Recently, Polish Pride marchers were pelted with eggs and urine as brutal physical attacks on the country's LGBTQ community ramp up ahead of federal elections this weekend.
Poland's ruling right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party is expected to win 40 percent of the vote on Sunday, despite an openly anti-homophobic stance. In a press conference earlier this year the party chairman, Jarosław Kaczyński, called the LGBTQ and "gender" movements a "threat to our identity and a threat to our nation", while the archbishop of Krakow called the LGBTQ movement a "rainbow plague".
Around 30 regions in Poland have declared themselves "LGBTQ-free" zones, while for a time the government-aligned Gazeta Polska newspaper was distributing anti-LGBTQ stickers (since ruled illegal by a Polish court).
Riot police arrested tens of far-right nationalists on the 28th of September at the eastern city of Lublin's second-ever Pride march after they attempted to attack peaceful marchers. One couple was arrested after being discovered with a homemade explosive device, while Maciek Piasecki – a former editor at VICE Poland now working for Polish news service OKO.Press – was physically attacked by a group of homophobic thugs as they yelled "faggot" and threw cans of drinks at him, cutting his face and destroying his camera equipment.
At the northeastern city of Bialystok's first-ever Pride march on the 20th of July, right-wing groups hunted down peaceful protesters wearing rainbow colours to pelt them with firecrackers, rotten eggs, bottles of water and urine. At a march in Wroclaw on the 6th of October, a man was arrested for brandishing a knife at peaceful protesters, according to a Polish news site.
I asked some members of the LGBT community what it's like to live in fear of attack and how they're feeling about this weekend's elections.
Mirka Makuchowska, 37, Wrocław
Mirka is the political team leader at Campaign Against Homophobia (Kampania Przeciw Homofobii, KPH), one of the biggest pro-LGBTQ NGOs in Poland.
"I'd say the hatred and aggression towards the LGBTQ community started escalating in October, 2018, when we organised an annual effort called 'Rainbow Friday' [Tęczowy Piątek). We encourage young people, teachers and parents to show that young LGBTQ people are welcome at school. The response from then-minister of education Anna Zalewska was to personally inspect Warsaw schools in search of rainbow imagery. Teachers and principals were being intimidated, and told if a school was 'caught' organising a Rainbow Friday there would be consequences.
"The hate campaign has mainly been put into effect by the current government, the Law and Justice party, and Public TV, which has been completely overtaken by the ruling party. There's also more uniformed services activity at Pride Events, and the police started booking the participants wearing T-shirts with a white eagle [the Polish national emblem] on a rainbow background.
"Around three months ago a woman volunteered with us and started to participate in our meetings. At one meeting we noticed she was recording everything on her phone. Another time, during a socialising event, we noticed she was wearing glasses with a built-in camera. We asked her about it and she said she had memory issues and prefers to document everything. It turned out she was working for Public TV. After we found out she appeared on the doorstep of our organisation with a TV crew – probably to finish her piece. We don’t know when it’s going to air, but we’ve seen the teaser. It will be titled: LGBT Invasion.
"There has definitely been an increase of calls to our helpline. People feel threatened, they say they're afraid, that they experience hate. They are mostly young people from smaller towns and villages. Many times they've been kicked out of their homes after their parents learned their orientation, and now they have nowhere to stay. There is no official place in Poland where an LGBTQ person could go in such a situation – they can count only on themselves, or on their friends."
Agata Kubis, 42, Warsaw
Agata has been photographing demonstrations for over a decade. Agata says the March for Equality in Lublin was the first time she has been physically attacked.
"[By comparison], Warsaw Pride parades these days are pleasant, but parades in other Polish cities last year brought a wave of hate speech that started to translate into physical violence. On the 20th of July I went to Bialystok to photograph the first March for Equality organised there. The people opposing the march – football hooligans and fascists among them – were also there, not to shout their chants, but to beat us. Their screams telling us to fuck off mixed with prayers to God. I have a big grudge against the opposition parties for not reacting to this.
"In late September there was the Second March for Equality in Lublin. OKO.Press assigned me to go there as a photojournalist. Emotionally, it's always a difficult position: you have to stand by, keep doing your job, but you’re still a member of the LGBTQ community. At the time of my arrival, there were around a hundred counter-demonstrators there. You could see at first glance they wanted a fight. I spotted an aggressive man in the crowd, shouting, 'No aggression here, faggots, get the fuck out.' I wanted to take a photo of him, and then he threw a full drink can at my face. The camera I was looking through softened the blow and cut my forehead. If it wasn't for that, half of my face would have been smashed. He put his whole strength into it.
"Until recently I've felt relatively safe in Warsaw, which still remains an enclave where you can hide. Since a photo of my face was plastered around the internet – on right-wing portals, too – I've started wondering, 'What if someone recognises me?'"
Dominik Kuc, 19, Łódź
In 2018 Dominik Kuc created a guide of LGBTQ-friendly schools in Poland. He was praised, but also received a lot of hate, while some teachers and principals deemed his guide "unrepresentative" and criticised his research.
"Of course I've felt the hate speech and violence against LGBTQ people escalate during the current election campaign. Sadly, just as they did four years ago, when [the PiS] used refugees in their campaign, now LGBTQ people are under attack. For the first time I’ve heard slurs in the very centre of Warsaw, but I believe young people are aware of the problem and trying to act against such escalation.
"One example of this is the growing number of young people participating in Marches for Equality. I am going to vote – I want as many LGBTQ-friendly candidates as possible in parliament."
Patryk Chilewicz, 29 and Adam Mączewski, 29
Adam and Patryk have been a couple for four years and organise LGBTQ music events, mostly in Poland’s bigger cities: Warsaw, Krakow, Poznan, Gdynia. The biggest threat at their events is security staff hired by a club, who don’t understand the party’s theme and the boys’ colourful outfits.
Patryk: In their election campaign, the ruling party and the government have dehumanised us. They call people who are not heterosexual proponents of a "harmful ideology". The outrage and protests from the LGBTQ community are absolutely understandable to me. Personally, I might now be immune to politicians' bullshit. All my life I’ve been treated like rubbish because of my orientation. Every day I have to delete homophobic comments about us, and I try not to leave my flat if I don’t have to. I feel unwanted in this country.
Adam: I try not to take too much interest in politics, but unfortunately I have to, because politics is interested in me. Every time there is another attack I get pissed off, but also motivated to talk and write to our followers about the current situation and why it's so important to vote. I don’t feel safe on a daily basis. Both of us are harassed, verbally and sometimes physically, so we always carry pepper spray. We live in Warsaw city centre, so it’s still relatively mild. I think we would leave Poland if we could afford it.