Warsaw pride parade back after backlash and pandemic break
The largest gay pride parade in central Europe took place again in Warsaw for the first time in two years after a pandemic-induced break, and amid a backlash in Poland and Hungary against LGBT rights.
Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowski walked at the head of the Equality Parade on Saturday, a sign of support for LGBT rights by the liberal politician.
Thousands of people joined the march and were cheered on by others waving rainbow flags from their balconies.
But that level of acceptance is not universal in Poland, a heavily Catholic, largely conservative country.
The joyful and colourful celebration was tinged with fear of what the future holds for the rights of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people after setbacks first in Russia and now in Hungary.
“The day of the parade is always a bitter-sweet moment for our community,” said Rafal Wojtczak, a spokesman for the organisers.
He described feelings of sadness and helplessness that LGBT people have not achieved rights liked same-sex partnership or marriage in Poland, while also facing new threats.
The parade comes days after Hungary’s parliament passed a law that makes it illegal to show any materials about LGBT issues to people under 18.
Hungary’s conservative ruling party portrayed the law as an effort to fight paedophilia.
But human rights groups see it as a cynical tool that will stigmatise and discriminate against LGBT people, and prevent young people from accessing critical information.
Poland’s populist ruling party has taken a political direction very similar to that of Hungary under prime minister Viktor Orban in recent years, pushing conservative policies and tightening ruling party control over courts and media.
The European Union has denounced both these two member nations, accusing them of eroding democratic norms.
One prominent Polish activist, Bart Staszewski, carried a Hungarian flag in Saturday’s march. He said it was a message to the EU to act in defence of LGBT people because he fears that “Poland will be next”.
This weekend’s Equality Parade comes 20 years since the event was first held in the Polish capital.
It was banned twice in its early years by a conservative mayor, Lech Kaczynski, who feared it would promote homosexuality, and last year it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Since the first event in 2001, Polish society has become largely more open on the issue of gay rights, shaped by EU membership and cultural influences from the West.
This year’s parade was smaller than the one in 2019 due to some pandemic restrictions.