have been down 26 – 0 after about 30 minutes because they forgot to put their defenders on the pitch when the game started. Then a Brazilian (Polish citizen for all of 2 months) got a goal in an offside position even more dodgy than Nistelrooy’s, so it really wouldn’t be fair to let Austria leave without at least a draw.

    Anyway, the ref had already warned the players to “calm down” about 1 minute before the free kick but they paid no attention and continued climbing all over the Austrians and very obviously pulling shirts. Asking for trouble, IMO.

    How about this – If Poland beat Croatia but don’t qualify because Germany beat Austria I promise to feel a bit sorry for you?!

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/main.jhtml?xml=/sport/2008/06/08/sfnpad308.xml

  5. island1 says:

    This has to be the world’s weirdest mixed-theme comment thread!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Poland had defenders on the pitch but obviously not the right ones.

    Bak hasn’t been up to the task for the past five years. Jop is horrendous.

    The pawing on that penalty was over the top — the PK call was deserved.

    Does Poland have any strikers who can actually score in big games?

    They do fine passing around mid-field but can’t move up except for maybe a foray or two a half.

  7. guest says:

    BTW ,thank you Ireland ! :D

  8. ifyouaskme says:

    Things are getting better and that is what counts. Still there is a long road ahead of us.

  9. […] of Polish homophobia. (Thanks to Google Translation…) In the meanwhile Pawel published a very strong and positive article about the Warsaw Pride on Polodian. To be […]

  10. DC says:

    @island1: it’s more than weird.

    Pawel –

    Great post. I would love to hear more about your point #4, that Poles in general are not eager to associate. Is it apathy? Something else?

    I hope you are not discouraged by the numbers. Good leadership is rare in most situations. The marchers are making it safer for the rest of the 1.5 m to consider being honest about their identity in at least a portion of their lives. The more routine political expression becomes, the safer it is. I think that’s where the real payoff is, on the personal level. When some of those with hardened hearts eventually decide that we are not automatically pedophiles and *gasp* may even strive to live moral lives, just as many straight people do. It’s easier to have backward ideas when one is convinced he knows no gay people. No son, sister, or co-worker.

    It takes time as well as activism. It’s great to see things happening in Poland.

    –dave

  11. Jolanta says:

    Pawel: I cannot say I wish I had been there because I usually get lost in the crowd and I also lose my nerve each time I see the Mlodzież Wszechpolska or the supporters of Rydzyk, which makes taking part in any march/parade a dangerous pastime (more dangerous to me than to those semi-nazi men and ‘mohair’women). I do support the cause, though.

    There is a gay man in my family; he has been living with another man for years now but we still pretend they are just friends. It seems that everybody knows what is going on (even the children in the family) but we never talk about it; the men have never “come out” so I assume that they prefer the current state of affairs. One of them is a pediatrician; you know probably better than me that in Poland homosexuality is commonly associated or even equated with paedophilia. I am absolutely sure that if he decided to reveal his sexual identity, he would lose his job in a surgery as well as the private patients (most of them at least).

    J.

  12. ilyich ulyanov says:

    Weird only if one assumes gay and gay-friendly folks are not into football.

    C’mon, it’s Euro 2008!

    Just because youse Britz din qualify….

    Prolly too much cricket on the brain.

  13. island1 says:

    And now Lenin is using words like ‘prolly.’ I may have slipped into a parallel universe without noticing.

    For god’s sake, somebody post something about football to keep these people occupied!

  14. DC says:

    Scatts has over at 20 East. He’s got 3 posts in the last couple of days.

  15. island1 says:

    What Scatts gets up to in the privacy of his own blog is his own affair; don’t ask. don’t tell.

  16. DC says:

    Jolanta – sometimes people don’t come out even though the situation is obvious in order not to risk losing the level of acceptance they have already, either at home or at work. It can always get worse, especially with his profession.

    Alternately, good family relationships can simply be good enough. My parents are from Poland and I know they love me and my lesbian sister. I think my part of the bargain is not to make them talk about uncomfortable things. It does not diminish our love for each other.

    Island1 – you’ve managed to link the topics. Nice one.

    –dave

  17. darthsida says:

    Island, let’s merge the topics?

  18. ilyich ulyanov says:

    Cisse’s not gay?

