Franek Broda, is an 18-year-old LGBTQ activist from Poland, whose uncle happens to be the current Prime Minister of the country, Mateusz Morawiecki.
He came to prominence in Poland last year when he appeared on the cover of the country’s biggest LGBTQ magazine, three weeks after his 18th birthday. After speaking out against a prominent conservative MP, Broda has become one of the most prominent LGBTQ activists in Poland. Under the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS in Polish), LGBTQ people have been demonised and discriminated against, as part of a wider toxic culture war.
In his first major interview with an English-language publication, Broda told VICE World News over Zoom why he is unafraid to speak up, how his activism has affected his family, and finding his place within the queer community.
VICE World News: What it’s like to be an 18-year-old in Poland in 2021?
Franek Broda: I can only look at it from my perspective. As I’m mostly socialising with people much older than me, my outlook can be a bit different. I never used to hang out with people from my school. I always preferred an older crowd. I’d like to believe I created my own narrative. I left home at 17 and I live alone, which definitely shaped the way I think.
I look at things through the lens of being independent and taking care of myself, making my own decisions. It translates into my political activism and art. It’s hard for me to say what it’s like to be an 18-year-old when I’ve never been a normal 18-year-old, to be honest.
How do people your age react to your activism?
I feel like those of a similar age are starting to get it. For many of them, it’s hard to comprehend how disrespectful some people can be towards others. The main reason for my activism is the lack of simple, human respect towards each other. I’m a social person. I might not know a lot about, let’s say, economics or law, but I read a lot about social issues, have spoken to many people and I think it’s hard for guys like me to accept how hateful society can be. I’m glad my circle still treats me as their friend, not just an activist, ‘cause that can be tiring.
Is that the main reason for your work? The lack of respect towards marginalised parts of society? Or is there anything else?
Activism is a very broad term. It’s not only attending protests and shouting. For me, it’s how you act in your everyday life. I’m an activist even when I talk to a person I’m meeting for the first time and exchange views.
For those who see articles about LGBTQ situation in Poland in the news, but haven’t seen anyone share their experience – is life really that bad for queer people there?
It depends if you’re used to it or not. I know a couple who love each other, have been together for years, who told me they isolate themselves from recent events. They’d love to get married and be recognised by the state, but they prefer to just get on with their lives. They’re just used to it at this point.
Poland has a really big problem with shame culture. We hate people who unapologetically want to be themselves. LGBTQ individuals in Poland are scared of holding hands on the street or wearing make-up. If you do, you get called a faggot. The Polish government constantly sends negative signals about LGBTQ people through the national media, often saying we want to “hurt kids.” As long as you’re doing things behind closed doors, it’s OK. But if you dare to show some affection in public, you’re in danger. My friend was assaulted on public transport for wearing rainbow laces in their shoes. I personally have been approached by random men threatening me for wearing rainbow colours. So yes, life is really that bad for us in Poland. What’s next? They’re going to put us in ghettos?
Do you speak to your family about politics?
Yes and no. When I do, I try not to talk about subjects that could cause tension. Me and my family are polar opposites politically. It’s not always been like that though – when I was younger I was a PiS supporter, I was even a member of their youth club.
What about being a nephew of the Prime Minister? Is it more of a blessing or a curse? I can imagine it’s a bit of both.
The moment I realised that my uncle was going to be Prime Minister, I knew it was gonna be a curse. 20 minutes after his appointment, I started getting messages from haters. For me, it’s pretty much neutral. It would indeed be a blessing if I wanted to take advantage of this in any way. Let’s say I’m really sick and I want to ask him to take me to a private hospital by helicopter. Then it would be a real blessing. But I’m not planning on doing that. However, a certain professor of psychology told me it’s a blessing, but in a different way. Even though I don’t support his views, thanks to him I have a voice. It’s a curse when everyone’s looking at you as a PM’s nephew, not Franek Broda.
What about everyday situations?
Once I went to a local shop and the lady at the checkout asked if I was the Prime Minister’s nephew, because they used to stock a newspaper I was in [a photo of Broda was on the front page]. Most of the time, I’m in a position where only politically-oriented people know who I am. Otherwise, I’m just Franek Broda, that’s how I introduce myself.
How do you view your uncle and your family now?
I have respect for everyone in my family. Prime Minister is Prime Minister, uncle is uncle. If I criticise him, I criticise the Prime Minister, not my uncle. The papers always make it look like it’s the other way around, unfortunately. I love my family. I can separate family from politics.
Why do you think everyone wants to set you against your uncle?
For the clicks. If it clicks, it’s all that matters. Of course, it would be very lucrative for both me and them to come up with a headline such as “Franek Broda says fuck you to his PM uncle”, but I’m not interested in popularity. I want to see real change.
You said in an interview that you’d like to see yourself with a partner and your own family in 10 years time, but you don’t know whether what will be at all possible. Wouldn’t it be easier to just move?
Of course, it would be, but it’s not about it being easy. I was born here, I have friends here, I’ve met young people here who cried on my shoulder scared to be themselves. Yes, I could easily meet someone in Holland, have kids, get married. But what about those who can’t move abroad? People who don’t know any other languages or can’t afford to? If other activists start to think like that, will there ever be change? I want people to feel like they live in Poland, not in some ghetto shithole.
Did you take part in mass protests after the abortion ban?
Yes. Every day. I used to go from one to another. I would be protesting in Wroclaw during the day and in Warsaw at night.
I don’t think the rest of the world is aware of this, but we have a school subject in Poland called Religion. It’s like Bible Study, but it’s mandatory in most schools. Some politicians think this subject should have its own end-of-school exam, which would be mandatory as well. What do you think of that?
It’s scary, yes. And it’s also paid for by the taxpayers, which is really absurd. If I had to write that exam, I would stand up, tear the exam sheet, throw it away and leave. We’re paying for priests to come to schools and tell kids masturbation will make their fingers grow curly hairs. It shouldn’t be allowed to function this way, maybe if it was funded by the church, not by the state.
Funny you mentioned curly hairs. My religion teachers used to say that skinny boys are more likely to become gay and that masturbation isn’t natural because a man’s body gets rid of extra sperm by passing urine. They were also very judgmental, closed-minded people. Was your experience similar?
The priest who taught me religion in primary school always used to get angry when I addressed him as “sir” instead of “father”. I asked him if he would respect a trans woman’s pronoun if he had a conversation with one. He said no, explaining that “God made her a man.” So I refused to call him “father” and kept calling him “sir”.
If I was to grant you one wish, what would it be?
That one day Poland would finally change.
23/02/2021: Correction: This story originally stated that a subject called Religion is mandatory in all Polish schools. But in a small proportion of schools in the country, Religion is not a mandatory lesson. We have updated the story to clarify, and regret the error.