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Poland’s Drive for LGBT+ Rights?5 min read

 In Central Europe, Civil Society, News
All over the world various people are proving the benefits of social media presence by advocating for issues such as gender equality, racism or LGBT+ rights, and recently the topic has preoccupied Polish media. One of the reasons for that was an unusual event, orchestrated by one of the most popular Polish YouTubers, Krzysztof Gonciarz starring… a truck.

Polish society has been long divided over the question of LGBT+ rights and recently the issue has, once again, become a hot topic. This happened mostly due to the presidential campaign, when Andrzej Duda, while hoping to be re-elected, called LGBT+ “an ideology more harmful than communism”. Eventually, Duda’s words did not significantly harm his image among his supporters because he won the elections.

As the president and numerous right and far-right politicians publicly shared their controversial views on LGBT+, the tensions among opposing political parties and, more importantly, among citizens, escalated. On numerous occasions, thousands of Poles spoke out and disagreed with Duda’s claim. On the other hand, a significant part of society supports anti-LGBT+ campaigns such as anti-LGBT+ marches, LGBT+ free zones (BBC, The New York Times, and The Guardian wrote about it on numerous occasions), or the travelling truck, which, through a microphone and graphics, criticizes sexual education and associates the so-called LGBT+ lobby with pedophilia.

However, the “homophobus”, which is continuously crossing Polish streets, is not a novelty, especially in Warsaw. Homophobic trucks first made the news in Poland in May 2019. The organisation behind this initiative is Fundacja Pro – Prawo do Życia [Pro Foundation – Right to Live], whose chairman Mariusz Dzierżawski had already been penalised for displaying indecent pictures, namely, pictures of aborted babies, in public. Dzierżawski received a fine on the basis of Article 51 of The Code of Offences, which states that whoever disturbs the public order with a scandal should be punished by detention, restriction of liberty or a fine.

Although the homophobic truck disturbs the public order, it cannot be stopped on the basis of the same article. As a junior police warrant officer said, “the vehicle obeyed the rules of traffic”. The only legal way to stop the truck from going around Poland’s capital city, proposed by a legal counselor Adam Kuczyński, is for the mayor of Warsaw, Rafał Trzaskowski to apply to the court. He would have to claim that the Fundacja Pro repeatedly disobeys the rules stated in Article 12 of the Act on Foundations, which would stop the foundation’s actions at least for some time.

For now, Trzaskowski, who is a known supporter of LGBT+ rights, has not decided to do so. As Tomasz Kunert, the deputy spokesman for the mayor of Warsaw, said, they “tried many times to report the trucks as illegal public gatherings, but the vehicles do not fall under the relevant act, which in practice means that they cannot be treated as public gatherings”.

On the other hand, activists and citizens have not waited for a new turn of events and have frequently stopped the truck physically, sometimes even damaging it, which has caught the attention of the police. When a group of people stopped the truck in Warsaw on 14 August, the participants were penalised with a fine of 500 PLN for traffic disruption. As one of them told the journalists of Gazeta Wyborcza, the police’s attitude is the most surprising in this situation: “I do not agree with the lies said from the truck. It is not true. Why does the police blame us, not the truck?”.

The most controversial stoppage of the truck involved a non-binary activist, Margot, who was placed in pretrial detention for allegedly devastating the anti-LGBT+ truck. This incident was noticed by foreign media and institutions; the Council of Europe’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Unit and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, for example, called for immediate release of the activist. The decision to place Margot in pretrial detention was met by both approval and criticism among Poles. Masses of people gathered in some of the biggest Polish cities (Katowice, Warsaw, Cracow, Poznań and many others) to show their support to the LGBT+ community and protest against Margot´s arrest.

One of the people who decided to show support was a popular Polish YouTuber, Krzysztof Gonciarz, who published a widely discussed post, in which he emphasised that the LGBT+ community has the right to feel anger since they constantly hear offensive words spoken from the truck. But he did not stop there. Gonciarz spontaneously hired another truck, titled it “Anyone can stick something on a truck and talk nonsense” and drove it around Warsaw together with a group of activists. Gonciarz was speaking through the microphone and did not pre-record his voice as he wanted it to be more natural.

The goal of this, according to him, was not to criticise any particular group or ideology or start a discussion with the Fundacja Pro, but to create a semi-comic situation that would make people “smile and chill out a bit”. Those who followed his Instagram stories had a chance to see how the Gonciarz’s truck meets the truck on one of the streets of Warsaw. Gonciarz’s group continued to follow the anti-LGBT+ truck and told it to go home in a non-aggressive way. Many pedestrians and drivers were applauding the action. It was, too, warmly-welcomed by his followers, on his social media profiles such as Facebook or Instagram but also shared by others, like for example a popular traveller and journalist Martyna Wojciechowska.

Krzysztof Gonciarz’s initiative as well as its reception are one of the signs that not everyone agrees with the anti-LGBT+ agenda that is promoted by some politicians and reinforced by right-wing media outlets. Still, however, in the “Rainbow Map” published by an NGO, ILGA-Europe, in 2020, Poland was ranked the worst amongst the EU countries for the legal and political situation for LGBT+ people. With the approach of the current president and government, it does not look like it will be much different in 2021.

Featured image: Quote from the article on a truck / Amanda Sonesson
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