After adopting a slew of anti-queer policies and instituting “LGBT free zones” across the country, Polish authorities are now escalating their attack on the LGBTQ community by staging police crackdowns on activists protesting their swelling repression. Under this climate of government-sanctioned hate and police brutality, violent and arbitrary arrests of queer activists and their portrayal as enemies of society deserving the full wrath of the law is becoming the new norm in Poland.
In late 2019, Poland has sent shock waves across the world when over 100 local governments in its territory adopted resolutions declaring themselves “LGBT free zones,” in which promotion of queer ‘ideology’ and advocacy for LGBTQ rights are prohibited. In response, the European Union Parliament issued a stark condemnation of these local governments, with some lawmakers comparing the resolutions to “Jew free” zones established in Poland during World War II.
Throughout 2020, pressure was exerted intermittently by some EU institutions and public figures. The European Commission had sent a letter in early June to a number of administrative provinces in Poland, demanding an explanation for the resolutions and reminding them that the adoption of discriminatory policies could result in the withholding of funds. The EU has also denied several Polish cities that declared themselves free of queer “ideology” grants for “twinning programmes” with other European cities.
But, despite the growing number of condemnations and looming sanctions, Polish authorities remained undaunted. They persisted with their anti-queer agenda. As indicated in the Atlas of Hate, an interactive map prepared by Polish activists, about a third of Poland (a territory larger than the size of Hungary) is currently within the “LGBT free zone.”
These policies are the direct result of a multi-year anti-queer campaign waged by the governing far right Law and Justice Party (PiS) in Poland, which portrays LGBTQ people as a menace to traditional family values and regards the promotion of their rights as an affront on religious freedom.
Emboldened by the nation’s president and top politicians—public figures and leaders, both religious and secular, have been openly condemning the LGBTQ community, and homophobic and transphobic rhetoric began to inundate Poland’s national media landscape. This has sparked a wave of violent attacks, threats, and abuse of queer people across Poland.
Polish queer activists refused to stay silent and have embarked on a persistent and courageous campaign of their own—to restore their dignity, ensure their safety, and demand that the government protect their liberties and rights. The government’s response to this has been an unbridled assault by police officers and legal authorities on queer activists.
On 14 July, activist Margot Szutowicz, member of the Stop Bzdurom (Stop Nonsense) campaign, had been arrested for defacing a truck that used loudspeakers to spread anti-queer propaganda. Szutowicz was then arrested again on 3 August, along with several other activists, this time for hanging Pride flags on monuments across Warsaw. Both arrests were conducted violently, with officers calling Szutowicz homophobic slurs. Szutowicz is facing charges of participating in a riot, property damage, and physical assault, for which she could face up to 7 years in jail, and will be placed in a two-month pre-trial detention.
On 7 August, a crowd of queer activists gathered outside the headquarters of the Campaign Against Homophobia [KPH] in Warsaw, where Szutowicz was arrested, and attempted to block the van that carried her away. Activists live-streamed the events on social media as they happened, documenting what devolved into a noxious display of police brutality. “The unmarked vehicle broke through and we chased it down the street, trying to stop it by jumping in front of the car,” shared an activist named Maya on her IG Story. “[I]t was an incredibly dangerous moment with police—in uniforms and plainclothes—violently throwing us off the vehicle, pulling us off the street.” According to ILGA-Europe, an LGBTQ advocacy nonprofit organisation, at least 50 arrests of activists were made that night.
By enshrining in law the oppression and dehumanisation of the LGBTQ community, Poland is violating its obligation as a member state of the European Union to guarantee “respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.” By orchestrating virulent crackdowns on activists and sanctioning mass, arbitrary arrests of protesters, the Polish government is exacerbating the global pandemic of police brutality and stifles freedom of speech and assembly. The international community should throw its full support behind the queer community in Poland and demand an immediate end to its oppression.
