Wednesday

17th Jul 2019

Interview

Gay rights face backlash in Poland

  • 50,000 people took part in Warsaw Pride this year, Chaber said, compared to some 20,000 in previous times (Photo: Lan Pham)

When thugs smashed the windows of a Polish gay-rights NGO, KPH, in Warsaw last year, police put guards outside for a few months.

But dodgy-looking men kept loitering outside and when the police left, KPH suffered two more attacks.

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  • Chaber: Homophobic thugs feel "let loose" in Kaczynski's Poland (Photo: kph.org.pl)

Thugs smashed its windows again in May this year, the NGO’s president, Agata Chaber, told EUobserver in Brussels on Thursday (29 June).

The police are back, but so are the dodgy-looking men.

“They’re quite obvious. They sometimes wear nationalistic T-shirts … They’re keeping an eye on our premises, checking if the police are still there,” Chaber said.

The T-shirts show how homophobia is mixed up with xenophobia in Poland.

The attacks also show that an anti-gay backlash in Polish society is becoming more hardcore.

Poland’s right-wing government does not openly back it, but it has created a climate in which those who hate gay people feel “let loose," Chaber said.

Things are worse outside big cities.

Gdansk, Lodz, Krakow, Poznan, Warsaw, and Wroclaw were “islands” of toleration, Chaber said.

“They’re not fully safe. People can be out, but they probably wouldn’t walk hand-in-hand in the street … but in other parts of the country, people can’t come out at work, they rarely tell their parents, it’s very difficult to come out in schools, and they [LGBTI people] don’t have any meeting spaces”, Chaber said.

KPH helps gay people to prosecute attackers, but there is no such thing as a homophobic crime in Polish law.

It helps gay people fight other forms of discrimination, but this can also be an uphill struggle.

Polish courts recently ruled that a firm was wrong to refuse to print a pro-LGBTI banner, but Zbigniew Ziobro, the Polish justice minister, has criticised the verdict and promised to intervene.

Brussels to Warsaw

Chaber spoke to EUobserver shortly before flying home to Warsaw after attending a gay-rights fundraiser in Brussels.

The event, organised by Ilga-Europe, a gay-rights NGO, on Wednesday highlighted the gap between life in Poland and the EU values it is meant to espouse.

Three EU commissioners - Sweden’s Cecilia Malmstroem, Guenther Oettinger from Germany, and Elzbieta Bienkowska, a politician from a Polish opposition party - went to show support.

“Celebrating diversity today,” Malmstroem tweeted, adding a rainbow emoji.

Oettinger, who made the news last year for homophobic remarks, told the Politico website on Wednesday that Germany should legalise same sex marriage. “We are a union of values”, he said.

“It’s a very good sign that he was there,” Chaber said.

Chaber added that the Warsaw Pride march in June, which was backed by the Commission and by 18 EU ambassadors in Poland, had “skyrocketed” in size compared to previous years.

“There were huge numbers of families with children, and the relatives, friends, and work colleagues of LGBTI people. There were even boy scouts, who carried a banner that said: ‘Love thy neighbour’,” Chaber said.

There was also a heavy police presence and some loitering thugs.

“We have a general trend in society that’s more and more pro [LGBTI rights], but then we have a minority that is against and that is becoming more radical,” Chaber said.

Angry white men

Chaber said the radicals tended to be white, straight men with links to neo-Nazi groups.

They felt empowered, Chaber said, because the ruling Law and Justice party had cultivated ties with nationalist groups who organised Poland’s independence day marches for the past seven years.

The KPH chief said the Polish government fostered the idea that Poland belonged to “white, gendered, Catholic” people and that gay people or Muslim refugees were a “threat” to Polish identity.

“We’ve seen attacks on LGBTI organisations, but also racist crimes, getting more violent and no one from the government is speaking out or trying to stop it,” Chaber said.

Right-wing NGOs, such as Ordo Juris, Fundacja PRO, or Stopaborcji.pl were also promoting homophobia more aggressively in the name of family names, Chaber added.

“We can see that they are getting more funding, but there is no transparency on where it comes from,” Chaber said.

With Germany voting to legalise same-sex marriages this week, Chaber said many Poles would find it “shameful” that their country lagged behind.

But Chaber said others would see it as a sign of the “rotten West” in line with Law and Justice’s anti-EU rhetoric.

Kaczynski

Chaber said that the Law and Justice party chief, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a confirmed bachelor, had attracted speculation about his own sexuality in Polish media.

But Chaber said that even if Kaczynski was outed he would still be the kind of quietist gay man that he and his party approved of.

“I don’t think Kaczynski hates gay people. He just doesn’t like activists and he thinks our claims to equality are wrong,” Chaber said.

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