Hi. I am a 22-year-old gay man from an LGBT-free zone and I would like to share my story with you.
I come from Poland, a super homophobic country where certain regions have declared themselves LGBT-free zones and the current president has said that LGBT people are not humans. There is no legal recognition of same-sex couples and abortion has recently been made illegal. I would first like to tell you a little about my country as well as my growing up there. Then, I would like to share my perspective on gay rights in the West. Bear with me.
As you walk down the street of any Polish city, you will likely spot stickers such as Zakaz pedałowania (lit. No pedaling; this is a wordplay: pedał means either faggot or bicycle pedal), a crossed out sign depicting two men having anal sex (Figure 1; Figure 2), as well as crossed out rainbows (Figure 3) or slogans calling for placing of faggots in gas chambers.
Poland has always been an incredibly homophobic country, but things only got worse in 2015 when the right-wing national conservative party Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (Law and Justice) came to power and one of the party members, Andrzej Duda, was elected President. They have since taken over most other state institutions such as The Constitutional Tribunal, which is now unofficially under complete control of the party leader Jarosław Kaczyński (Pietryga, 2016), or the state-funded television TVP, which is being used as a vehicle for their propaganda (TVP INFO, 2020).
In the past few years, TVP has produced numerous news reports bashing gay people including the infamous documentary Inwazja (Invasion), which presents gay people as pedophiles, child molesters, a cult, as well as a foreign ideology brought to Poland by the European Union and Western media in order to destroy traditional Polish values (Suchorabski, 2020). The party has also begun to introduce numerous socio-economic changes, such as an almost complete ban on abortion (BBC, 2021). Over 100 municipalities, which constitute around a third of the country’s territory, have declared themselves LGBT-free zones (Figure 4) in order to protect their Catholic family values, which they say are under attack (Ciobanu, 2020; Washington Post, 2019).
The ruling party and the president were both reelected in 2019 and 2020 respectively. During his last presidential campaign, Duda publicly stated that LGBT people are not humans but an ideology, which is worse than communism, for which he was wildly cheered on by his numerous supporters (Gera, 2020; Scally 2020). Even Rafał Trzaskowski, President of Warsaw, the capital city, and Duda’s rival in last year’s election, commonly described as a liberal and an ally to the LGBT community (Szczęśniak and Sitnicka, 2020), is openly against same-sex marriage or adoption of children by same-sex couples (Krzymińska, 2020; Wojtczuk, 2020). He has also denied Polish citizenship to the son of a Polish lesbian couple living in Spain, who was conceived through IVF (Husejnow, 2020; Kampania przeciw homofobii, 2020).
There is currently only one major political group in the government that really does support gay rights, and to most Polish people even civil unions seem radical. The Ministry of Justice says on its website that the natural environment for a child is a family with one mother and one father (Ministerstwo Sprawiedliwości, 2021). I guess a child is better off in an orphanage than being raised by two dads or two moms, even though a number of children’s homes in Poland are run by Catholic nuns (Drożdżak, 2015). In 2020 Duda unsuccessfully attempted to ban even single homosexual and bisexual people from being allowed to become legal guardians (Ambroziak, 2020; Szymański, 2020). It was also proposed that a single person applying for adoption would have to give a pledge that they were heterosexual and have people in their life questioned as to whether or not that was true (Krawczak, 2020; Nowiński, 2020). If it were not, the person would be subject to criminal liability (Adamski, 2021; Ministerstwo Sprawiedliwości, 2021). Trzaskowski did not appear to mind this much (Mikulski, 2020).
During last year’s presidential election, the Minister of Education and Science Przemysław Czarnek, who is strongly against the so-called “homopropaganda” in schools and has referred to homosexuality as deviation and perversion on numerous occasions (TVP INFO, 2021), publicly stated on TVP that we should stop listening to this nonsense about human rights and those people [gay men and lesbians] are not equal to normal people (Onet, 2020). He, along with the rest of the ruling party members, laughed and clapped in the parliament when liberal politicians spoke about gay and lesbian teenagers committing suicide because of the homophobia they face in Polish society (Heban, 2021). In 2020, Kaja Godek, one of the major figures behind the infamous abortion ban who has a tendency to (now lawfully) refer to gay men as perverts and pedophiles (Pankowska, 2021), proposed a legislation that would ban pride parades or any other public displays or events that promoted homosexuality (Adamski, 2020). This is similar to the law in Russia (Rankin, 2017) as well as the one passed in Hungary earlier this year (Rankin, 2021). Even though the proposal initially failed, she quickly managed to recollect enough signatures for it to be heard again (Heban, 2021; Onet, 2021). The case has not yet been resolved. Whether or not Poland will share the fate of its neighbors is yet to be seen.
