Warsaw’s pride parade comes amid fears and threats in Poland
By VANESSA GERA Associated Press
June 07, 2019 11:53 PM
The largest gay pride parade in central and Eastern Europe will bring thousands of people to the streets of Warsaw on Saturday, at a time when the LGBT rights movement in Poland is targeted by hate speech and a government campaign depicting it as a threat to families and society.
U.S., Canadian and other Western diplomats will continue a recent tradition of joining the festive Equality Parade to show their support for what is considered a basic human right in many places. In a historic first, Warsaw’s own mayor will also join it.
While many Poles in Warsaw and other cities have increasingly grown supportive of gay rights, a backlash is also underway. In recent months, officials from the right-wing ruling party have been portraying the LGBT rights movement, particularly calls for sex education stressing tolerance, as a threat to families and children.
Poland will have a record number of 20 pride parades this year. In some cases even centrist and left-wing mayors have tried to ban them, usually citing security concerns.
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Ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski recently called the LGBT rights movement a foreign import that threatens the nation’s identity. In conservative areas, town councils have been declaring their municipalities “LGBT free.”
And on the eve of the parade, a far-right journalist on public television, Rafal Ziemkiewicz, sent chills down the spines of the LGBT community.
In a tweet, he said “one must shoot at LGBT” people, before adding “not in the literal sense of course — but these are not people of good will or defenders of anybody’s rights, (the movement is) a new mutation of Bolsheviks and Nazis.”
Slava Melnyk, head of the Campaign Against Homophobia, warned about the possible consequences of such provocative language.
“His words are read by hundreds of thousands of people,” he said. “It’s possible that one of those people will take his word about shooting at LGBT people literally.”
Hubert Sobecki, head of Love Does Not Exclude, an LGBT rights group that seeks marriage equality, said the situation is particularly frightening for those young people struggling with their sexual identity. He said some are afraid to come out and some straight kids are being bullied because they are perceived as gay.
Call centers have been working to prevent suicides, but they don’t always succeed, he said.
Last month a trans girl killed herself by jumping from a bridge in Warsaw. When a group went later with a rainbow flag to the bridge to honor her, they were assaulted.
“There is lots of hate in the public media and by the ruling party, but you also have a growing movement of people realizing we are fighting for our lives,” Sobecki said. “This movement is not about luxury or privilege, it’s about the privilege of staying alive when you are a teenager. It’s about survival.”
LGBT rights became a key topic of public debate earlier this year when Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, from the centrist opposition party Civic Platform, issued an LGBT rights declaration setting out the city’s commitment to try and help find shelter for gay youth rejected by their parents. He also promised to incorporate World Health Organization guidelines on sex and tolerance education into Warsaw’s school system.
Poland’s education minister, who was sworn in Tuesday, described the LGBT rights declaration as an attempt to groom children for pedophiles and said sex education is the responsibility of families only.
By seizing on the issue, Kaczynski has managed to energize the country’s conservative base and divide the political opposition.
Kaczynski’s party, Law and Justice, celebrated an overwhelming victory in elections to the European Parliament last month.
Many in the opposition have concluded that supporting LGBT rights did not help them and are now seeking to back away from that issue ahead of national elections in the fall.
Warsaw’s pride parade is being answered a day later with a “March for Life and the Family” in 130 Polish towns. The pro-life event will open Sunday with a Mass for children and the theme this year is protecting children from sexualization.