An emigrée contrasts Poland’s reversion to hatred of LGBT+ with Ireland’s recent liberalisation.
By Sara Chudzik.
I was twelve when I first moved to Ireland in 2007. Ever since then with every passing year I would count how many years it is that I’ve lived in Poland and how many in Ireland. Now the Irish half is becoming top-heavy and I’ve lost count of the years. Yet, for the past few days I’ve felt more Polish than ever.
On 6 August 2020 Andrzej Duda was sworn in for his second term as the President of the Republic of Poland, having narrowly defeated the liberal mayor of Warsaw, Rafał Trzaskowski, who in 2019 promised to provide greater support to the city’s gay community, including offering some anti-discrimination and anti-bullying education in schools. Duda had claimed the mayor’s gesture constituted the “sexualisation of children” and the destruction of the family.
Duda’s wish and promise it is to make Poland an LGBTQ+ free zone and to stop the spread of LGBTQ+ ‘ideology’. Since the election activists have taken to the streets to peacefully protest the extension of Duda’s conservative regime.
Rainbow flags have begun to appear around monuments and statues around cities. Margot, a transgender activist, was violently arrested for stealing a registration plate from a van belonging to an anti-LGBT+ Fundacja Pro, an organisation responsible for spreading pseudo-scientific facts such as that homosexuality is on par with paedophilia. Margot was detained and taken to a man’s prison yesterday. Since then 48 more activists have been detained; in many cases with no immediate information about their whereabouts.
Back in 2015 when Ireland became the first country to legalise gay marriage in a popular vote, I did not vote because I couldn’t. Despite living in this country for years and being educated here, I was still not a citizen. Technically, I did qualify. Practically, I never had the money to buy an Irish passport. I have never voted in Irish elections and could not take part in either the 2015 marriage equality or the 2018 choice referendums.
Living in a country in which you don’t vote makes you feel like an observer or a lurker rather than an active participant of society. I feel deep regret at the fact that I wasn’t part of these monumental and historic changes in Ireland.
This entire time I’ve been a remote Polish citizen and when my parents reminded me of my right to vote in the upcoming election, knowing about Duda’s hatred-fuelled ideologies, I was excited at being able to exercise my right to vote. I wanted to take part in stopping Duda from continuing to a second term. When that didn’t happen, I felt useless. I’ve already heard of LGBTQ+ people being targeted by the police and about the violence that erupted at pride marches in June. Then Duda got re-elected and I was in Ireland, not knowing how to take action.
In the past few days, the situation has gone from bad to worse, as more peaceful demonstrations followed that were violently interrupted by the police. People gathered in their hundreds around Warsaw and other major cities in Poland. I saw brutal videos and images and read about the arrests of activists from the safety of my phone screen. For years I have considered Ireland my primary home but now I wish I was in Poland to be part of the fight — a wish that only those from a safe distance could make.
I watched and wondered — what about Ireland? The Polish are the biggest minority group here. There must be people out there angered by this. Eventually I came across a social media group which listed cities in Poland and around the world where peaceful protests and demonstrations were to take place. After scrolling through the comments, I saw a user ask about Dublin. Later I found an event which was to take place this Sunday.
I felt like I should make a poster for that purpose as I didn’t have any flags with me. I took out whatever materials I could find in my room in order to draw a Polish flag with the outline of the country with rainbow colours. Months ago, I bought some make-up and an eyeshadow palette that had red in it. Whatever could I use that for? Today that came in handy.
Sometime later I found myself outside the GPO amongst dozens of both Irish and Polish people with LGBTQ+ flags and signs showing both solidarity and expressing the need for action. We stayed there for an hour as passers-by took interest and some stopped to learn more about the situation.
The GPO was the appropriate place for this as the sight of Ireland’s fight against oppression. And we weren’t standing there alone. Behind us were two stands with food for the homeless, one set up by the Sikh community, the other by a group of nuns. At the end, men with turbans offered us some rice and curry.
This wasn’t an uprising – it was only a small crowd, mostly young adults, but we all knew that being able to stand there uninterrupted and safe was a privilege that is not given to people like us in Poland. Some older demonstrators who came from different parts of Poland remembered the protests from years ago. They said not much has changed.
The goal right now is to raise awareness. People in Ireland need to know what is going on — we have been here and lived here for many years now and are part of this country — help us to protect people from where we came from. We aren’t in Poland but there are a number of things that we can do from here. You can donate to various organisations in Poland at https://lgbtqpl.carrd.co The goal of the activists at the GPO on Sunday is for there to be consequences for the Polish government. The EU as well as governments outside of Poland have the power to prevent the spread of hatred. Already the EU has suspended funding for towns which have declared themselves as ‘LGBT free zones’.
In the end this is all about human rights and it is the people who need our support.
The next peaceful, socially distanced demonstration is planned to take place on 20 August at 6.30 p.m. outside the Polish Embassy in Ballsbridge, Dublin; https://www.facebook.com/events/575469613149031/.