The Reality of Being Gay in Poland-Violence against homosexuals remains quite common-but times are changing.
by Wojciech Szajnar
According to the Report on Discrimination Due to Sexual Orientation in Poland, published by the Lambda Warszawa association, 22 percent of Polish gays and lesbians have experienced physical violence, and 51 percent have faced mental abuse, including slander, threats and blackmail.
Formally Poland meets most European and international standards on protecting the rights of sexual minorities. Poland is far ahead of Romania, for example, where homosexuality was a crime only several years ago. Article 30 of the Polish constitution states that "The inherent and inalienable dignity of the human being is the source of freedom, and human and civic rights. This is inviolable, and respect for and protection of this are the responsibility of the public authorities." Article 32 of the constitution prohibits discrimination against Polish citizens for any reason. The principle of non-discrimination also stems from Poland’s ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of Dec. 10, 1948, among other legal acts.
" On one hand, Polish law protects everyone against flagrant violations of human, social and political rights, including the protection of privacy and personal goods, protection from defamation and a ban on actions designed to incite social hatred," wrote Dr. Tomasz Basiuk and Marcin ¸ukomski, representatives of the Polish section of Amnesty International, in an article titled The Preference for Ignorance: Society in the Face of Homosexuality. "However, in practice gays and lesbians are often subject to direct discrimination through various forms of persecution in their communities, and indirect, or hidden, discrimination, like being fired from work, especially in schools and the military."
The previous-also the first ever-report on discrimination against homosexuals in Poland was published in 1994. The new report was presented at a press conference July 9 at the headquarters of the Batory Foundation. The Lambda Warszawa Association, established in 1997, wrote the report in cooperation with the International Gay and Lesbian Association. Lambda Warszawa is the largest of about 30 nongovernmental organizations in Poland dealing with homosexuality. Since 1998, it has run the Rainbow Information-Assistance Center, offering a telephone hotline, support groups, legal advice and HIV/AIDS prevention.
The associations prepared the new report on the basis of 215 anonymous questionnaires. According to the responses, 22 percent of Polish gays and lesbians have experienced direct physical violence due to their sexual orientation, while 77 percent of them have not reported these incidents to the police for fear of the reaction of law enforcement authorities and the social consequences of revealing the fact that they experienced abuse due to their sexual orientation. Another disturbing trend is the frequent recurrence of abuse aimed at homosexuals. Most of the 22 percent of respondents who have been the targets of physical violence have been attacked two or three times.
Nearly 51 percent of homosexuals in Poland have experienced mental abuse. With this form of abuse, the frequency of repeat encounters is especially alarming-as many as 65 percent of this group of respondents have been the victims of mental abuse more than three times. In these incidents it seems that the intimidation is even worse than with physical abuse, as 93.5 percent of the victims have not reported to the police.
Members of gay and lesbian communities have been forced, chiefly for the reasons stated above, to adopt a strategy of avoiding situations likely to trigger abuse. Nearly 77 percent of respondents stated that they avoid expressing their feelings about their partners in public places. The authors of the report described many incidents of abuse that homosexuals have suffered at the hands of their immediate family. Moreover, only 51 percent of those polled stated that they had revealed their sexual orientation to the members of their own family. A much larger number of respondents trusted their friends in this matter-74 percent of those polled informed their friends about their sexual orientation, even though the friends involved occasionally responded with physical violence.
Article 113 of the Labor Code states that any kind of discrimination at work is inadmissible. If an employee is unfairly dismissed, he or she may appeal to a labor court and demand reinstatement or compensation. Data in the report shows that discrimination at work is always a potential. On one hand, a relatively small number of respondents complained about discriminatory practices at their place of work, while on the other hand, the vast majority, about 70 percent, have not revealed their sexual orientation to their employers or fellow employees. The same goes for access to services-70 percent of respondents said that they refrain from stating their sexual orientation when renting an apartment.
The poll, comprising the basis of the report, is not the first project of its kind that the Lambda Warszawa Association has worked on. From October 1996 to October 1997, the association carried out a survey on the average Polish homosexual. Nearly 53 percent of respondents said they have not revealed their sexual orientation; 73 percent have not revealed their sexual orientation at work; 73 percent said that Polish society dislikes them-the main reasons given were misunderstanding and ignorance (40 percent), lack of tolerance with regard to all forms of "otherness" (29 percent) and the critical attitude of the Church and prejudice (14 percent).
Not much data is available on society’s attitude toward homosexuals in Poland. General public opinion polls on this subject have not been carried out in Poland for many years.
The "Attitudes Toward Homosexual Marriages" poll the CBOS polling center carried out April 6-9 yielded some data. Nearly 88 percent of those polled said homosexuality is a deviation from normal behavior, while 47 percent said that this deviation should be tolerated; 41 percent of those surveyed were of the opposite opinion. Only 5 percent stated that homosexuality is normal. Fifty-eight percent of those polled said homosexuals should be allowed to hold common property, just like traditional married couples, while 31 percent were of the opposite opinion. Sixty-nine percent of respondents decidedly opposed measures designed to give homosexual couples opportunities to adopt children, while 24 percent accepted such a possibility.
Clearly, allowing homosexuals to adopt is a very controversial issue in Poland, and carrying out the European Parliament’s resolution of February 1994, calling on all European states to award equal rights to homosexuals by allowing them to establish legally recognized unions and adopt children, seems impossible for the time being. Actually, the Polish constitution disallows the former measure, since Article 18 defines a family as a relationship between a woman and a man. On the other hand, the idea of awarding homosexual couples some of the rights normally enjoyed by traditional married couples, such as common property and an inheritance even when the deceased partner left no will, is receiving increasing support.
Contrary to Lambda Warszawa’s pessimistic report, the situation in Poland is beginning to change for the better. Warsaw’s Centrum borough signed an agreement with the association May 23, 2001 on carrying out the Safer Relationships project, the first local government unit in Poland to do so. The program began June 1 and is scheduled to last until Dec. 31. The program seeks to promote safer sex among homosexuals.
