As part of the Punk Out: Europa series, I spoke to Magdalena Świder, Board Member and Project Coordinator at Campaign Against Homophobia (KPH), a Warsaw based LGBT organization. She started working for KPH in 2011, researching the extent of homophobia in schools as part of the international "Breaking the Walls of Silence" (Daphne III Programme). Currently Magdalena co-manages "Hate No More Project - Accommodating the needs of the victims of homophobic and transphobic hate crimes - raising competences of law-enforcement institutions” (JUSTICE Programme) on the implementation of the EU Directive on the protection of the rights of victims of crimes. Magdalena is also a social psychologist (MA, Warsaw International Studies in Psychology, University of Warsaw) and an anti-discriminatory trainer (graduated TROP School for Trainers).
She kindly took some time to speak to us about the LGBT situation in Poland.
SD: Hi Magdalena, can you tell me a bit about the current situation for LGBT people living in Poland?
MS: Every 5 years KPH produces a report on the situation of LGBTs in Poland. Last report (for years 2010 and 2011) can be found here: http://www.kph.org.pl/publikacje/Raport_badania_LGBT_EN_net.pdf
This year we’re planning on repeating the research. Last time over 11,000 people have taken part in the research and this makes it the most representative report on LGBTs in the Polish history.
SD: Currently there is no recognition of same sex relationships in Poland. Do you think that the Sejm will rectify this any time soon? If not, then why?
MS: In the election last fall, Prawo I Sprawiedliwość (PiS) Party – far right party, has won and they have a majority in the Parliament. The Party is strictly against recognition of same sex relationships, they are even opposing so-called “gender ideology” and they are very close to Catholic Church in Poland. I think this will summarize what the Catholic Church in Poland and PiS Party mean when they talk about “gender ideology”:http://episkopat.pl/dokumenty/listy_pasterskie/5584.1,Pastoral_letter_of_the_Bishops_Conference_of_Poland_to_be_used_on_the_Sunday_of_the_Holy_Family_2013.html
This means that for the next 4 years there is no chance that Civil Unions or marriage equality will be introduced to the Polish legislation. KPH has been advocating for the introduction of Civil Unions for years, but unfortunately despite promises given to the LGBT community by Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska) Party that has been ruling for the past 8 years, they failed to meet our expectations. The bill of Civil Unions has been introduced to the Parliament for farther works as early as in 2004 and the Polish government hasn’t done much in this regard for 12 years now, and the LGBT community will have to wait another 4 years, before there’s a slight chance that the works on the bill will continue.
SD: What are the biggest challenges facing the Polish LGBT community?
MS: Sexual orientation and gender identity are categories, which are still missing from the Penal Code. This means that LGBTs in Poland are suffering from hate speech and hate crimes and are inadequately protected by the law. Many international organizations have pointed that Poland should take measures to fix it (eg. chapter II.2. of the ECRI report on Poland – in the attachment).
KPH has been advocating for years to introduce SOGI categories to the Penal Code, but Polish government failed to do so in previous years, and now with the far-right ruling party it’s impossible. At the beginning of this year, the Ministry of Justice has announced that the works on introducing following protected categories into the Penal Code: SOGI, age, disability and gender will not continue. Another problem is that LGBTs in Poland do not report hate crimes or hate speech in fear of secondary victimization from the law enforcement. We’re aware of the instances where Police was abusive towards LGBTs who were victims of crimes and reported it to the police. Perhaps because in my work I focus on hate crimes, I believe the biggest challenge is to make LGBTs feel safe in Poland.
SD: Do you find that the situation has improved for the LGBT community in your country in the last ten years?
MS: Without a doubt. We’ve been working very hard to increase social acceptance towards LGBTs. Even though the government has always been reluctant to changes, we managed to initiate a public debate on the topic. Here are some of the social campaigns we’ve produced:
- http://www.odwazciesiemowic.pl/ (unfortunately only in Polish)
- Ramię w Ramię – Polish celebrities speaking out in favor of equality, eg.:
- Dariusz Michalczewski (boxer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08Ym3grbBt4)
- Maryla Rodowicz (singer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzWC0Z5DAAs)
- Lao Che (band: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8dEWBVlGVOA)
- Marta Dymek (blogger, chef: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1cKTUMf7Jg)
- Zbigniew Wodecki (singer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0o2PLaFeXQ)
As for my personal feeling: In 2004 when KPH produced first ever nation-wide campaign “Let them see us” – posters of same sex couples holding hands, the posters were hanged in major Polish cities and quickly they were destroyed, eggs were threw at them and there was so much hate present around. Now when I attend KOD demonstrations in favor of democratic values and against the current authoritarian ruling party, I see people with Polish flags, flags of the EU, but also people holding rainbow flags. And this is amazing, because it seems that people who value democracy, value also equality and diversity and they seem to be very inclusive towards LGBT minority. There are also some statistics suggesting that in the last ten years social acceptance towards LGBTs have increased by 30%. Unfortunately, I cannot find a source right now.
SD: What are society's attitudes towards LGBT in Poland like? Are things easier in major cities like Warsaw and Krakow?
MS: It is definitely easier for LGBTs in Poland to live in bigger cities. The bigger the city, the more anonymity. The biggest LGBT community lives in Warsaw, as it’s the capital, and it has the biggest offer: a few clubs. But it’s difficult for me to say which other cities are attractive for LGBTs. In other cities there are usually 1-2 places (clubs, bars) or there are none. I believe the infrastructure is still insufficient. But in countryside, in Polish villages, the influence of the Church is really overwhelming. And because the Catholic Church regards homosexuality as sinful and sick, LGBTs really have a difficult life in a countryside.
SD: Warsaw played host to the EuroPride festival in 2010 - how have things changed for the community in the last six years?
MS: It’s very visible during yearly Warsaw Pride. A few years back there were always counter-manifestations and the Police forces had to protect Pride participants. Sometimes eggs were thrown at the Pride participants and after the Pride would finish, far-right hooligans would “hunt” people who would separate from the crowd to get back home. But for the past three to four years there is hardly anyone attacking the Pride. The police forces have been reduced, because there’s no need to intervene anymore. Every year there are more and more Pride participants and less and less counter-manifesters. Warsaw Pride is safe and definitely worth seeing. I think it’s so much different from Western European Prides, or American ones, because it’s not commercial at all. In Poland business sector isn’t so interested in LGBT market yet, so the companies do not sponsor the pride. It’s low-budget, but at the same time it gives it a special sense of community and it’s very inclusive towards all diversity.
SD: What are your hopes for the LGBT community in Poland and for Poland overall?
- My hope is for Poland to protect LGBTs from homo- and transphobic hate crimes
- To finally legalize Civil Unions and marriage equality in the future
- To increase acceptance towards LGBTs
About KPH: Established in 2001, The Campaign Against Homophobia (KPH) is a nation-wide public-benefit non-governmental organization with non-profit status working for the equal rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
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