  19. Pawel says:

    @Brad Zimmerman

    Thanks :)

    Not sure I agree about the goals though;))

    @scatts

    Thanks for the support! Hope to see you there next year;) The church… yes… well this is an issue of its own… I don’t think their policies will work well for them in the long run… Although officially the Church doesn’t have an oppressive attitude, but it comes out a bit different in practice…
    And that concept that openness and friendliness towards gay people would threaten families… I just don’t understand. Do they think everyone would become gay or something? The society is totally heteronormative, but that doesn’t make gay people straight…

    And it is also a public secret that the percentage of gay people among the clergy is larger than within the general public. Church was for many grim decades a safe place for people (especially the poor, or those from the countryside) who didn’t want to have wives and kids: no one asked questions. And they got a good source of income, and public respect.
    Could it be that there is some kind of internalised fear for the contained homoeroticism within the Church? – and it manifests itself in those illogical attacks on gay people?
    Mhmm

  20. Pawel says:

    @island1

    It should get a special prize.

    @Anonymous

    Boruc was good though:)

    @guest

    You mean for rejecting the EU treaty? I’m not sure about this one. Most likely scenario is that other countries will move forward with ratification… And then Ireland in the end will be given a choice of either re-run the referendum or leave the EU. The current treaty was too much work of all the governments to throw it to the trashcan. If France, Germany of the UK rejected it – something would need to change. Irland – mhm. Unlikely.

  21. Pawel says:

    @ifyouaskme

    yes there is! but what a great tradition you have in Greece! :) Plato! Sapho!

    @DC

    Thanks!
    As to the #4… I think I might do a separate post on this one… As I was particularly interested in why is this so…

    And thanks for the support. I try to tell myself the same… Although only a big and strong movement can make a real change… Maybe we just live in a postmodern era, and no one believes in the sense of any action now? I think it’s not possible for any movement to gather the crowds that were there in the 70s and 80s in Western Europe…

  22. Pawel says:

    @Jolanta

    I understand your fears, I wondered what will happen when I decided to join the Warsaw Pride the first time. To my surprise it was very safe, there were plenty of Police and also marchers outnumbered those nazis by far far far…
    Although from what I know it is not the same in the case of Krakow Pride (correct me if wrong, but I recall that is where you live…)
    Warsaw Pride is much bigger, and fascists are basically powerless.

    As to the gay guy in the family – probably it’s easier for him that way… he hadn’t come out in years, maybe he got used to? Or think it is not necessary? If I didn’t come out to my parents when I was a teenager, I don’t know if I’d do it now.

    @ilyich ulyanov

    Britain didn’t qualify – it must have been the bloc voting! :D
    They should enter separately as Scotland, England, Wales, and Merthyr Tydfil :D

    Oh, not that game! Right! :D

    @island1

    Lenin? Where? I’ll get his autograph for my gran :D

  23. Pawel says:

    @DC

    Do they invite her girlfriend to Wigilia?

  24. Pawel says:

    @ilyich ulyanov

    BTW. How do you pronounce Cisse?

  25. DC says:

    They invite her, her partner and their two children. Who are far better behaved than my straight sister’s kids (secret delight there, I admit.)

    You already are making a real change, it’s just the impact is not yet fully understood. People on the cutting edge of anything seldom get approval from the masses, at least in the short term. Poland’s path may be quite different from that in the UK, The Netherlands, or the US.

    Yes, please do a post on number 4. I think it would be quite interesting.

  26. DC says:

    Just please don’t make the post during the Olympics. heh heh.

  27. ifyouaskme says:

    Plato and Sapho, but still there is this case that is in courts these days. Sapho was born in an island called Lesvos, where teh word lesbian comes from. Actually lesbian in greek was originaly the woman from Lesvos. Now there is a court, because the habitants of Lesvos want to forbid the word lesbian to be used to describe homosexual women. So our tradition is lost in time….

  28. island1 says:

    I have a serious question: what exactly are the aims of this movement?

    Is there legislation they would like to see implemented?

    I think that most people are confused about the purpose of parades like this. People don’t understand why some gay people feel the need to publicly draw attention to their sexuality. I’d love to see a concise, clearly argued, statement of exactly what a ‘pride’ march is for.

    Pure devil’s advocacy you understand.

