Poles march in support of LGBT rights
Thousands of Poles have marched through the city of Plock in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, which has emerged as the central campaign issue ahead of the October 13 general election.
The Law and Justice (PiS) government has sought to rally its conservative base by presenting itself as a defender against LGBT groups, which it portrays as a threat to Roman Catholic values.
The church has also described gay people as a threat, with a leading cleric recently denouncing a “rainbow plague.”
PiS politicians and senior clerics have unleashed a series of verbal attacks against gay people, accusing them of promoting an ideology alien and being dangerous to Poland.
Last month, extremists hurled bricks and bottles at the first LGBT march in the city of Bialystok in the conservative east. To avoid further violence in Plock – which has 120,000 citizens and is northwest of Warsaw – numerous riot police were deployed. Organisers said that more than 2,000 people — many waving European Union and rainbow flags — joined the march. Several hundred counter-protesters shouted abuse and whistled at the marchers.
“We have to be for freedom,” said Robert Biedroń, a new MEP and leader of the Wiosna movement. “We want to convert [PiS head Jarosław] Kaczyński [pictured] and the Catholic church.”
The police recorded no serious incidents but the ramping up of political rhetoric and the violence in Bialystok has left many members of the Polish LGBT community deeply uneasy. “Bialystok and the things that happened around the march were a tipping point in the public discourse regarding LGBTI issues in Poland and this part of Europe as well,” said Slava Melnyk from KPH, an anti-homophobia organisation. “Physical violence was very rare, at least in this decade in Poland. Previously there were instances of hate crime violence . . . but to the extent that there was hunting of people and an almost pogrom-like atmosphere, this hasn’t happened before.”
Marchers in Plock made similar comments. “I came because I am opposed to discrimination and to what happened in Bialystok . . . I don’t want certain groups to feel discriminated against and to be afraid to go on the streets,” said Olga from Warsaw. “We don’t have full rights . . . and sometimes we are attacked for who we are. Luckily as a woman, less happens to me, but I have male friends who have been physically attacked . . . and we can’t allow this in Poland.”
PiS head Jarosław Kaczyński. Populism has gripped Poland since 2015. Picture credit: Flickr