“7 August’s events in the capital of Poland will forever be remembered by the Polish LGBTQIA movement,” the Campaign Against Homophobia said in a statement. “The sense of pride, power and solidarity that we experienced during yesterday’s riots will remain in our hearts. Cannons have been launched against the rainbow and there is no turning back.”
As the global fight against racial injustice gains steam, meaningful change is beginning to materialise. From mayors pledging to defund police forces and racial justice organisations receiving an outpouring of support to a sharp rise in public discussions around issues of systemic racism—evidence of progress trails behind the swelling wave of protest and outrage. It is important to build on this historic momentum and keep the foot on the gas.
What can you do to support the movement for black rights and racial justice?
Taking to the streets to demonstrate remains one of the most effective ways to protest injustice and demand immediate change. Check the Black Lives Matter website, local community websites and social media for information about protests taking place in your area. If your circumstances don’t allow you to march in the streets, you may want to inquire about virtual protests happening, like the one recently arranged by Black Lives Matter London.
Protesters marching in the streets are in need of various supplies, including water, masks, food, and more. Visit the webpage of a protest happening near you to learn about its designated supply drop-off locations, or contact protest organisers for information on how to help.
As a growing number of protesters are being arrested by police forces, bail money is urgently needed for people who cannot afford to purchase their freedom. This Google Doc contains a list of bailout and legal funds categorised by city and state.
Systemic racism has robbed black communities of funds and resources and stilted progress among its residents. Contributing to initiatives designed to empower black communities is a crucial step in rectifying the ravages of centuries of racial discrimination. Black Visions Collective, National Bailout and Campaign Zero are three organisations that work in varying ways to achieve long term improvement for black communities, end their oppression and promote their rights and safety. You may want to research similar organisations operating in your city or state.
Make it a point to support black-owned businesses, restaurants and shops in your area. You should also research which companies are complicit in perpetuating systemic racism and refrain from supporting them—L’Oréal, Reformation and Zimmerman, I’m looking at you.
Immigrants of colour are disproportionately targeted, terrorised, and abused by the government—at the border, in detention facilities, and in black and brown communities repeatedly raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). At the invitation of the NYPD, ICE agents have been infiltrating Black Lives Matter protests in New York City, and have already detained one immigrant. Research and donate to organisations working to protect and advocate on behalf of immigrants of colour.
Queer people of colour are at an increased risk of experiencing violence, exclusion, police brutality and oppression. They are also more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and other mental health issues as a result of what is commonly referred to as ‘compounded minority stress’—being both queer and black or brown. The LGBTQ Racial Justice Fund and the Black Trans Femmes in the Arts Collective are two out of numerous organisations working to protect and uplift black queer people in the US. If you’re based in the UK, you may want to check out UK Black Pride, IMAAN and NAZ Project.
While the focus tends to revolve around national politics—it is local authorities that are often hotbeds of racial injustice. Inquire about your mayor, comptroller, chief of police, and district attorney, demand accountability for their actions, and be sure to vote in local elections and get involved in your community.
Across the US, and around the world, more and more people are demanding to defund the police and invest their budget in community projects and infrastructure and locally-run emergency-response teams. Minneapolis may be the first US city to completely disband its police force, and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti had already pledged to slash the city’s police budget and invest the money in communities of colour. Join the growing demand to defund the police by supporting #8toAbolition, the Movement for Black Lives or other NGOs operating in your city or county.
Challenge yourself with daily and rigorous reflections on how the concept of Whiteness may affect your life; in what ways does it limit or impact your actions, your perceptions, your opinions, your circle of friends? Policies are important milestones in the fight against systemic racism, but they alone cannot herald real, long-lasting change on societal and institutional scales. Slavery had been abolished, Jim Crow laws had been eradicated, and yet here we are still battling the plague of racism. Ultimately, racial justice could only be achieved when we fundamentally change the ways we see ourselves and obliterate the institution and concept of Whiteness.