In September, the leaders of homosexual and pro-homosexual organizations are expected to meet to sign a cooperation declaration on joint activities and goals for the homosexual community in Poland. Actually, for homosexuals in Poland, Polish accession to the European Union should be the most important goal, not only because of the above-mentioned resolution of the European Parliament, but also due to the incompatibility of discrimination against gays and lesbians with Article 13 of the Treaty of Amsterdam, the most important EU legal document.
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February 11, 2002
2 Coming out: Warsaw’s gay clubs triple
by Celia Barnes
If Amsterdam wears the crown of the Gay Capital of Europe, then Warsaw would be lucky to lay claim to an old knitted woolen beanie. As one of the biggest cities in Central and Eastern Europe, Poland’s capital has only ever had a few gay-friendly clubs –unlike its more liberally minded neighbors in Budapest, Prague and even Moscow, which have thriving gay scenes. But over the last six months, Warsaw’s gay and lesbian community has been given the choice of five new venues to chose from–Utopia, which started the trend when it opened its doors in October last year, followed by 69, Kokon Klub, Queen Club and Miami Cafe Club, which opened just two weeks ago. These join Warsaw’s already established gay joints, Paradise and Fantom. Few of them advertise or promote themselves as being gay friendly.
You’ll only see the occasional Internet link on a gay Web site, or some of them fly the gay rainbow colored "pride" flag. So rather than representing an awakening of the gay community in a city that lies in one of the world’s most Roman Catholic nations, it is, apparently, all a question of economics. "When the economy is slowing down, people are looking for new ways of making money and I think that’s good because it seems that the niche markets are being filled," said Slawek Starosta, who owns Fantom, Warsaw’s only gay-men, members-only nightclub. He is also the co-owner of erotic publishing house Pink Press. "The gay scene is changing here and I think it’s natural that there would be some kind of expansion of clubs and cafes," he said.
For Artur, the gay owner of the Miami Cafe Club, his inspiration to get into the gay restaurant/club business in Warsaw came after working in gay clubs in Miami, Florida. By day, Miami serves lunches to the working crowd, and by night, Artur said it becomes a place where gay men and women can feel safe being themselves. It’s a similar scenario at 69. The cafe has its straight breakfast and lunch crowd, then puts on drag shows and cabarets at night. Maciej, 69’s owner, said the club’s door shuts after 8 p.m. on weekends–for the guests’ safety and security from unwanted visitors–and can only be accessed by regular guests who know a special pin number.
"I think all these new clubs are looking for a way to make some good business with the gays but the gay audience in Warsaw is too small for so many new places," said Maciej, whose clientele spans straight and gay circles. Robert Biedron of the gay lobby organization, Campaign Against Homophobia (KPH), thinks it is great to see the needs of Warsaw’s gay community being met with this spate of new gay-friendly venues but he also thinks perhaps it’s too much too soon for this city. "Unfortunately, I don’t believe that all of them will survive," Biedron said. "There is too much competition and I think some of them will close."
Gay life gains steam in Warsaw–Catholic Church’s reduced influence, Internet play role.
by Tom Hundley, Tribune foreign correspondent
Warsaw – In the past nine months, bars and clubs catering to gays in the Polish capital have increased fivefold. Although a total of 10 gay venues would not put Warsaw on the map with Amsterdam or Berlin as a magnet for alternative lifestyles, the increase in clubs is indicative of the rapid social changes occurring in what often is described as Europe’s most profoundly Roman Catholic country.
Gay activists attribute the changes to Poland’s social and political reintegration into the European mainstream along with a decline in the Roman Catholic Church’s role as arbiter of the nation’s moral values. They also say the explosive expansion of the Internet and a scandal within the Polish church have played roles as well. Last year, Warsaw’s first attempt at a gay pride parade drew about 200 participants and twice as many police. Earlier this year, 2,000 turned out for what prudently has been renamed the Equity Day parade.
Decade of change
The showing was a far cry from the annual gay pride parade in Berlin, which usually attracts half a million participants, but it was enough to remind Witek Seislak, 40, of how much has changed in little more than a decade. "In communist times, there was no official gay life in Poland. No newspapers, no bars. Nothing. The only places for me were the public toilets and public parks," said Seislak, a software engineer with a multinational corporation. "Just after communism collapsed there was freedom to establish a gay bar and a weekly newspaper, but the change in mentality was slower," he said. Unlike neighboring Hungary and the Czech Republic, where gay life flourished after the fall of communism, democratic Poland was influenced by the Catholic Church, and there was little tolerance for gay lifestyles.
But as Poland slips into a more European orbit, it appears to be catching up quickly. With full membership in the European Union expected within two years, demographic trends indicate that Poles are embracing the attitudes and behavioral norms of their Western European neighbors. At the same time, the church’s grip on social and political life has slipped noticeably. "Our big problem is still the church. No matter what you say, this is still a church state," said Artur Pawlak, owner of the Miami Cafe, a new Warsaw gay bar.
"But now people are free to travel, and they know what life is like in other cities," said Pawlak, 27, who left Poland when he was 19 and spent eight years living and working in Florida before coming back last year to start his business.
Seislak, the software engineer, said he believes the Internet revolution, more than anything else, helped accelerate the gay revolution in Poland. "The Internet has been a huge force for change. The access to information, to literature, to other gays – this is our real revolution," he said. "The new generation, the ones in their 20s who use the Internet, have a completely different view of themselves. I can see it in the way they think about themselves. Gays from my generation still feel this shame, and we are still afraid to talk openly, but not the new generation."
Most major cities in Poland now have a couple of bars or discos where gays socialize, but in the small towns life can still be lonely and frightening. A 1992 survey conducted in small Polish towns asked people to rank the groups they most despised. Homosexuals were at the top of the list, followed by prostitutes and gypsies. When the survey was repeated in 1997, there was no change. In a similar survey conducted across the border in Germany, "Turks" (an informal reference to all Muslim minorities) were the most despised; homosexuals did not even make the list.
