On Saturday, June 3, the Equality Parade will take place in Warsaw, Poland. While the LGBTQ movement is the main focus of the event, it is also meant to raise awareness of the rights situation of all minorities in a country of 38 million people. The first Equality Parade took place in 2001 and was the first event of its kind organized in a former Soviet bloc country, Teen Vogue reports.
From its inception, the Equality Parade was met with a strong backlash. In 2005, a right-wing youth organization, the All-Polish Youth, planned what they called “Parada Normalności,” or “The Normalcy Parade”. The same year, Lech Kaczyński, who was then the mayor of Warsaw, Poland’s capital, refused to grant permission for the event because he believed it promoted a “homosexual lifestyle.”
A recent survey found that out of 49 European countries, Poland scored 37th on a scale of support for LGBTQ rights. The current government is extremely conservative. Polish president Andrzej Duda was recently quoted as saying that the country’s constitution defined marriage as being between a man and a woman, and that it isn’t likely to change. Law and Justice, the current ruling party, is vehemently opposed to equal rights for LGBTQ people. There’s a sizable number of young people in Poland who tend to hold right-wing views.
“Poland is not as rosy, or rather, as rainbow-y as we would like it to be. Acts of hate-motivated vandalism are still happening both in the cities and in the countryside. There has been an increase in direct homophobia,” Slava Melnyk of Kampania Przeciw Homofobii (Campaign Against Homophobia), an organization advocating for the equal status of the community, told Teen Vogue. He said that while Polish society, in general, is open-minded and supportive of these issues, the politicians currently in power are still lagging behind.
The Catholic church plays an important role in Polish society, but there is a gap between the church as an institution and its followers. “There are Catholics who believe that there is a place for non-heteronormative people in the church. Just because someone is religious, it doesn’t mean that they are homophobic,” says Melnyk. “The church as an institution leaves a lot to be desired. We don’t know whether that will change.”
Melnyk’s organization, which is one of the event’s organizers, works with several Catholic organizations on campaigns that raise awareness on the issues, like last year’s campaign, Przekażmy Sobie Znak Pokoju Let’s Exchange a Sign of Peace. Posters for this campaign showed two clasped hands, one of which has a rosary on its wrist, while the other one is wearing a rainbow bracelet. It was the first time a campaign of its kind received support of religious organizations and media outlets, including the Catholic newspaper Tygodnik Powszechny. However, in an open letter, the assembly of Catholic bishops in Poland asked Polish Catholics not to participate, claiming that advocating for LGBTQ issues was “falsifying the church’s unchangeable teaching.”
So far, there has been no information on the All Polish Youth’s website concerning their plans for this year’s parade. In the past, at a similar event in Kraków, participants of the Equality March were met by the members of the All Polish Youth dressed in scrubs and protective clothing, and carrying posters to direct participants to the nearby psychiatric hospital.
This year’s Equality Parade organizers have said that they will take safety measures, like remaining in constant contact with the police. “We will not be afraid,” they wrote.
Support for the event has been growing with each year, reaching 45% in 2010, when Warsaw hosted the Europride Parade. This year, it will have new organizers and a triangular rather than linear route, which will allow participants to start and finish in the same place. “It will allow us to celebrate this occasion together,” said Melnyk. There will also be an Equality Village, featuring representatives from over 20 pro-equality nongovernmental organizations. “This solidarity is important to the…community no matter in which country they live,” Melnyk said.