Polish activist speaks out about homophobia in Poland

Publish Date: 18/07/2009

Polish gay activist Waldemar Zboralski speaks to LGF online about life in Poland for the LGBT community, and his hopes for Polish gay people, who are now resident in the UK and the political impact they could have in helping LGBTs still living in Poland.

You have been campaigning for LGBT rights in Poland for over 20 years, what has changed in the country in that time?

'My first steps as gay activist began 25 years ago. Shortly after that the Polish Communist Police started a famous anti-gay action named 'Akcja Hiacynt' ('Hyacinth Campaign') which arrested around 11,000 gay men.

This happened in 1985. In 1986 Bishop Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict 16th), started his campaign against homosexual people in an official Vatican-announcement".

He described homosexuals as having strong tendancies towards "intrinsic moral evil" and said homosexuality was an "objective disorder".

"You could say that this started a second wave of hatred in 20th century: similar in size and intensity to Hitler's campaign against homosexual people between 1933-1945.

All this must be explained to understand why so much immense hatred against gay people comes from in countries like Poland which are very strictly ruled by The Roman Catholic Church.

During my first period of political activity for a gay and lesbian movement, besides the 'Hyacinth Campaign' in 1985, me and my friends, step by step achieved good results with regular meetings, discussions and intensified our political consciousness for the right to exist in our society. It was becoming better from year to year, more and more homosexual people in Poland were organized as politically conscious lesbian and gay citizens.

Everything was going well until 1993. Then, The Vatican, which has a very strong influence on Polish politicians, published a series of anti-homosexual announcements and from then on the Roman Catholic Church in Poland; started a prolonged 'word-war' against the human rights of lesbian and gay people in Poland.

There is a difference between the experiences of LGBT people in Poland during the Communist era and today. The Communists wanted to control the activities of LGBTs. Now, the Vatican influenced Polish politicians want to completely eliminate any LGBT activity from Polish society!"

You now live in England although you still feel you are in a good position to help progress LGBT rights in your home country, why is this?

'After my Civil Partnership ceremony in England with my Polish Partner in 2007, we became the 'first Polish gay couple, to get a Civil Partnership in England'. Some Polish newspaper editors and private television stations invited us for interviews. The American television network, HBO, made a documentary with us. We've become a symbol and example of the Polish fight for LGBT rights, who seek European Union human rights in their life - rights, which do not exist in Poland. Our example started to encourage gay men and lesbians in Poland to keep up the fight for the right to be free in Poland and to have rights like Civil Partnerships.'

You gave an interview to a national Polish newspaper, what did you speak about and why was the paper not able to interview any native gay Polish people?

'Before the Polish Gay Pride event in Warsaw, on 13th June 2009, me and my Partner gave an interview in the big liberal newspaper, 'Gazeta Wyborcza' about our Civil Partnership in England and about Civil Partnerships in general. One of the political slogans for this Gay Pride was 'We claim our right for Civil Partnership in Poland'. The newspaper wanted to speak to any Polish couple living in Poland but given the current climate - no Polish couple would give the interview.'

What has been the reaction since you gave the interview and how does it differ from the many interviews you have given in the past in the Polish media?

'Most Polish lesbians and gays said that they don't want to emigrate from Poland to legalise their love with a Civil Partnership in England or Spain, or the rest of Western Europe. They said: 'We are Polish people and we have got to fight for our rights to be happy in our country - not only in emigration!'

"I said in my interview, that Polish LGBs have the right to receive this document in Polish - and I showed my English certificate of Civil Partnership and that it is a shame, that the Polish government formally force Polish people to leave Poland to search for human rights in Western Europe. My goal is to stop hatred in Poland against gay and lesbian people and to force the Polish government to open the way for Civil Partnerships as soon as possible.'

What is life like now for your LGBT friends that are still in Poland?

'Most Polish lesbians and gays want to stay in Poland, because they still hope, that the political situation will someday change. They still hope, but as I became older I lost any hope for change. Younger people still have hope. I wish to support those people from here, from England."

Do you have any idea how many LGBT people from Poland are now living in the UK?

'Since 2005 approximately 2.5 million adults emigrated from Poland and the UK received around 1 million of them. As a Polish LGB activist living in Poland, I realized that since 2005 there was a sudden reduction in the sale of gay and lesbian magazines and the number of visitors to gay and lesbian clubs and bars across Poland dramatically reduced. It got so bad that many gay-bars closed. It is impossible to count how many LGBT people emigrated from Poland but it is thousands and thousands of people. We estimate, in the UK alone there are around 50,000 - 60,000 Polish lesbian and gays. But they are not economic migrants. They are people looking for freedom and human rights.'

A few years ago gay rights groups in Poland were quite successful at getting media coverage, are they still able to publicise their campaigns?

'After 2008 a Polish right wing politician PIOTR FARFAL, became a President of Polish public television 'TVP' and his right wing companions captured regional management of public television and broadcast homophobic messages. As a result (of TVPs shift away from European values) French-German television ARTE broke any further co-operation withPolish -'TVP'

More and more Polish newspapers write that gays are equal to paedophiles, criminals and anti-socials.

It is very hard in Poland to publish any positive information in the mass media. Now that Lithuania have approved the 'Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information', the Polish ' Law and Justice Party' started to copy this law for the Polish parliament and they want to forbid any positive information about LGBT people on Polish television, radio, and newspapers."

Why do you want to support other Polish LGBT people in the north west of England?

'Because very bad things regarding LGBT-rights are happening in Poland I want to mobilize Polish lesbians and gays in Western Europe and put political pressure on the politicians and challenge homophobia. Members of the Polish LGBT community living in the UK want to scream for those friends in Poland who are forced to be silent. We want to fight for our brothers and sisters.'

You can read more about Waldemar here or check out his own website pages (in Polish) here