Poland: Eastern Europe’s largest ever gay rights demonstration

20,000 people marched along the streets of Warsaw on 17 July on what was Eastern Europe’s largest ever gay rights demonstration.

Significantly, not only Poland’s LGBT community took part, but also heterosexuals who wanted to express their solidarity with the parade and oppose discrimination due to sexual orientation. Many heterosexual couples also brought their children along to the march.

But whilst the overwhelming mood of the parade was joy and fun, it was nevertheless political too. The parade, which was the culmination of a week of events forming part of Poland’s Europride 2010, demanded a change in the law to allow same-sex civil partnerships. Connected with this were demands for the possibility to have joint property rights, to submit joint tax declarations as heterosexual married couples do, to have custody of the partner’s children, and the right to decide about medical treatment for an unconscious partner.

Sexuality in Poland

Over the last 20 years, since the beginning of the restoration of capitalism in Poland, there have been growing contradictions in Polish society in the sphere of sexuality. On the one hand, we have seen an increase in access to information and knowledge about sexual matters thanks to Poland’s opening up to the west and technical improvements in comunication such as the internet. On the other hand, connected with this is the increased commercialisation of sex, with the exploitation of the female body in order to sell products, as well as the growth of the porn industry. Finally, in contrast to these processes we can see an attempt to throw Poland back to the Middle Ages and stupefy the population.

This has involved a massive increase in power and privileges for the church during this period, the introduction of religious education (most often taught by a catholic priest or nun) in state schools at the expense of sexual education, the outlawing of abortion and other attacks on womens’ reproductive rights. Moreover, the woman’s role in the family has been promoted co the state can save on childcare and care of the elderly. The most important element in this campaign has been the promotion of the only acceptable family model (man, woman and two or more kids) and a massive campaign against homosexuality.

Besides the campaign for the traditional heterosexual family model, another reason for the institutionalised attacks against homosexuality is the widespread unemployment and poverty which means the ruling class need a scapegoat to divert attention from the real causes of peoples’ problems and divide the population.

Victimisation of gays and lesbians

Last year an EU report condemned Poland for its institutionalised victimisation of gays and lesbians in Poland e.g. in the police, schools and government as well as in the workplace. The report noted as disturbing the numerous cases of verbal aggression and even physical threats against gays and lesbians among the statements of Polish politicians. One example cited in the report was the late President Lech Kaczyński, who as Mayor of Warsaw banned the Equality Parade in May 2005 and encouraged the far right to make protests. Other politicians in Kaczyński’s camp even encouraged physical attacks. According to an EU report, on this occasion the basic right to gather was violated. In the aftermath of Kaczyński’s remarks, there was an upsurge in physical attacks against gays and lesbians.

This conscious effort on the part of the Polish establishment explains the rise in intolerance and discrimination against gays and lesbians. However, the other side of this process is the increase in the number of people who wanted to express their solidarity and protest against such discrimination. The size of this year’s demonstration is an indication of this growing support for gay and lesbian rights in Poland in recent years. Five years ago only 33% of Varsovians approved of the Equality Parade, whilst a recent opinion poll showed that this year 45% approve and 44% disapprove.

This poll and the Europride demo are encouraging signals. However, in order to end discrimination of gays and lesbians and achieve equality, the LGBT movement in Poland should join forces with the womens’ movement and the movements of the wider working class especially the trade unions. The struggle against all forms of discrimination, oppression and exploitation can only succeed in a common struggle against their root cause – capitalism.

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August 2010