These attitudes have been reinforced by the church, whose priests in the pulpit routinely condemn homosexuals as perverts and sinners. "Once, after I told a priest something in confession, he said that he couldn’t absolve me because my behavior was worse than an animal’s," said Andrzej, 32, who asked that his last name not be published. He is a founder of the Christian Union of Gays and Lesbians in Poland, a group still unrecognized by the Polish government. Last year, when a modest proposal to protect gays from harassment and discrimination came before Poland’s parliament, far-right Catholic parties made sure it died.
But earlier this year, the Catholic hierarchy had to confront gays in its own closet when one of its leaders, Archbishop Juliusz Paetz of Poznan, was forced to resign after being accused of making sexual advances toward young priests and seminarians.
This month, the respected Catholic magazine Wiez – The Link – dedicated an entire issue to the topic of homosexuality, a breakthrough after decades of avoiding serious discussion of this subject. Editors said the decision was partly influenced by the Paetz scandal. Most of the articles urge a more tolerant and sympathetic attitude toward homosexuality, but they also reflect official church attitudes that seem somewhat out of touch with mainstream European attitudes. The church continues to view homosexuality as a psychological disorder that can be "cured" and recommends sexual abstinence for those who have "incurable" cases.
No longer silent
"You can’t really speak of a breakthrough in the church’s attitude because nothing has changed in the church’s teaching on homosexuality. But there has been a breakthrough in the silence that surrounds this subject," said Cezary Gawrys, the magazine’s deputy editor. "From the church’s point of view, it’s not discrimination if you say that there is something wrong with homosexuals. The church can never accept homosexual relationships or bless a homosexual marriage," Gawrys said. "But what the church is saying now is that you must treat these people with respect."
Although most gay activists in Poland still regard the church as their principal antagonist, many said they considered the latest issue of Wiez a step in the right direction and a sign that the church was willing to deal more openly with the subject.
May 27, 2003
Polish Campaign Sparks Debate Over Gays
by Beata Pasek, Associated Press Writer
Warsaw, Poland – Back home after three years away in Sweden, Karolina Bregula was getting frustrated at the plight of homosexuals in Poland. The 24-year-old heterosexual photographer felt her country needed some awareness training. So she took pictures of homosexuals and lesbian couples in affectionate poses, looking into each others’ eyes or holding hands. The photographs were plastered on billboards in Polish cities last month, with support from the government as well as the Swedish and Danish embassies. "Let them see us," was the campaign’s slogan. Not for long, though. Catholic groups protested to city officials and the billboards, which were supposed to stay up for two months, came down after just a week. Some were painted over. Still, gay rights activists say the campaign was a success because it sparked a debate about gay rights.
Estimated by gay groups to number 2 million, "We are the biggest minority in this country and our image has been distorted," said Robert Biedron, leader of the Campaign Against Homophobia in Warsaw. "For the first time, homosexuals were shown as ordinary people, not as pedophiles from a railway station or freaks from a gay parade." Freed from communist-era prohibitions that denied their existence, homosexuals say the promise of greater personal freedom under democracy has bumped up against the influence of the Roman Catholic Church on this nation of 39 million people. Poles remain fiercely conservative, and many worry that when Poland enters the European Union, probably next year, it will have to grant homosexual couples the right to marry or adopt children. In fact, EU regulations don’t impose any conformity; Sweden, for instance, allows for gay marriages, Italy and Spain do not. The Catholic League of Polish Families led the nationwide campaign to remove the billboards, and has protested that the government then sponsored a traveling gallery exhibition of the photos.
"For us, homosexuality is a deviation, and the campaign is promoting deviation in the name of so-called tolerance," said Grzegorz Sielatycki, a leader of the league’s Gdansk branch. "Let homosexuals show those pictures in their own basement, but not in a public gallery. Taxpayers’ money should not go for that." The removal of the billboards spawned a lively debate in Poland’s daily newspapers. "The fate of the campaign has showed the scale of intolerance, fear and censorship in our country," two dozen Polish intellectuals wrote in a letter to the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza. "A voice in defense of the campaign is a voice in defense of freedom of speech, tolerance and human rights." Ultimately, gays in Poland would like the same kind of legal recognition of their partnerships. But for a start, they simply want to come out of the closet. More than 3,000 people marched in this year’s Gay Pride parade in Warsaw May 1, the biggest turnout so far, but the media largely ignored the event and no politician participated.
"This is just who we are, we want make people notice we exist," said Arek Pasternak, 26, an unemployed teacher who was photographed with his partner, 23-year-old Jacek Przybylko. "In Poland we have practically no rights, as if there were no such people as us." Three-quarters of Polish homosexuals refuse to reveal their sexual orientation at the workplace, according to a 2002 survey by two Polish gay rights organizations. Gay bars and cafes have opened in larger cities, but Polish homosexuals still tend to socialize in private. "We have mustered courage to walk on a street holding hands," said Pasternak. "We would like to do it without hearing ‘Gays! Kill gays!"’
Equality Parade in Warsaw
Approximately 3,000 persons took part in the colorful Equality Parade in Warsaw, organized by an association of gays and lesbians.
" We are the largest minority in Poland. We have the right to fight for equality," exclaimed loudspeakers at the start of the parade. Representatives of sexual minorities with friends and supporters protested in this way against intolerance, discrimination and homophobia.
The parade started from the Royal Caster Square and ended at the Sejm. According to the International Lesbian and Gay Culture Network Poland, there are some two million homosexual individuals living in Poland. They complain at the lack of acceptance and at the discrimination in their everyday lives. They demand a bill which would enable homosexual couples to register their relationships, giving them the same rights that marriages enjoy (in question are the possibility of inheritance and access to information about the condition of related hospital patients).
Participants walked to the tune of loud rhythmic music. Some of them danced, waved rainbow flags. One of the two platforms was occupied by drag queens, or men dressed up as women. Present were members of gay movement organizations from France, Germany, Hungary and Serbia.
