So I was heartbroken last month when I saw videos of violence engulfing the first Pride march held in Bialystok, Poland. Though I walked safely through the streets of my two beloved cities, Bialystok’s Pride marchers were attacked with rocks and bags of flour. Many feared for their lives. The videos and reports from the ground were nothing short of horrifying. I might not live in Poland — my parents moved from Poland to Canada before I was born — but this is not a reflection of the Poland I know and love.
The violence comes amid a broader pattern of bigotry and anti-LGBTQ discrimination in Poland. In July, a conservative newspaper announced it was going to distribute “LGBT-free zone” stickers with its next issue. Polish politicians have referred to the LGBTQ community as “a threat to Polish identity … and thus to the Polish state.”
This bigotry is unacceptable. Historically, Poland has survived hundreds of years of oppression and violent occupation from neighboring countries, from the invasion by the Soviet Union to the Katyn massacre to World War II. We have managed to keep our faith, language and identity through it all. It baffles me that we would choose to persecute our own because of who we love and how we identify in terms of gender. We must stop attacking our own.
Pride exists out of the necessity to fight for our right to live peacefully, marry the person we choose to love, have safety and equality in the workplace, and walk our streets without fear of being ostracized or attacked. Polish citizens all deserve to feel protected by the police, and their government has the responsibility to promote the safety and well-being of all of its citizens, regardless of faith, sexual orientation or gender identity.
As a member of the queer community and someone with a global platform, I have the responsibility to bring attention to social justice not only where I live but also for those whose voices and freedom remain endangered. Hate spreads across national boundaries. If we see what is happening in Poland and choose to look the other way, we are complicit in letting our fellow people suffer. This is why I am choosing to speak up — and I encourage others to do the same.
So what can people outside of Poland do to stand in solidarity and ally-ship? People in and outside of Poland — myself included — have taken to social media with the hashtag #jestemLGBT (I am LGBT) to share their stories, experiences and support. As more Pride marches are expected in Polish cities, this public support will continue to be of utmost importance.
Poland also relies heavily on the European Commission for funding. A global organization called All Out has started a petition in collaboration with two Polish organizations, asking the European Union to support Poland’s LGBTQ community. As of today, it has more than 50,000 signatures — and hopes to pass other milestones soon. The aim is to deliver the petition a few weeks ahead of the Polish elections in mid-October and draw international attention to the issue.
Though the recent events in Poland are certainly a painful reminder of the work that lies ahead, we should also recognize that Bialystok had its first Pride march, with more to come in neighboring cities. That in itself is reason to hope — and I hope Poland’s young people continue to safely fight for their rights and freedom. Ultimately, equal rights are human rights — in the United States and all around the world.