We at LEWIS Magazine have reached out to journalists and queer rights activist Piotr Grabarczyk..
Journalist @Piotr Grabarczyk
“This is why it is so important to tell our stories.”
“This established fear is just very present in your daily life, when you grow up in this kind of country. This is why Pride is so important.”
“There are thousands of LGBTQ+ people who want a better life for themselves and are willing to fight for it.”
Each May the ILGA (The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) releases its annual Rainbow Europe ranking, to analyze 49 European countries on their legal and policy practices for LGBTQ+ people. This year Poland dropped by 1.9%, making it the most homophobic country in the EU. To shine a light on this issue, we at LEWIS Magazine have reached out to journalist and queer rights activist Piotr Grabarczyk where he opened up to one of our writers David Baczyk, about his experiences as a member of the LGBTQ+ Community in Poland.
What was your reaction when you saw Poland taking the last position in the ILGA ranking for an EU country?
To be honest, I wasn’t surprised at all. Just because there aren’t any protection laws for LGBTQ+ people in my country. We don’t have any registered partnerships nor marriage equality. Over a year ago, more than a third of Poland has pledged to become an “LGBT-free zone”, as a sign to avoid providing financial assistance to promote equal rights for the queer community. This intolerance is largely encouraged by the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), which has frequently targeted LGBTQ+ rights as an invasive foreign influence or “plague” that threatens the country’s national identity.
You mentioned before that you live in Warsaw, where you can fully live out your sexuality. But I’m not sure if it is the same freedom people experience in more progressive countries. Would you elucidate what it really means to be openly gay in Poland?
P: I would say living in Warsaw as a member of the LGBTQ+ Community can have it’s benefits compared to other cities in Poland. Mostly, because it is one of the largest metropolis in Europe. So people here are more open minded and used to people who are “different”. Which doesn’t mean that homophobic attacks don’t happen over here, because they are. Like, whenever you try to show affection to your partner or even if you dress a certain way, there is still this uncertainty in the back of your head that something could happen any moment. This established fear is just very present in your daily life, when you grow up in this kind of country. This is why Pride is so important.
That is really sad to hear. It is just crazy to me to hear that. Because I feel like I was living in this buble. I grew up in Austria and I most of the time I’m in New York or in all these other more “open minded” cities. And to hear these things and knowing that so many other people are not having these same liberties, is just very frustrating.
I remember when I was 19, I went to berlin with my boyfriend. The first thing I wanted to do was to hold his hand in public. Because for me, this was something I was absolutely not allowed to do back home. But it gets better and I try to convince myself (or my partner) that we should have to right to show affection in public. Which is why we sometimes have to overcome this fear and just do it.
Thank you for sharing this. It really means a lot to me. Because, on paper, I’m still polish and I do want to keep it that way. But, I just remember when they approved marriage equality in Austria, I was still not allowed to get married because there was this huge grey area which prohibited me to get married when it’s not legal in your home country. So even though, I live outside of Poland, I still feel the weight on my shoulders the people there have to go through. And I believe, if we are all not treated equally, none of us are truly free.
There is this rumor in Poland saying that ‘Same-Sex Couples only want to adopt children just so they can abuse them.’ And I just want to know, from where this statement is coming from and why it is so wide spread?
This rumor is not based on any scientific research or anything. Because they did some investigations around this topic in my country and obviously they didn’t find any truth in these accusations. But some follower from the conservative party are still leaning on this lie. They go around with posters saying "Gays are child-rapists" or they just shout it in the streets with loudspeakers. They even have a car plastered with these kind of slogans and drive around the city all day long. Imagine being part of the community and you hear something like this out of nowhere. And you know everyone you hears it as well. How many times you can you defend yourself from such atrocity? And obviously people who are not well educated about this topic, believe them. Sadly, we can’t do anything about these situations because in Poland we don’t have any laws that could protect us from these hate speeches. It’s like we are stuck in this circle in which we can’t escape from.
I feel like there is this misconception for some people when it comes to the EU, because you have this idea of this progressive economical and political union with countries like France, Germany or Finland - but then you realize that not all nations within this union have the same agreement when it comes to these kind of issues.
I was actually talking about this with some of my friends who live in the US. They are always asking me about our situation in Poland. They are very confused why we don’t have any rights or even marriage equality, even though we are part of the EU. This is why it is so important to tell our stories. There are thousands of LGBTQ+ people who want a better life for themselves and are willing to fight for it.
Over these past few years, hasn’t there been a little bit of a breakthrough for the LGBTQ+ Community in Poland?
So, on the one hand you hear all these upsetting news, but on the other hand, the support towards our community is slowly increasing. Despite having an homophobic government, LGBT-free zones and multiple smear campaigns against our community, polish people are getting more and more open minded, which can be seen in numbers. Even though they face a lot of consequences, many activists in my country are educating the polish society with the attempt to resist the government. The LGBTQ community itself is more mobilized than ever. Just at last year's Pride in Warsaw, there where 80,000+ people were marching the streets plus with over 20 LGBTQ demonstrations around the country. A record! We don't want to stay silent and the bigger this repression gets, the bigger the resistance becomes.
How can people, who are living outside your country, help the polish LGBTQ+ community with their situation?
We have to stay visible. The polish LGBTQ+ activists, are really doing an amazing job by cooperating with other countries and we need to educate the rest of the world about our situation. Especially because we live in the EU, there is a lot of help we can get from other countries just by telling our experiences. We really can’t stay silent anymore.
Thank you Piotr, for taking your time and sharing your story. It is good to know that there is hope. So, let’s keep fighting.