Joke Swiebel, MEP for the Dutch Labor Party and chairperson of the European Parliament’s group for gay and lesbian rights, was also one of the participants. "Tolerance is not enough. We don’t just want to be tolerated. What we need is justice and the same rights that others enjoy," she said to the applause of the audience.
No representatives of the Polish political scene were present. Singer Krystyna Proƒko addressed this fact. "Politicians who ‘could not’ come here today should think twice. Look how powerful we are," she said.
No incidents were reported during the parade. Onlookers witnessed the parading crowd from the sidewalks of the Royal Road. "I don’t have anything against them as long as they leave my butt alone. Normal people," said one onlooker, who observed the parade together with his wife and two small children. An older gentleman on the other hand expressed his outrage at the parade. "What on earth? Maybe they’ll be adopting children, too?" he said in an upset tone.
As reported by the Lambda Warsaw Association and the Campaign against Homophobia, research information coming from 632 questionnaires, filled out by LGBT individuals, shows that 14 percent of them experienced physical violence because of their orientation, while 75 percent of those polled hide their orientation at their workplace.
August 17, 2003
Same-sex union proposal is a tough sell in Poland Legislation faces influential church
by Tom Hundley, Tribune foreign correspondent
Warsaw – When hospital authorities in Warsaw refused permission for a terminally ill gay man to receive visits from his longtime partner, Maria Szyszkowska decided it was time to act. Szyszkowska, a prominent philosopher and member of the Polish Senate, introduced a bill that would legalize same-sex unions and grant homosexual partners many of the rights and privileges enjoyed by married couples. Such legislation might seem a tough sell in Poland, arguably the most Roman Catholic country in Europe, but Szyszkowska’s bill has received support from leaders of the ruling party as well as from less likely quarters. It also has stirred a contentious debate about the role of the church in Polish politics and Poland’s identity in an expanding European Union.
"Even representatives of the gay community told me to slow down, but I decided to go for it," Szyszkowska said. "If we are going to be part of Europe, we have to learn to accept some things that we may not personally agree with. Tolerance is what a democratic society is all about." Opinion surveys in Poland show little public sympathy for homosexuality. In one poll last month, 62 percent of respondents said they were "strongly against" the idea of two same-sex people living together in an intimate relationship, while another 14 percent said they were somewhat against the idea. Only 4 percent strongly supported the notion of same-sex couples. Catholic Church’s muscle The staunchest opponent of same-sex unions is the Catholic Church, which remains a powerful, though often unpopular, player in Polish politics. Pope John Paul II, a native Pole, has been an outspoken critic of gay marriage, and last month the Vatican issued a directive to clergy and Catholic politicians to step up their efforts against the growing legal acceptance of same-sex unions in Europe and North America. Poland’s bishops and priests hardly needed prodding.
"Debating this question is as ridiculous as debating whether the sun will rise in the east tomorrow," said Rev. Andrzej Rebacz, director of the office of family affairs for the Polish bishops conference. "In all cases, man-made law must follow natural law," he said. "The state cannot normalize something that is abnormal." In Poland, the church views homosexuality as a psychological disorder that can be "cured" and recommends sexual abstinence for those who have "incurable" cases, said Cezary Gawrys, a journalist for the respected Catholic journal Wiez – The Link – who writes frequently on the subject. Officially, the church urges tolerance, but many of its priests routinely use their pulpits to condemn homosexuals as perverts and sinners. "In Poland, we have a historical paradox," said Izabela Jaruga-Nowicka, the government’s minister for gender equality.
"Under the totalitarian system, people turned to the church as a symbol of freedom, but now that we have gained that freedom, the church has turned against the development of a civil society." But Rebacz argued that too much freedom in post-communist Poland has given the state too much license. "Right now, we are witnessing a worldwide tendency for the state to be so powerful that it condones the killing of newly conceived life; it condones things like euthanasia and homosexuality," he said. "These are examples of anthropology out of balance. We need to return to a natural, healthy anthropology." In 1989, Denmark was the first country to legalize same-sex marriages. Norway, Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands followed in the mid-1990s. France and Germany allow a limited form of legal recognition for same-sex couples, and Britain is expected to pass a similar law next year.
In other European countries where the Catholic Church’s influence remains strongest – Italy, Ireland, Spain and Austria – same-sex unions are not recognized. Gawrys, the journalist, said it would be inconceivable for the church to accept homosexuality as a "normal" practice or to bless a homosexual relationship as a "marriage." "Words are the fundamental fabric of culture – what you call things, how you name them. In European culture and in all other cultures, ‘marriage’ means a union of a man and a woman in a complementary way for the purpose of procreation," he said.
Proposal has limits
The proposed legislation in Poland avoids the use of the word marriage. The bill would allow same-sex couples to register their union, take each other’s last names, file joint tax returns and own property together. "The law would not give us equal status to married couples," said Szymon Niemiec, head of the Polish chapter of the International Gay and Lesbian Cultural Network. "It will give us certain rights, but there will also be restrictions that arise from Polish cultural traditions. We will not be able to adoptchildren, for example," Niemiec added.
In some respects, open debate on the topic is the church’s worst nightmare. Conservatives in the church hierarchy warned that joining the EU – as Poland will do next year – would open the doors to the hedonistic habits and libertine thinking of Western Europe. Given the lack of public support for gay unions, most analysts believe it is unlikely that Szyszkowska’s bill will muster a parliamentary majority anytime soon. But it is not being dismissed out of hand. "If two people of the same sex would like to live in the same household, they are entitled to the legal benefits of their union," said Marek Borowski, speaker of the parliament and member of the ruling Democratic Left Alliance, or SLD.
"This is a serious proposal, and the SLD is taking it seriously." More surprising, perhaps, is the support the proposal has received from Andrzej Lepper, the leader of the populist Self-Defense Party. "Personally, I don’t know any gays," Lepper told the Warsaw daily Trybuna. "But if somebody thinks there are none in Poland, he’s fooling himself. This problem calls for a legal solution." Robert Strak, an activist with the League of Polish Families, a party associated with the most conservative faction of the church, called the proposed legislation "sick."
