Monday, June 15, 2009
Europe will invade Poland. Again. Poland will host Europride next summer, the international gathering of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender groups and persons who work for an end to discrimination against homosexuality and for protection of human rights. As for this summer, Warsaw's Gay Pride Parade was held on Saturday, June 13, and a smaller than usual turn-out turned out. Nevertheless, it was a vibrant celebration of gay rights in a traditionally conservative Catholic country, which is to say, not the most welcoming of environments. (click on Pride title for link to parade video) It was illegal to be gay (figure out how to comply with that, lgbt friends!) during the communist era. Or more precisely, the topic (and the lifestyle) was taboo. I was invited to a very official high level church dinner in 1986, with local and international guests, including gloriously-hatted Russian Orthodox archbishops and metropolitans, and Orthodox representatives from the Middle East. As far as the other participants were concerned, my presence was the scandal du jour. But to my Polish friends, who drove me there and had to come in to be sure my information was accurate, the big scandal was the choice of Warsaw's leading (yet discreet) gay restaurant as the site for this ecumenical event. In the twenty years since Poland held its first free elections and left the straight-jacket of communism behind, Poland's gay community has been inching out of the closet. The first Gay Pride Parade was more of a huddle. In 1998, three brave individuals with hoods over their heads met at the Sigismund column in Castle Square. By 2003, four thousand marchers carried rainbow flags and demonstrated in favor of protection from discrimination. Then came the return of dark ages, as Lech Kaczynski, then mayor of Warsaw, now the country's President, banned the parade. By 2005, thousands of Polish and international marchers took to the streets in the largest illegal parade through Warsaw's streets, in its history. Clashes with police were tense but not violent. By 2006, ten thousand GLBT persons and other supporters of gay rights were parading peacefully. And so it has continued. But not without strong resistance. While President, Kaczynski was inducted into the Hall of Shame by Human Rights Watch, a group that monitors minority rights throughout Europe. He used "heavy-handed" language to warn of dire danger to the moral order of the country should Poland accede to the European Union's Lisbon Treaty, which does promise protections of human rights. A member of his government, Ewa Sowinska, took the Tele Tubbies to task, famously challenging Tinky Winky's use of a purse -- "a homosexual undertone" -- and warned that his behavior could have an adverse effect upon children. I was glad to see him along with the rest of the tubbies (pronounced tubeys or toobeys in Polish)when I arrived in Poland later that year. Phew! Large parades are back, along with much freer debate and dialogue. Poland's leading news magazine, Polityka, has an excellent article this week, an interview with a leading psychotherapist who specializes in treating GLBT persons. It is very sympathetic and sophisticated, about How to Live in a Homosexual Relationship. You might find something similar in The New York Times or The Economist. It notes that Poland is thirty years behind much of the rest of Europe with respect to GLBT issues, especially in terms of education and tolerance, but credits the internet for the explosion of positive developments. And now this article will be yet another step along the road to legalization of gay unions, protection against discrimination, and good education for the general public about homosexuality. And, meanwhile, as the struggle continues here and there and everywhere, it truly can be said that Poland, now after these twenty years, is normal.