The latest wave of protests follows the arrest of non-binary activist Margot Szutowicz, which has resulted in an intensifying standoff between the LGBTQ+ rights movement and the conservative government
On August 7, hundreds of LGBTQ+ protesters packed the streets in Warsaw to demonstrate against the arrest of a local activist. 22-year-old Margot Szutowicz, a non-binary activist and co-founder of queer collective Stop Bzdurom (Stop Bullshit), had been arrested back in June for allegedly causing damage to a truck that had been promoting anti-LGBTQ+ homophobia, but was released shortly after.
Margot was re-arrested on August 7, after a court order condemned her to a two-month pre-trial detention. From there, protests broke out in the Polish capital. Demonstrators attempted to perform a blockage around the unmarked police car taking Margot into custody, while chants of “You will not lock all of us up” filled the streets. During the arrest, Margot was verbally assaulted with “transphobic comments and jokes,” a Stop Bzdurom member told PinkNews. 48 protesters were detained that day, which has become the catalyst for an ongoing wave of LGBTQ+ demonstrations being dubbed as the ‘Polish Stonewall’.
While protests have been raging in Poland for months, the most recent events follow the reelection of fiercely anti-LGBTQ+ president Andrzej Duda on July 12. Since taking office in 2015, Duda, who heads the right-wing party PiS (Law and Justice), has weaponised the Catholic nation’s homophobic leanings to pave the way for his reelection, deeming LGBTQ+ rights “destructive to man” and pledging to ban same-sex civil unions.
Since his reelection, nearly 100 Polish municipalities – roughly a third of the country – have implemented “LGBTQ+-free zones”, declaring themselves “free from LGBTQ+ ideology”. Anti-LGBTQ+ groups have launched smear campaigns linking homosexuality to paedophilia, while ministers are comparing them to Nazis.
Solidarity marches have cropped up from Hungary to New York to London, while those unable to attend have flooded social media with information and bail funds. Below, we speak to Polish LGBTQ+ activists about their experiences.
This is the way Polish homophobic president treats lgbt activists. In his opinion those people are 'ideology' not people. Everything you can see in this video happened some minutes ago in Warsaw while police was arresting one of activists. RT to spread the world! 🏳️🌈 pic.twitter.com/3l6gz7YHwO— O. (@fetishofsel) August 7, 2020
Justyna is a local government worker, an LGBTQ+ activist, and member of the board of the Queerowy Maj association (an LGBTQ+ organisation in Krakow)
“The situation of LGBTQ+ people in Poland has deteriorated significantly since PiS took power, our community has been the target of brutal attacks and has been used in a disgusting election campaign. Anti-LGBTQ+ zones have been implemented and we have been repeatedly beaten and attacked on the streets of Polish cities, not only during marches equality but also in totally random situations. Now our state has launched a system of repression and intimidation of activists. Why? Because they know they’ve already lost.
I have been involved in the fight for the rights of LGBTQ+ people since 2015. We have been standing on the streets for years, reacting to violence, organising equality marches, standing up for our dignity: the right to feel safe and free in our own homeland. I have experienced and seen a lot. However, I‘ve never been as scared as I am today. The amount of hatred directed at us has exceeded all limits. Now I don’t have the courage to grab my girlfriend’s hand in public, even in Krakow where I’ve never been afraid before. Last autumn, I organised the first Equality March in my hometown in southern Poland – the scale of homophobia exceeded my wildest expectations. I expected it to be bad, but not that bad. Homophobic propaganda falls on a very fertile ground in Poland, we have been made an enemy and a threat to our homeland, to Polish families. People listen to it, believe it, and jump at us with their fists in a sense of heroism.
tw // violence, homophobia— #MuremZaMargot in English (@withmargot_eng) August 16, 2020
Lately there have been a few cases of homophobic hate crimes in Warsaw, where people were viciously beaten up. Yet, the media keeps portraying our community as aggressive.#PleaseHelpPoland#PolishStonewall#MuremZaStopBzduromhttps://t.co/dEfmvfp2Cq
Throughout all my years of activism, I have seen stones, bottles, and firecrackers flying towards us. I’ve heard hateful shouts, threats and death wishes. I’ve seen blood, crying, and people being thrown out of their homes by homophobic parents. More and more we hear about the suicides of young LGBTQ+ people in our country. It is all the fault of this systemic campaign against our community. We just don’t have the strength anymore.