22 October 2003
Gay rights proposals attacked in Poland
Proposals that would have given legal rights to gay men and lesbians in Poland have been blasted by a leading cardinal, in a move that could set back the gay rights movement in the country by decades. Suggested by the country’s social democrats, the new legislation would give legal recognition to same sex relationships, as well as shake up other issues that are dominated by Catholic opinion, including abortion. But the head of the Church in the country, which is fiercely religious, told reporters the move is showing acceptance to something that is at odds with the Bible and nature itself.
”It is something very depressing for me, as it is something incompatible with human nature,” Cardinal Jozef Glemp said yesterday. ”I just can’t stand men kissing. Maybe I’m old-fashioned.” Glemp was speaking before a meeting of Polish bishops to discuss the proposals, which were suggested in August this year to great controversy. Senator Maria Szyskowska said she first proposed the legislation after experiencing the death of a gay man, and the fact that his partner was not allowed to be at his bedside. "We have to accept some things that we may not personally agree with", she said at the time. "Tolerance is what a democratic society is all about." However, although welcomed at the time, the Cardinal’s reaction was predicted by gay rights groups, who said the country’s traditional society were not yet ready for such a large step in gay rights.
"Homosexuality is taboo here," Robert Biedron of Campaign Against Homophobia, Warsaw told Gay.com UK at the time. "There is no discussion and has been no discussion. "Politicians will not be brave with gay civil rights in general, and it is unlikely the draft will make it through to law," he bleakly added. Over 90% of Polish people class themselves as followers of the Catholic Church, which acted as a source of inspiration during the country’s communist years.
October 23, 2003
Leftist government to propose legislation that would liberalize anti-abortion law, allow gay marriages
by Monika Scislowska
Warsaw, Poland – Legislators of the ruling leftist party Wednesday publicly presented plans to liberalize the nation’s strict anti-abortion law and to allow gay couples partnership rights similar to those guaranteed by marriage. Members of the ruling Democratic Left Alliance are to formally bring the plans before parliament in the coming weeks, although it is not clear if the minority government can guarantee they will be adopted. The proposed changes are also expected to provoke strong protests from this predominantly Roman Catholic nation when they are submitted to public debate ahead of the legislative process. "These issues are important to the public opinion," Jerzy Wenderlich, a spokesman for the ruling party, told reporters. "They concern the respect of rights of women and minorities."
Despite the expected controversy, Wednesday’s announcement was seen as an attempt to divert attention from increasing public criticism of Prime Minister Leszek Miller’s government, which has suffered under record unemployment and a sluggish economy. Under the proposed legislation, a woman would be granted an abortion if she can prove she is in a difficult family or financial situation and could not cope with a child. Poland had liberal abortion laws under communism, but under legislation sponsored by the Catholic church was adopted in 1993, a pregnancy can only be terminated if the woman’s health is threatened, the fetus is irreparably damaged, or if the pregnancy results from rape or incest. Doctors and their aides caught performing an illegal abortion face up to two years in prison, although the woman cannot be punished. The proposed laws would also grant gay and lesbian couples joint property and inheritance rights, although they would not be allowed to adopt children.
On Tuesday, Poland’s influential Catholic bishops criticized both proposed laws, saying they "should not be supported by any Catholic" and warned they could lead to "an inhuman society." Of Poland’s 38 million people, 90 percent declare themselves Catholic. Polish gay rights activists estimate the number of homosexuals in the nation at 2 million, and complain they are the nation’s largest minority with no rights.
April 19, 2004
The Case of the Stolen Gay Files–Neo-Nazi hacker suspected
by Tomek Kitlinski
On the night of February 15, a hacker broke into an e-mail account of Poland’s leading gay organization, Campaign Against Homophobia. The hacker made off with the treasurer’s entire membership list, which was instantly posted in two of the country’s most popular commercial websites. Names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses of members were spiked with comments such as "pedophile" and "drug addict". Within hours, the group’s activists and supporters were emailed a barrage of hate messages. "You are deviants, alcoholics, drug addicts, carriers of sexually-transmitted diseases, and you spread AIDS," they said.
The Gdansk-based Baltic Daily, which broke the story on February 19, identified the hacker as "probably a sympathizer of a radical right-wing party, the National Revival of Poland." When he posted the Campaign’s membership list, the hacker attached the NRP’s "Ban the Fags" logo. According to the Roth Institute, at Tel Aviv University, which tracks anti-Semitic groups, the NRP is a "predominantly neo-Nazi skinhead organization" mostly known "for its promotion of Holocaust denial."
In an official statement published on its website, the NRP denied having "committed the computer burglary." However, elsewhere on the same site, the NRP promised that "the actions in the "Ban the Fags" series will continue." It did not specify what those actions might be. The Campaign Against Homophobia reported the hacking to the police the following morning, and eventually managed to get the lists removed from the two websites. An investigation by the Warsaw prosecutor’s office has since yielded no results.
The Campaign’s Gdansk coordinator, Artur Czerwinski, was the first to notice the hate posting. "I was afraid. I was very apprehensive. What’s going to happen? What should we do? Should we provide security for the people listed? It was a big challenge," he told The Gully. Czerwinski, who is one of the Campaign’s most visible spokespeople, sees the incident as part of a rising wave of homophobia in Poland. "In this country, the people on the list can easily be slandered," he said.
Robert Biedron, 28, the Campaign’s charismatic founder and president concurs. "I regularly receive threats. In one anonymous letter I was called the President of All Deviants, who should have a stone hung around his neck and drowned. But the theft of the membership list made things even more serious," he said.
Biedron added that a week after the hacker posted the Campaign treasurer’s list, the treasurer’s "neighbors found copies of a 2003 TV interview transcript in their mailboxes, where he said he was gay." The Campaign’s treasurer, who lives in Warsaw refused to be interviewed for this article and asked to remain unnamed.