  29. Pawel says:

    @ island1

    Thanks for your question, I was actually waiting for something like that:)

    It’s a great topic for a chat over beer, as I could really type for quite a long time here;)

    You are pointing in the very right direction: and my answer is: I would also like the aims of my movement to be clearly stated and numbered.

    It is however the stage of forming. The largest LGBT organisation was established only in 2001 and it could have only as many as 1500 members (with only a fraction really active).

    Only this year in a first talks of all Polish LGBT organisations were held (in Krakow), and a single line is just forming slowly…
    This is very difficult, as gay people have all sorts of political views, from left to right, some of them are faithful to the Church, while others might be radical in demands.. etc.
    Apart from aims there are priorities… clearly everyone thinks something else is important, many actions go in different directions:) I, for instance see no need to talk about adoption rights for gay couples – and it is the topic that dominates tv debates in Poland. This is, imho, a fictional problem, in the time when gay people face real problems in their lives. Similarly with gay marriage. This is only my opinion, but I see it as a dead end. We shouldn’t broaden the field of “normality”, as this always leaves some people outside he norm (like the camp gay people, or gay people who don’t want to live in a stable relationship), I think emphasis should be on questioning “norms” altogether. And trying to make people understand that other people are still.. people.. with feelings etc. You might not like the way someone else is living their life, but you might argue their views, but cannot hate them.

    There are people, who think other things are more important.

    It is important to realise that this movement has much more to do than just legislation.

    You asked why draw attention to one’s sexuaity in a parade. Many gay people also asked me this: why march? why demonstrate? This will only anger ordinary people.
    There are many different reasons, the simplest is: because we can. What is the point of having freedoms, if you’re not using them?

    Other possible reasons in random order:
    – to give gay people in Poland a bit more self-esteem.
    – to show ourselves to the straight majority, 90% of whom say they don;t know a gay person. See us, and think if we are such a monsters
    – to have a holiday. it is great to see other like-minded people, nad walk freely in the street with your head up high, rather than in a gay club or in internet
    – to create a certain tradition for the gay movement. There is a calendar of events going on around the country every year.
    – to show that something is going on with the lgbt agenda. most of our activities aren’t spectacular at all, there are lots and lots of cases of discrimination (by the police, other pubic institutions, businesses etc.) that we cannot make public – either because the people involved won’t agree, or for many other reasons. There are many difficulties ahead of us as well… When we try to engage in some case involving public institution, they always seek for ways to not let us, which turnes into an endless exchange of formal letters…. etc. etc.) We are looking for precedent cases that are fit for a court fight…
    – to make people accustomed to gay people.
    – to make gay people accustomed to the fact that they don’t have to hide, or fear haters
    – someone more radical could say, why should I explain myself? It’s another way of heteronormative oppression.
    – not everyone in the LGBT community has the time, capacity or resources to engage for instance in forming programme, in developing ideas – march is something everyone can take part in.
    – and finally can there really be a clear statement for taking art in such a diverse event? All sorts of people are represnted there, probably everyone there has their own reasons

    So as you asked for legislation..
    There is need for a legislation in various fields, but legislation itself is only a piece of paper. (But there are some talks in the Ministry of Labour going on as we speak, to include sexual identity, gender expression and sexual orietntation in an anti-discrimmination act that is being constructed there)

    Legislation that I would really like to see is a legislation against hate-crimes, giving perpetrators aggravated responsibility and punishment. Currently public authorities cannot really comprehend that an attacking someone because of their characteristic (sexual orientation, skin colour, belief) is a sign, a threat to the well-being of the whole community.

    It is even more important that current legislation is actually implemented by the authorities that serve individuals. What if there is a special police-person for fighting discrimination and inequalities, if it doesn’ work – or quite to the contrary – is making things more difficult? Etc. etc.

    And finally – a movement is not about letting other people do work for you, and you sitting there comfortably at home. Everyone needs to engage. And here you have another reason for a parade: motivate other gay people to move their arse from the couch or bar stool in a gay club.

  30. Pawel says:

    @ifyouaskme

    I’ve heard about this case:) Local media reported on that. Very funny they decided to go to court, the name for ‘lesbian’ is a cultural thing, like many other names and proverbs that come from ancient times
    like ‘platonic love’, ‘babel tower’, ‘forbidden fruit’, ‘Egyptian darkness’

  31. Pawel says:

    @DC

    Thanks.. you are right about the mass aproval… I usually don;t think about it like that:>

    reminds me of tha quote from Gandhi
    First they ignore you,
    then they ridicule you,
    then they fight you,
    then you win.