It should not come as a surprise that growing up was therefore really hard for me, as is for most other gay men and lesbians worldwide. I have always been very feminine and all my friends have been girls. When I was a child, most adults in my life would not allow me to play with dolls or take part in any other female-typical activities. I also got bullied by other boys and really wished I had been born as a girl. I had no idea that being gay was a thing until I was told that it was a curable disease. As a teenager seeking mental health help, I was told by my psychiatrist that my homosexual disorder was probably due to hormonal imbalance and given a referral for a hormone test (which, by the way, I took, and it turned out to be fine). Fortunately, transitioning was never presented to me as an option, and I eventually grew up to accept myself as a feminine gay man. I am now out and live a happy life in the UK, where I am studying. I have the support of my family and friends.
I strongly believe that men and women should be allowed to do the same things, and I find the whole concept of gender identity inherently sexist. I fully sympathize with other people who suffer gender dysphoria or seek to transition. It breaks my heart every time I see homophobic parents, such as Kimberly Shappley, who transition their gender non-conforming and most likely gay children, whom they have previously beaten for their toy or clothes preferences, get lauded as progressive (Them, 2018). I really appreciate all the amazing work that LGB Alliance is doing standing up for gay men and lesbians as well as other gender non-conforming people. It is always nice to know that there are other like-minded people out there.
Even though I really do feel for gay people back in Poland, as well as those in other even more backward countries, I never wish to go back. I would like to forget, but then I remember young gay boys and lesbian girls who cannot move to the West as I did. I have taken part in many anti-government protests, but I honestly feel that when it comes to my country, this is a lost war, at least in the current political climate. Further, it does not help matters that the loudest voices in the Polish LGBTQ+ community are people like Margot, a self-proclaimed queer, non-binary man who uses she/her pronouns and together with his girlfriend has attacked a pro-life truck in the name of gay men and lesbians, whom he has publicly referred to as faggots and dykes (TVN24, 2020). Most Polish people do not understand gender identity, or being non-binary, or anything else of that queer stuff. To most of them, all of those terms are synonymous with homosexuality, and all of the things that the queer activists do, from denying biological sex to transitioning children, are things that gay people do. I should make it clear at this point that I disagree with the arrest of Margot and his girlfriend that happened last year (TVN24, 2020). However, Margot isn’t being denied any rights; he can marry his girlfriend and they can have children together.
People who suffer real discrimination do not care about their pronouns. People do not identify as gay either. They either are gay or they are not. What does it mean that someone identifies as gay? Does it mean that they are not really gay? Being gay is not an identity. I have always wanted to get married and start a family, which I do not believe I will ever be able to do in my home country—but I can in the West, thanks to the sacrifices of the gay men and lesbians who came before me, and for this I am extremely grateful to all of them.
These people are often forgotten nowadays. They are being told that queer, the slur that they kept hearing all the time when they were young, is now a valid identity and the refusal to use it is equivalent to denying basic rights to gay people. The amazing gender-nonconforming gay men and lesbians who fought for our rights, such as Marsha P. Johnson and Stormé Delarverie, are now being rebranded as transgender and therefore straight. However, I must admit that I disagree with the statement that the modern pseudo-liberal homophobia is worse than that of truly conservative people. I wish to stay here in the West where I can enjoy all the rights that the older gay men and lesbians have won for us. If there is anything I can do to help gay people in Poland or anywhere else in the world, I will do that—but the only thing I could realistically see changing in Poland during the course of my lifetime, if the government changed, which is not very likely at this moment in time, is the introduction of civil unions, for both same-sex as well as opposite-sex couples. Surely, how could gay people ever have anything just for themselves? However, I do not believe that same-sex marriage or adoption rights for same-sex couples might become law in Poland within the next couple of decades.
I was never proud of my country nor felt any connection to it. However, I still consider myself lucky to have been born and raised in a place where homosexuality is not illegal, unlike millions of other gay men or lesbians in so many Muslim or African countries: people who cannot even speak about the homophobic and sexist oppression they have faced in their home countries on Western platforms without being accused of racism or Islamophobia. If anything, I find this attitude racist as it leaves out the most disadvantaged gay men and lesbians who often come from non-white or Muslim backgrounds. It seems as if many of those who have already won their rights do not care or have simply forgotten about those who may still be killed for who they love. The Western world is the freest and currently the only part of the world where gay people may enjoy equal rights, and we must not give them up.
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