The theft happened as Poland was in the grips of an anti-pedophilia frenzy, largely fueled by the country’s main newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza. Queers and people living with HIV/AIDS were systematically lumped together with pedophiles in the public mind, and pedophilia strictly equated with "boy molesting" (girls need not apply). The mass hysteria was triggered by sensationalist coverage of the indictment of Wojciech Krolopp, the long-time conductor of the prestigious Poznan Boys Choir, who had been charged with "sexually abusing" three of his young singers.
Founded in 2001, the Campaign Against Homophobia organized last year’s controversial billboard project "Let Us Be Seen," which showed photos of queer couples holding hands, and the "I’m Gay. I’m Lesbian. Meet Us" forums at Polish universities. It is currently working for the same-sex civil union bill introduced in the Polish Senate by Senator Maria Szyszkowska.
In 2002, the group helped compile a "Report on Public Figures and Institutions Discriminating Against Sexual Minorities in Poland" which aimed "to show that in our country human and civil rights are not respected." It will soon publish "Homophobia in Polish," a collection of essays by queer activists, scholars, and feminists, including the writer of this piece. The Campaign’s activities have generated intense controversy in a country were queers had been largely invisible. The case of the stolen files is both proof of the Campaign’s effectiveness, and of the perils that lie ahead of it.
Krakow Says No to Gay March-but it happens anyway
by John Horvat II
The city of Krakow would seem to be an unlikely place for a heated debate over homosexual “rights” and same-sex “marriage.” Poland’s cultural capital is situated in a conservative region in this overwhelmingly Catholic country. The city’s homosexual population is minute and insignificant. Indeed the issue has been largely ignored by Polish media. Resistance to the idea of same-sex “marriage” is strong and there is a tendency to be complacent in the belief that such an aberration would never enter the country.
This climate, however, has recently changed. With Poland’s May 1 entry into the European Union, many Poles are feeling the pressure to follow the example of other member nations who have approved same-sex unions and other such partnership benefits. Krakow was the scene of heated debate and controversy over the homosexual rights and same-sex "marriage."
A March is Announced
This was further aggravated when a small group of homosexual activists in Krakow announced their intention to stage a protest march of “tolerance” on the same day as the procession of St. Stanislaus, the city’s patron and its largest religious event counting on the presence of cardinals, bishops, local clergy, city officials and multitudes of the faithful. The march was to end with a festival with art music and films with “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered themes.” City leaders immediately reacted to what they did not hesitate to call a “provocation.” It was only with difficulty that the march was moved two days earlier to May 8. With this, homosexual activists hoped to defuse protests and parade unopposed.
It was into this charged atmosphere that I unwittingly stumbled when I arrived in Krakow in early May. Two months earlier, I had been invited to give a series of informative talks on the homosexual movement and introduce the American TFP’s book, Defending a Higher Law: Why We Must Resist Same-sex Marriage and the Homosexual Movement. The TFP-inspired Stowarzyszenie Kultury Chrzescijanskiej im. Ks. Piotra Skargi (Fr. Peter Skarga Association for Christian Culture) sponsored the tour.
At the time of the invitation, the talks were to speak about a future threat. Now the threat was real.
Perceiving the need to protest against this provocation, Fr. Peter Skarga Association for Christian Culture sent nearly 280,000 flyers to Krakow residents. Readers were urged to send protest postcards to the city’s mayor and the rector of the sponsoring Jagiellonian University. The issue quickly came to the fore. Over 30,000 protest post cards flooded both the town hall and university offices.
A Whirlwind Tour
The Krakow debate made same-sex “marriage” and homosexual rights an issue all over Poland. The liberal tabloid Gazeta Wyborcz, took note of the debate with the headline: “Krakow Says No to Gays.” The controversy in Krakow only served to spark interest in the scheduled talks. A few days before the march, the Fr. Peter Skarga Association for Christian Culture organized a public lecture on homosexuality at the ornate general chamber in the historic Krakow City Hall. Noted Polish doctor and psychologist Wanda Poltawski spoke at length of her observations and treatment of homosexuality. I also spoke to those who filled the full city chamber to tell them they were not alone: a majority of Americans also oppose same-sex marriage.
At Warsaw’s Institute for Family Studies, I spoke to a vibrant auditorium of university students where we discussed at length about how to deal with media and cultural pressure to accept homosexuality within their own age group. At the diocesan seminary in Sandomierez, it was heartening to see a room full of 145 seminarians, concerned about the pastoral aspects of the homosexual problem. Prof. Arkadiusz Robaczewski gathered members of his Instytut Edukacji Narodowej at Catholic University in Lublin where we discussed how the fall of communism made the left change its field of action. The new members of the proletariat of the left are the homosexual, feminist and ecological activists who see themselves as oppressed by Christian morality.
In Torun, north of Warsaw, we were part of a symposium at a Redemptorist school of journalism on the homosexual movement. A lively auditorium of young students discussed many of the myths used by the homosexual movement to promote their cause. These included the use of inflated numbers and the idea that homosexuality is innate or genetic.
Mr. Horvat appeared on Polish television to give an American perspective on the homosexual movement. At nearby Radio Maryja, we visited this impressive state-of-the-art Catholic radio and television studio. Run by Fr. Tadeusz Rydzyk, the facility has millions of listeners in Poland and abroad. On both television and radio, I was invited to give an American perspective on the homosexual movement and field questions from listeners throughout Poland and even the United States. Throughout the tour, Polish friends were heartened to hear there are wholesome reactions to homosexuality in America. They were encouraged to see they are not alone and how all must be united against the actions of the worldwide homosexual movement.
A Loud No
The march in Krakow took place as planned but not without protests and opposition. The promised huge march of homosexual activists failed to materialize. Some 100-200 homosexual marchers were joined by about 500 sympathizers from a menagerie of leftist groups. Green Party supporters, feminists, anarchists and socialists made up the ranks. Several hundred pro-family supporters spontaneously gathered to show their displeasure. The pro-homosexual march quickly broke up as the marchers saw how unwelcome their activism had become.