    Re: Olympics: eheheh:))

  32. […] writes about and posts pictures from the gay pride parade that took place in Warsaw on June 7. Posted by Veronica Khokhlova Share […]

  33. May I add senator Barack Obama to this thread, who says:

    “While we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do….”

    More here: http://pride.barackobama.com/page/content/lgbthome

  34. homobrytyska says:

    What a wierd and wonderful thread and SO nice of you to have my photo! ;-) pink british flag ;-)
    If you were happy about the rainbow flag na ambassadie then maybe you could write a quick email to info@britishembassy.pl
    There is a lot of support for LGBT in Poland, in Wielika Brytanja if you see what I mean and we really hoped the flying of the rainbow flag at the embassy WOULD be good for morale. We are now working on the British Embassy in Hungary and Slovenija and Zagreb for Prides on 5th July, 21st June and 28th June respectively.

    Wiwa Polska! Wiwa Nowa Polska! And as for Pan Tusk he should be sorting out thew voting system which currently gives the Kaczynskis 1 million vote advantage (thats how many Polish citizens couldn’t vote in the UK alone!) notr spending time in that Gayest of all resorts in Poland nad morze!

  35. Pawel says:

    Thanks homobrytyska!

    Are you that girl who was wearing green dress and waving pink Union Jack during the pride? OMG you were so totally wonderful! :) I waved at you with my tiny rainbow flag and you smiled back:)
    I saw you on QueerTV, it was your initiative to have the rainbow flag upon the mast. Thank you! This was meaningful for many people. It is possible for public institutions to engage!

    I actually already sent a thank you note to the Embassy:)

    Good luck with Budapest, Ljubljana and Zagreb! Will you take part in pride in every of these cities?

    And will you be in London for the pride? I will:))

    Yeah, Sopot is the summer gay capital of Poland – good place for a Polish PM, huh?:)

  36. Pawel says:

    island1, Scatts and other Brits… How did it happen thet British attitude to gay people changed? How did it come about in Britain? What caused it?

  37. scatts says:

    This is a bit tongue-in-cheek but what gave impetus to the change was an awful lot of celebrities and generally newsworthy people “coming out”. But we didn’t have a nation ruled by the RC church to deal with.

  38. kaczor says:

    Hi Pawel,
    Enjoyed your posting and your responses to comments. I lived in Poland for 4+ years and experienced first-hand gay life there. As much as I enjoyed my time in Poland, I couldn’t see myself as an old man there. In fact, because I couldn’t honestly promise I’d stay indefinitely, my relationship broke off.
    But what an experience it was to be in a relationship with a guy who didn’t speak English! Best excuse for learning the native language! His father had died in a car accident so he felt obligated to ask his widowed mother to move in with him, which she did, all the time being in the closet to his family. In the states people would put two and two together, but in Poland people seemed to be oblivious (or just didn’t want to deal with it). Whereas in the states I’m out to practically everyone, in Poland I was only out to my close friends.
    I’m glad to hear that things are getting easier for GLBTs over there.

  39. Pawel says:

    @scatts

    thanks… and true… so I should be rather asking this to someone from Ireland or Spain?:)

    @kaczor

    Thanks for your comment kaczor (what a nickname! ehehe)

    I laughed when you said that people weren’t able to put two and two together… well I can recognise some things from my environment there;) For some people homosexuality is really the last ever thing on their mind… they can assume all other things, but not that:)

    And a relationship of people not speaking their languages? Mhmm, at least you didn’t have to talk everything over;)

    You lived in Poland and had your own experiences maybe you would be interested in writing a guest post for this blog?

  40. kaczor says:

    @pawel
    In America, people suspect that a 40 year old “kawalier” may be gay. In Poland, it seemed that if you didn’t fit the stereotype, you weren’t a “suspect.”
    I sent an e-mail to you about writing for your blog to polandianguest@gmail.com. Please let me know if you didn’t get it.
    kaczor

  41. Pawel says:

    @kaczor
    40-yo kawaler? “maybe he’s not even bothered” :)
    (unless he’s a fashionista, and does a monthly column for Aktivist) lol

    ps. I did get it, and I even replied:) check your mailbox

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