The Polish LGBTQ+ community is simply fed up, they have released all the fittings of state devices on us, homophobia is pouring out of public television, church pulpits, and vans driving around the streets of Polish cities (from which we can learn, among others, that homosexuals are pedophiles who rape children and spread venereal diseases), the Polish president claims that we are not people, but ideology. When we try to react in a legal way, we are ignored, cases are canceled, nobody is interested in anything. We are powerless, and these are not things that can be endured in peace any longer.
The Polish Stonewall is yet to come. In people, anger and bitterness arises, helplessness turns into strength. More and more people want to get involved in our organisation. The actions of the police are terrifying for us, but they also encourage us to fight mobilising. We will not go back now, we will not be silenced.
As an activist, a lesbian living in the ‘LGBTQ+ free zone’, I will not allow myself to constantly live in fear for my future. I will not give up, I will fight until the end.”
Magdalena is an actress, photographer, conceptual artist, and LGBTQ+ activist
“For the first time in our history, countries and continents outside of Poland are in this fight. Friends from all over the world are invested in this matter. Homophobia must stop. We cannot forget that Poland is an EU country and the EU must protect LGBTQ+ rights. We want homophobia to be illegal in Poland. It’s time for a revolution.
I lived abroad for 16 years before moving back to Poland because of coronavirus in March. I was shocked that the situation was this bad. A man threatened to slit my throat open, while another verbally assaulted me for wearing a rainbow on my t-shirt (it was My Little Pony and had nothing to do with LGBTQ+).
What is happening in Poland right now might put this country on the covers of foregin magazines for all bad reasons. Our community is constantly facing hate from all different directions. But we are not the ones to give up. #muremzamargot#PolishStonewall#LGBTPOLANDpic.twitter.com/tK50bOUGS6— misia 🌈 (@xkumah_) August 9, 2020
There’s a big difference between Stonewall and ‘Polish Stonewall’ because it’s not only a Polish problem, but a European issue too. The European Union must ban homophobia and LGBTQ+ people must obtain human rights and law protection in Poland. They must be recognised as people, not an ideology.
The more of us, the more power we will have. Protesters, their families, and friends should be on the streets showing their support. We also need to post on social media and contact foreign press. Polish television and radio stations mostly belong to the state and no longer report on the protests. But we have you. Homophobia is a global issue and we will be heard.”
Marta is a lesbian living in Poland, a teacher, writer and cultural researcher. In 2010, she came out in Gazeta Wyborcza, writing a large text about homophobia in Polish schools
“What is happening now looks something out of the 1920s and 30s. Fascist thinking is on the rise, as is nationalism. Margot Szutowicz’s arrest is a political matter because they’re the first political prisoner since 1989, when Poland regained its freedom and became a so-called democratic country. Margot’s a non-binary person and they’re young.
Those who are fighting for freedom and autonomy now in Poland are very young, sometimes children. It’s these people who go to the Presidential Palace to dance in the name of freedom. And it’s these same people who are captured, detained, and punished by the police.
I’m already tired of this long battle for freedom that I’ve been fighting for since 2010. I’m worn out, defeated, but I am from a previous generation and the new one is more numerous, stronger.
I have tears in my eyes when I go to these demonstrations and see these beautiful young women and men. These are the faces of freedom today and it’s incredibly moving.”
Mariusz is the Client Technology Representative for CWT and a volunteer at REPLIKA
“I'm an almost 28 year old gay guy, living in Warsaw for nine years already. I grew up in Nidzica, a small city in northern Poland, and during my exams I decided to move out and start a new, decent life, far away from homophobic people.
When it comes to ‘Polish Stonewall’ – this is just the tip of the iceberg. After the whole action about Margot, Poland was in a turmoil. The time has come unprecedentedly, where we have to fight for our own dignity and for people not to call us only by our ideology, but to consider us as people.
This is just the beginning of my activist adventure. I have been volunteering for the only LGBTQ magazine, Replica, for some time. I was never afraid to live in this country, but now I'm starting to fear. People from extreme backgrounds have a negative attitude towards us and we know we will have to fight hard. I will definitely not give up. I fight for myself, my friends, relatives and acquaintances. The Polish government doesn't make it easy. Many people decide to leave here to take the stress off their shoulders, to not worry about whether they can hold hands with their significant other and not fear being attacked. I wish such for Poland, but unfortunately, it will be many, many years before it happens.
I think there has come a time when we unite, the so-called resistance movement, which we already heard about in history lessons. They will not stop fighting for their rights, for a dignified life, for respect and trust.”