The headlines of the Gazeta Wyborcz the next day were quite expressive: “Krakow: Two Cities.” The homosexual issue had indeed polarized the city and forced all to take a stand. However, the small homosexual minority and their sympathizers could hardly be called a city. Rather I would say the debate united the city on this grave moral issue and the overwhelming majority said a loud “no” to those who would force homosexuality upon them.
On Pilgrimage to Czestochowa
No visit to Poland is complete without a visit to the ancient icon of Our Lady in Czestochowa. There, this miraculous image reportedly painted by St. Luke, reigns as queen of Poland. She has seen invading Swedes, Russians and Austrians. She has stood firm in the face of Nazism and decades of communism. Long lines of pilgrims constantly move in and out as they have for centuries. It is there at this sanctuary that you sense the heavenly alliance that allowed the Polish people to resist with such noble obstinacy so many attempts in history to destroy their nation.
Today Poland is pressured to accept a cultural revolution unlike any she has seen in the past and which threatens her Catholic identity. Pornography, homosexual activism and immoral fashions all enter with impunity. In face of this cultural revolution, heavenly recourse is greatly needed. As I looked upon the thousands of pilgrims who hasten to her sanctuary with their modern day problems, I could not help but united my prayers to theirs. In their needs, Our Lady of Czestochowa will not fail them. She will come to their aid.
The Homosexual March That Wasn’t: Pro-family protesters accomplish objective -Warsaw pride march prohibited
by John Horvat II
June is the month when homosexual activists hold their so-called "gay pride" marches. In cities throughout the world, the media are quick to highlight these events as signs of vibrant homosexual militancy. Readers will find plenty of news about the marches as they happen. However they will not find anything about the controversy surrounding this year’s homosexual march in Warsaw for the simple reason that it didn’t happen.
Poland Rejects Homosexuality
Throughout the month of June, Poles protested in large numbers reflecting the true opinion of this conservative country where the population is overwhelmingly Catholic. In fact, most Poles reject homosexuality based on the Church’s condemnation of the practice. Homosexuals themselves make up a minute part of the population.
However, with Poland’s May 1 entry into the European Union, the nation’s homosexual activists had hoped to put the nation in the limelight with a number of high-profile actions to advance their cause. They announced marches on major Church feast days in Krakow and Warsaw, a step many Poles did not hesitate to see as a provocation.
Krakow Says No!
Homosexual activist expected their May 8 protest in the culture center of Krakow would be the first spark in igniting the issue nationwide. Perceiving the need to protest against this provocation, the TFP-inspired Fr. Peter Skarga Association for Christian Culture (Stowarzyszenie Kultury Chrzescijanskiej im. Ks. Piotra Skargi) sent nearly 280,000 flyers to Krakow residents who sent protest postcards to the city’s mayor and the rector of the sponsoring Jagiellonian University. Over 30,000 protest post cards flooded both the town hall and university offices.
The promised huge march of homosexual activists fizzled out. Some 100-200 homosexual marchers were joined by about 500 Green Party supporters, feminists, anarchists and socialists. The pro-homosexual march broke up when several hundred pro-family supporters spontaneously gathered to vent their displeasure.
No Pact in Warsaw
Stinging from their defeat in Krakow, homosexual activists hoped that the more liberal capital city of Warsaw might be more amenable to their cause. A Corpus Christi day march was announced which was later changed to June 11 due to religious objections. They also declared that over 7000 marchers were expected to attend.
Responding to the threat, the Fr. Peter Skarga Association for Christian Culture sent nearly 700,000 flyers to Warsaw residents. Readers were urged to send protest postcards to the city’s mayor, Lech Kaczynski, and the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Józef Oleksy. According to TFP Polish correspondent Valdis Grinsteins, controversy raged around the march as protests piled in. The mayor of Warsaw prohibited the march since it was ever more obvious that residents did not want their city used as a stage for homosexual activism.
When the decision was challenged by homosexual advocates, the mayor reaffirmed the prohibition three times. The activists tried to create a tense situation by announcing they would march illegally. Stinging from their defeat in Krakow, homosexuals hoped to receive a warmer welcome in the more liberal city of Warsaw.
The March That Wasn’t
As the date of the march neared, the mayor’s office did not back down. The activists even resorted to pie-throwing antics targeting the mayor and other acts manifesting their “tolerance.” They eventually decided to join a protest organized by leftist parties in front of Warsaw City Hall.
On the day of the march, a tiny group of leftists and activists gathered at City Hall. Far from the 7000 people they had threatened to unite, a mere 400 protesters showed up. Counter-protesters also appeared to manifest their protest and take any air of festivity from the event. Pro-family protesters had accomplished their objective, the great Warsaw pride march had failed.
Media portrayals of homosexual events give the impression that the agenda of this tiny minority cannot be defeated. This only adds fuel to the fire for defeatists who argue it does no good to protest against homosexuality. On those occasions, pro-family Americans must redouble their efforts knowing victory is possible. They should point to Warsaw and remember the march that wasn’t.
Gay composer Karol Maciej Szymanowski (1882-1937) is revered as the father of Polish contemporary classical music; he unequivocally expresses homoeroticism in his music.
byDouglas Blair Turnbaugh
He was born at Timoshovska, Ukraine, on October 3, 1882. Although born in Russian territory, Szymanowski was of a noble Polish family. The family estate was a center of musical activity, and, with his father as his teacher, Szymanowski’s musical education began at an early age. A masterly pianist, he later studied privately in Warsaw, but was an autodidact in composition. His earliest work, influenced by Chopin and Scriabin, is lyrical, but dominated by sentimental melancholy.
In 1905 Szymanowski began to live abroad, as he continued his "self-education." The rich, talented, handsome young aristocrat was an ornament in the stupendous social whirl of pre-World War I Berlin, Leipzig, and Vienna. With his friend Stefan Spiess, he visited Sicily in 1911 and Algiers and Tunis in 1914. Szymanowski, not unlike other European gay artists, such as Baron von Gloeden, Oscar Wilde, and André Gide, found the spectacle of unabashed boy-love in the less inhibited southern climate to be psychologically liberating and, thereby, an inspiration to his art.
