Warsaw Pride Parade returns after pandemic break and backlash

WARSAW, POLAND – Central Europe’s biggest gay pride parade again took place in Warsaw on Saturday for the first time in two years after a pandemic-induced hiatus – and amid a backlash in Poland and Hungary against LGBTQ2S + rights.

The Equality Parade of the Year took place 20 years after the event was first held in the Polish capital. It was banned twice in its early years by a conservative mayor who feared it would promote homosexuality and last year it was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski marched in front of the parade in support of LGBTQ2S + rights, joining thousands who were applauded by others waving rainbow flags from apartment balconies and the terraces of the cafes.

But this level of acceptance is not universal in Poland, a strongly Catholic and largely conservative nation.

The joyous and colorful celebration was tinged with fear of what the future holds for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights after setbacks in Russia and now Hungary.

“Parade day is always a bittersweet time for our community,” said Rafal Wojtczak, spokesperson for the organizers. He described feelings of sadness and helplessness that LGBTQ2S + people have not been granted rights like partnership or same-sex marriage in Poland, while facing new threats.

The parade comes just days after Hungary’s parliament passed a law banning the dissemination of any material on LGBTQ2S + issues to people under the age of 18.

Hungary’s ruling conservative party has described the law as an effort to tackle pedophilia. But human rights groups say it will stigmatize LGBTQ2S + people and prevent young people from accessing critical information.

The ruling populist party in Poland has taken a political direction very similar to that of Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orban, pushing conservative policies and tightening the ruling party’s control over the courts and the media. The European Union has criticized both nations, accusing them of eroding democratic standards.

A prominent Polish activist, Bart Staszewski, carried a Hungarian flag during the march on Saturday, saying it was a message to the EU to stand up for LGBTQ2S + people because he feared that “Poland would be the next “.

Among the attendees was Misza Czerniak, a 37-year-old musician who was born in Russia and emigrated to Poland 10 years ago in part to flee homophobia there. Czerniak said the recent designation by Polish authorities as scapegoats for LGBTQ2S + people is reminiscent of Russia, especially local anti-LGBTQ2S + resolutions which “create an atmosphere of hatred, suspicion and fear.”

“The right turn made Poland much closer to my home country than I would have liked. It made me wonder why I moved here,” he said.

Ambassadors and other diplomats from 14 embassies in Warsaw also attended, including the US charge d’affaires Bix Aliu, who tweeted “Choose love and not hate”.

A year ago, the Polish LGBTQ2S + community faced backlash from conservative ruling politicians, local communities and the church. In his successful attempt at re-election against a challenge from Trzaskowski, President Andrzej Duda stated that “LGBTs are not people; it is an ideology ”while claiming that it was“ even more destructive ”than communism.

A Polish archbishop warned of a “rainbow plague”. And dozens of local communities in Poland have passed resolutions against “LGBT ideology,” claiming to protect traditional families. The resolutions have been strongly denounced by EU officials and a handful have been repealed.

“We have been through a very, very difficult time. But at the same time, we go out into the streets and say that we are stronger and that we are not going to give up,” said Miroslawa Makuchowska, vice director of Campaign Against. homophobia.

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