Eastern Europe Project: LGBT+ Lives in Poland (Part 1)

Charly from the sopranos
Charly

Our choir project for 2021 is focussed on improving our awareness of LGBT+ lives in Eastern Europe and throughout the year we will be collaborating with two other LGBT+ choirs: Voces Gaudii based in Warsaw, Poland, and Obochina, based in St. Petersburg, Russia.

In January 2021 we held our second event for the project looking at LGBT+ lives in Poland, here is a summary of what was discussed

Poland has been featured all over the news the last couple of years due to a huge backwards step for LGBT+ rights. Their current  President, Andrzey Duda, is proudly expressing his anti LGBT+ views and recently passed the controversial bill of the “LGBT free zone”. We wanted to get a better understanding of what it was like to live in Poland with these changing attitudes and what it’s like to grow up in a country so close to the UK but so far behind for LGBT+ people gaining acceptance in society, so members of our partner choir Voces Gaudii organised an online event for members of the Pink Singers.

A map of Poland showing that about a third of the country is effectively an “LGBT-free” zone. Map courtesy of activist collective @StrefyAntyLGBT Source: atlasnienawisci.pl

Throughout the session we were shown some videos and members of the choir provided us with personal stories. Kristof first took us through a potted history of LGBT+ rights in Poland from the 1800s to the present day.  They explained how attitudes were far more relaxed many years ago and Poland was one of the first to decriminalise homosexuallity, in 1932. 92% of the population is Roman Catholic and prior to the recent shift in attitudes, the main LGBT+ issue was that the religious community considered gay sex as a sin and most LGBT+ people hid their sexuality to “keep their grandmas happy”. However, in recent years the landscape has changed and since 2010 extreme right wing groups have been pushing back, to demonise homosexuality, stating that it threatens the traditional heterosexual Polish family. Most political parties are 90% conservative and side with these right wing attitudes, claiming homosexuality to be a Western ideology and not wanting to upset the Roman Catholic church.

Check out the video below following the recent vote and more about the ‘LGBT free zones’.

We heard that LGBT+ people are an unknown entity for many in Poland. There are no openly gay politicians, no openly gay singers and no-one on TV. It appears that everyone in the media is 100% straight and no famous person is out. There just aren’t any LGBT+ role models for those growing up and needing someone to look up to.  With these role models missing from every day society and the constant message that being queer is  wrong, 70% of LGBT+  teenagers have reported struggling with their mental health and having suicidal thoughts.

Polish law is blind to LGBT+ issues and it’s like these people are invisible apart from the clause that if you lose your job for being homosexual then this is illegal. There is no way to legalise your union  with someone of the same sex. If you are transgender then you have to sue your parents for assigning you the wrong gender at birth to enable you to change gender.

https://www.facebook.com/170500696298873/videos/439525853262406

We heard from another choir member, who talked about growing up in a small town and not knowing what a gay person was. They said that homosexuality had been eradicated from history as there were no references to it; the topic was non-existent. Now, young people find out about homosexuality from the internet or from programmes on Netflix. When she became financially independent she came out to her parents and was subsequently kicked out of the family home and ended up living in Warsaw. She said that she was lucky as the clothing she wears means she passes as a straight person and therefore doesn’t have too much hassle from homophobic people. She has cut ties with her old school friends so they don’t find out that she is gay. She has seen her parents and her family have met her partner after 10 years of being together, but her parents don’t talk about it with others and just say that she lives in Warsaw and has no husband or children. Warsaw is one of the more relaxed areas in Poland and has been holding an Equality Parade since 2001; a community pride parade. In 2019, there were over 50,000 attendees.

We were also introduced to a member of the Polish Rainbow network in the UK. This group organises direct action and social events in London and other cities in the UK for Polish LGBT+ people. They talked about leaving Poland after being beaten and thrown out for being gay. This  came after years of being bullied at school and at university. It was a fight or flight reaction and they decided to just leave and live in London. They said that young LGBT+ people in Poland feel like they are just not strong enough to stay there. When he returns he dresses down so he doesn’t stand out and is scared for his life. In some areas of Poland, LGBT+ people’s flats are set alight for no apparent reason. He said that gay rights are not seen as human rights and it’s just a lifestyle choice or a personal choice so it can’t be addressed.

Look out for Part 2 of our blog series coming soon. If you’re interested to find out more from LGBT+ people in Poland, visit Ideologia LGBT.

Charly, Soprano