BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Saturday, 10 June 2006, 10:02 GMT 11:02 UK
Poles to confront gay prejudice
By Jan Repa
BBC News, Warsaw

'Rainbow' flag - gay pride emblem
Gay activists in Poland say they suffer discrimination
Gay rights activists and politicians are planning to march through the Polish capital Warsaw to highlight what they say is continuing discrimination against homosexuals in Poland and other East European countries.

A far-right youth movement was planning a counter-demonstration, but called it off after an appeal from a prominent right wing politician.

Asked to sign an Act of Parliament outlawing homosexual acts, back in 1885, Britain's Queen Victoria insisted on removing all references to lesbianism - since, as she explained, she could not imagine an Englishwoman would do such things.

A not dissimilar attitude towards homosexuality in general has tended to apply in Poland.

'Mental disorder'

Unlike elsewhere in Central and East Europe, homosexual acts were never illegal in Poland - even under the Communists.

Poland's last king, in the 18th century, was almost certainly bisexual. In the interwar period, a number of leading writers and artists were more or less openly gay.

However, recent opinion polls appear to confirm that a large majority of the population - perhaps as high as 80% - disapprove of homosexuality, regarding it as a form of mental disorder or a deliberate flouting of moral norms.

Strong and consistent opposition to homosexuality comes from the Catholic Church, which successfully asserted its claim to be a bastion of national identity and tradition during the period of Soviet-imposed Communism.

Today, it still enjoys a level of popular support not found almost anywhere in Europe.

However, this has not stopped Poles voting for political parties at loggerheads with the Church - or flouting the Church's teaching on issues like artificial contraception.

So why has the issue of homosexuality come to the boil now?

Cultural disorientation

Some cultural historians suggest that Poland - and some other East European states - are belatedly experiencing the same rapid evolution of attitudes that countries in Western Europe went through in the 1960s and 70s.

After all, it is not so long ago that popular newspapers in Britain would carry headlines referring to "The Gay Plague". While not illegal, homosexuality was not a subject approved of by the Communist censors.

Another factor could be the disorientation many people feel at the pace of political, economic and cultural change that has taken place - and continues to take place - in Poland since the fall of Communism.

While many people have taken advantage of new opportunities, there has also been a marked tendency to seek refuge in what are thought to be traditional customs and norms.

Two of the three political parties now forming the Polish government - the conservative Law and Justice party and the "Catholic-nationalist" League of Polish Families - claim to do just that.

The Catholic Church in Poland is itself divided - with some bishops arguing for an accommodation with pluralist democracy and others seeking to entrench "Catholic values" through legislation.

Incidentally, opinion polls suggest the League of Polish Families might now have problems getting re-elected to parliament at all.

Finally, there is the evolving nature of the gay-rights movement itself.

Whereas the emphasis in many European countries used to be on the de-criminalisation of homosexual acts and an end to the harassment of gays, the focus has shifted to demands for equal rights - in areas like adoption and child care and the legal recognition of gay marriage.

For many in Poland that is going too far too fast.

Eastern gays seek Berlin refuge
02 May 03 |  Europe


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific