“We will not cease to exist just because they hate us”

Peoples Dispatch talks to Magdalena Pająk, Polish LGBTQ+ rights activist who works with the Equality Parade, Poland, about the future of LGBTQ+ rights in the country at a time of a major right-wing pushback.

August 31, 2019 by Muhammed Shabeer
LGBT Rights-Poland-Interview
People participate in an LGBTQ pride march in Poland, one of the many being organized this year. The LGBTQ community in Poland faces threats from right-wing forces and sections of the Catholic Church.

LGBTQ+ rights groups and activists in Poland face constant threats from right wing groups, including the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), and from sections of the Catholic Church. The PiS has essentially declared a purge of LGBTQ+ rights in the country by making it their major campaign slogan in the upcoming national elections in October. Peoples Dispatch spoke with Magdalena Pająk, volunteer at the Equality Parade (Parada Równości), Poland, regarding the current status of LGBTQ+ rights in the country and the atrocities faced by the LGBTQ+ community from right wing groups.

Peoples Dispatch (PD): What is the current status of LGBTQ+ rights in Poland compared to other countries in Eastern Europe and in general, the whole of Europe?

Magdalena Pająk (MP): Poland doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage. There is also no provision for registered partnerships. As such, same-sex couples can’t adopt children. As for transgender people, the transition is hard and takes years, as they are required to undergo medical treatments. There are no laws concerning non-binary people. This situation seems similar to other countries in Eastern Europe.

PD: It has been reported that almost 24 pride parades have been scheduled in Poland this year. Are there any specific reasons for organizing such a large number of parades instead of a single large pride march in the capital?

MP: Almost 30 pride marches are being organized this year. It is hard to keep count as more and more people decide to organize the event. It is because LGBTQ+ people live in many places in Poland and some find it difficult to make the journey for the pride march in Warsaw. They also want to show their existence in their hometowns, which is extremely important right now, when we take into account the current political situation in Poland. The Catholic Church in Poland spreads lies about the LGBTQ+ community, even calling us a “disease” or a “plague”. That is why people decided to march, to show everyone that we are normal people who you meet everyday at school, work, shops. The marching season started in March and it will probably end in October or November, though it is hard to say, at this point. Practically every weekend there is a march and sometimes even two in one weekend, for example on September 7 there is a march in Katowice, and on September 8, in Konin.

PD: Why have there been attacks on pride parades in certain places in Poland? Who are the perpetrators?

MP: The attackers are mainly pseudo-fans of football and members of highly nationalistic, neo-fascist organizations. Also, the Catholic Church in Poland is to blame as many priests and even bishops, who are high up in the Church’s hierarchy, enable and encourage these attacks, saying that LGBTQ+ people are a threat to Poland and its culture. Poland’s main television program, which is government-controlled, also often presents fake materials and videos, manipulating the truth about pride parades in Poland. Many citizens, unfortunately, watch this news and believe it to be true.

PD: Who are the major forces in Poland that oppose LGBTQ+ rights and pride parades? What are their major arguments and campaigns?

MP: One of the major antagonists of LGBTQ+ people in Poland is the Roman Catholic Church, which is very respected here. The bishops and other officials claim that being gay is against nature. They also legitimize attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, at times even thanking the attackers for their valiant fight to ‘save Poland’. There are also many campaigns that involve driving trucks with statements written on them, like “homosexuals are pedophiles” and statistics that are not based on any official research. Those trucks also have speakers, such that, when they drive through the cities playing those recorded lies, it is impossible not to notice. Those recorded messages were even played through speakers at the very city center of Warsaw. Additionally, the neo-fascist organizations fighting LGBTQ+ initiatives, present themselves as saviors of the country.

PD: What kind of support have you received from the Polish society in general? Which sections and organizations are supporting LGBTQ+ rights in the country?

MP: In everyday conversations, it seems that more and more people accept LGBTQ+ community and are positive about the topic of registered partnership, which they accept. There is a problem on the topic of adoption, the views here are very divided. However, it is hard to tell for sure, as people from the capital have a very different perspective from people in other places. In many places, homophobia is the dominant viewpoint. Right now, the opposition, the leftist political parties, support LGBTQ+ rights. In their campaigns before the election, they stressed the need to introduce the concept of legal partnership in Poland.

PD: What are your future plans of action to advance LGBTQ+ rights in the country and to withstand the assaults from the conservative right-wing sections?

MP: We want to continue marching and organizing new marches. There is an upcoming election in Poland, so we hope that people will choose a government that will let the citizens live – all the citizens, also LGBTQ+ ones. Right now, we just want to keep fighting and show that we will not disappear, we will not cease to exist just because they hate us. It is hard as there is a lot of aggression in the media and many of us have been assaulted physically or verbally in these few months. However, we know that we can’t give up, we need to show the society that we as people are all alike and we do not mean any harm to anyone.