Thousands rallied in Warsaw for the largest Pride parade in central Europe, taking a defiant stand against the rising tide of homophobia in Poland.
Marchers gathered amid a sea of rainbow flags for the Warsaw equality parade on Saturday (19 June), with the city’s mayor Rafal Trzaskowski marching at the head in a prominent sign of support.
Postponed for two years due to COVID, the event marked the 20th anniversary since Warsaw’s first ever Pride – yet the celebrations were tinged with fear for the future in the heavily Catholic, largely conservative nation.
“The day of the parade is always a bittersweet moment for our community,” said Rafal Wojtczak, a spokesman for the organisers, adding that “our community has been used in a political war”.
He described feelings of sadness and helplessness that LGBT+ people have not achieved rights like same-sex partnership or marriage in Poland, while also facing new threats.
Just days before the march, Hungary’s nationalist government, strongly allied with Poland, passed a chilling law that bans any discussion of LGBT+ people in schools and in the media. Just a single independent lawmaker voted against it.
One prominent Polish LGBT+ activist, Bart Staszewski, marched with a Hungarian flag as message to the EU: “Poland will be next.”
It’s a legitimate fear in a country that’s becoming ever more polarised by its far-right government, which persistently positions LGBT+ people as a corrosive threat to so-called traditional values.
Among the latest threats is a horrifying new bill that would ban Pride parades altogether; it’s backed by Poland’s influential Catholic church, the leader of the governing party and more than 200,000 other homophobes.
“We’ve been through a very, very rough time,” said Miroslawa Makuchowska, vice director of Campaign Against Homophobia. “But at the same time we are going out in the streets and we are saying we are stronger, and we are not going to give up.”