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Families separated: Polish LGBTIQ activists fighting discrimination

In a country already infamous for its poor LGBTIQ rights, the coronavirus pandemic is threatening to isolate Polish LGBTIQ people even further.

But activists are overcoming the effects of a strict lockdown to mobilise virtual campaigns, continuing the fight for equality and providing a much-needed support network for the community.

LGBTIQ people in Poland have come under increased attack, particularly since last year’s parliamentary elections, when opposition to so-called “LGBT ideology” became a cornerstone of the ruling Law and Justice party’s campaign.

Hostility has become more visible, with several towns – now across an area covering a third of the country – recently declaring themselves “free from LGBT ideology” or adopting family charters that discriminate against LGBTIQ people.

‘Punishment for sins’

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated Poland’s issues.

Last month, a priest in Wrocław claimed during mass that coronavirus was “punishment for the sins of abortion and homosexuality”, and border controls have left LGBTIQ couples at risk of being split up.

The border regulations decree that foreign nationals who are married to Polish citizens can enter the country – but because Poland does not have marriage equality, this excludes same-sex couples.

In addition to increased discrimination, the pandemic has resulted in the cancellation of the Polish Equality marches and Pride celebrations, normally the only opportunity for the LGBTIQ community in Poland to come together.

Warsaw Pride Poland
Warsaw Pride. Photo: Agata Grzybowska.

‘We are marching’

Polish gay rights associations are refusing to give up the fight.

One group, Kampania Przeciw Homofobii (Campaign Against Homophobia), has started the #Maszerujemy (‘we are marching’) online challenge to ensure the topic of equal rights does not disappear from the public space.

“Visibility is one of the reasons why equality marches are organised,” says Cecylia Jakubczak from Kampania Przeciw Homofobii.

She adds that the challenge was organised both to show that LGBTIQ people exist in Poland, and to continue the fight for equality – at a time when many Polish LGBTIQ people might be forced to stay home with homophobic family members.

The virtual march encourages individuals to upload a photo or video from any previous parade to social media, along with an explanation of why they are marching, and to nominate two other friends to take part.

It has already proven popular on social media – Jakubczak says that so far the organisation thinks around 1,000 #Maszerujemy posts have been uploaded, not only by LGBTIQ people but also by allies.

“Thanks to it, this challenge was visible – and our community was visible as well,” she says.

Warsaw Pride Poland
Warsaw Pride. Photo: Agata Grzybowska.

‘Social distancing can be hard to bear’

Prominent Polish LGBTIQ activists and organisations are also taking part.

The Queerantanna Facebook group has been organised by LGBTIQ rights groups Queerowy Maj and Fundacja Równość to provide a vital place of support for the community during the pandemic.

“Since we decided on postponing our Equality March, we wanted to offer something instead,” says Ania Tereszko from Queerowy Maj.

“A platform to share interesting materials, movies, or book recommendations, topics for discussion – creating our own space for interaction.”

Group members are encouraged to take part in the #Maszerujemy campaign, as well as other virtual groups and discussions.

Administrators continuously monitor what is posted on the page to ensure it remains a safe space.

“Some of the content is prepared by our association, but it is also the place where people can share their own stuff – and they actually do so,” Tereszko adds.

“It is a great opportunity to have a closer contact with other LGBTQIA people – especially during times of social distancing, which can be really hard to bear for some of us.”

Jakubczak agrees that community is crucial during this period.

“We are trying to show that there are people willing to talk with you, to help,” she says.

“We also decided to organise [the #Maszerujemy] challenge to show our community that we are here.”

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