After losing his job because of discrimination, Warsaw-born Szymon Niemiec, 31, was inspired to become a gay activist. He became an organiser of Poland’s first Pride parade after watching Sydney’s 2001 Mardi Gras on television.
While at a gay bar with friends watching Sydney’s parade we asked ourselves, -˜Why not?’ From this moment Equality Parade was born, Szymon said.
Our group, ILGCN Poland, had always one goal: to build acceptance in Poland for LGBT people by culture, help and support. From the beginning we used art and culture to make Polish gays visible and proud of their achievements.
Szymon believes the greatest obstacle to acceptance is the Polish mentality. The biggest problem with tolerance is Polish fear. Our position between Russia and Germany led us to be a society that was always under, or in danger of, occupation, he said.
This trauma lives in our mentality today and nationalists use it to -˜defend’ Polish fears about losing independence. Hopefully this is a problem of the previous generation. Young people are more Western, because they don’t remember communist times.
By 2004 the parade had gathered momentum, bringing the wrath of Warsaw’s mayor, Lech Kaczynski, who banned the parades in 2004 and 2005. Kaczynski said he is, for tolerance, but [I] am against propagating gay orientation.
Szymon believes the reason was political. There was only one reason for that -” the coming elections. His political party decided to use -˜gay fear’ in the same way as the Communist Party used -˜Jew fear’ in 1968 to take power, he said.
Due to illness, Szymon retired from activism in 2005. His successors created an activist movement, the Equality Foundation, encompassing several organisations.
The Foundation successfully challenged the parade bans in the European Parliament, paving the way for
a new mayor to approve subsequent parades.
There was no legal option for another ban. In 2006 persons from all around the world showed up to march in solidarity with LGBT and human rights. This tremendous outpouring of support from Western society validated that the Polish gay community is not left alone.
However, any momentum created by the movement is being threatened not by conservatives, but from within activist circles.
The Polish government recently took Equality Foundation office-bearers to court amid allegations of falsifying court documents and failing to file financial reports from 2005 to 2007.
Jacek Adler, editor of gaylife.pl, is currently defending his website against accusations of defamation.
Szymon hopes the situation will be resolved by Euro Pride 2010, which Warsaw is hosting.
Euro Pride is a huge possibility and hope for all of us. Not only because it can be the biggest gay event in Polish history, but also because Euro Pride can show our financial power to the Polish government and society. We are able to show the power of -˜pink money,’ the only power that has any ability to influence public policy, he said.
I can only hope that people who will be in charge of this event will not forget about the core values of the Equality Parade that I created in 2001: equality for all citizens of Poland and the world.