Szymanowski celebrated his newly liberated sexuality in his music. After the Sicilian visit, the melancholy of his earlier work was vanquished by the joy that would be present throughout the rest of his creative life. Homoeroticism is discernible in much of his music, especially in such works as "Love Songs of Hafiz" and "Third Symphony–Song of the Night, for tenor solo," a setting of a poem by the thirteenth-century Persian poet Rumi. Krysinski and de la Motte-Sherman declare that Szmanowski’s music is "unrivalled as a lyric song of a soul in love."
Szymanowski lived on his family’s estate from 1914 until it was destroyed by the Bolsheviks in 1917. He then moved to Warsaw. He traveled in Europe and twice visited the United States. Also a writer, between 1917 and 1919, Szymanowski devoted himself to composing his legendary novel "Efebos," of which only one chapter survives.
Then in 1919, he met his fantasy ganymede in the person of a fifteen-year-old refugee from Moscow, Boris Kochno.
Boris was a precocious boy from a noble Russian family and a budding poet. Szymanowski fell deeply in love and wrote poems to him. His passion was for a time reciprocated. However, unknown to Szymanowski, Boris also became the lover of the redoubtable Sergei Diaghilev. The pianist Arthur Rubinstein, a friend of Szymanowski, describes in his memoirs a chance meeting of the trio in Paris–Szymanowski’s pain, Kochno’s chagrin, and Diaghilev’s jealousy.
After the war, with pianist Ignace Paderewski as Prime Minister of a free Poland, Polish folk music became a factor in Szymanowski’s music. The composer spent much of his time in the Podhale region, where a large community of friends, musicians, and artists was devoted to him. He dealt with his spirituality–the guilt-inducing Catholic attitude toward homosexuality during his youth now mitigated by a Dionysian concept of Christianity–in his Stabat Mater (1928). He was appointed rector of the Academy of Music in Warsaw in 1927, but intrigues, fueled by homophobia, caused him to resign in 1932.
In failing health, in 1934 Karol Szymanowski declared that there was one thing in his life he did not regret: he had loved many. He had been loved, too. He died on March 29, 1937 at Lausanne, Switzerland. UNESCO declared 1982 as the International Year of Karol Szymanowski.
Books about Szymanowski:
-Krysinski, Lech, and Colin de la Motte-Sherman. "A Heart in Flames–Karol Szymanowski." Erato–Journal of the International Lesbian and Gay Cultural Network No. 17 (Autumn 2000).
-Maciejewski, B. M. Karol Szymanowski: His Life and Music. London: Poets’ and Painters’ Press, 1967.
-Scholes, Percy A. "Szymanowski, Karol." The Oxford Companion to Music. John Owen Ward, ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1970.
-Szymanowski, Karol. Das Gastmahl: Ein Kapital aus dem Roman "Ephebos." Berlin: Bibliothek Rosa Winkel, 1993.
Germany: Protests against Warsaw Pride cancellation in front of the Berlin Polish embassy
Colleagues from Maneo, Berlin’s Gay emergency hotline, in talks with the Polish ambassador
Today, over 100 gays and lesbians have taken part in a demonstration, organised by Maneo, Berlin’s gay emergency hotline and victim support. A petition with around one thousand signatures was presented to the ambassadors’ secretary in front of the embassy.
The director of Maneo, Bastian Finke, had the opportunity to speak personally to the ambassador, Dr. Andrzej Byrt inside the embassy. There he could explain to the ambassador the purpose and the aim of the demonstration, and make clear that the protests wanted to show solidarity with Poland’s gays and lesbians. Finke emphasized:“ It is totally unbelievable and not acceptable that a demonstration in which citizens of a European Union member state demand equality available to them
by the laws of the EU, is affected so much by a radical right wing anti-demonstration, that it cannot take place.” With interest the ambassador took note that Maneo would develop and support different initiatives to pave the way for an exchange with the official Polish authorities and the human rights organisation Kampagna. The protest was directed against the ban on the “Equality parade”, planned for the 11 th June, because of the comments of the mayor of Warsaw, Lech Kaczynski, in which he labeled the gay-lesbian parade as “sexually obscene,” “a danger for the public moral” and as one that would degrade religious sentiments.
December 3, 2004
Poland gives preliminary approval to same-sex partnership rights
Poland’s upper house of parliament approved a bill Friday that would give gay couples legal partnership rights, immediately drawing sharp criticism from the nation’s powerful Roman Catholic Church. The senate voted 38-23, with 15 abstentions, to send the draft to the lower house, or Sejm, where the bill was expected to meet resistance. If it becomes law, the bill would allow gay couples to register with city or town officials, which would give them inheritance rights and other legal guarantees–though not the right to adopt children.
Senator Maria Szyszkowska, a member of Prime Minister Marek Belka’s Democratic Left Alliance who authored the bill, said the decision marks the "start of building tolerance in Poland." But Father Jerzy Kloch, spokesman for the Polish Episcopate, blasted the measure, saying it violates Poland’s constitution, which reads that "a marriage is a union between a man and a woman." "If this bill was implemented, it would bring irreparable social damage for marriage and family and upbringing of children," Kloch said. "The church has made its stand on the issue known many times during meetings between the church and the government, and we hope such law will not be implemented in Poland."
Pope John Paul II, a native of Poland whose words carry great sway in this predominantly Catholic country, last month reiterated his outspoken opposition to same-sex marriage. He warned against attempts to tamper with what he called "the irreplaceable" institution of marriage-based family in an apparent reference to moves like granting gay couples social benefits.
Szymon Niemiec, the head of Poland’s Association of Gays and Lesbians, said the upper house’s decision is a "huge success for Poland’s democracy" but acknowledged it will be an uphill struggle to get the bill passed into law. "This is the first very difficult and very important step toward making this a normal country," Niemiec told Polish news agency PAP. "A long and hard road is still ahead of us, but the most important step has been taken. This is a huge change."