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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 June 2006, 21:27 GMT 22:27 UK
Fears of Poland's gay community
By Adam Easton
BBC News, Warsaw

Gay rights activists at the march
The march had been banned for two years
As Warsaw's annual gay rights march got under way outside the Polish parliament a music system blared out its anthem: "Homophobia, the worst disease, you can't love who you want to love in times like these."

Despite the message, there was a festive mood.

Drag queens stood beside the speakers on a truck decorated in rainbow coloured balloons. Somebody brought along a pet mouse, somebody else, a snake.

Police with riot shields ensured there was no contact between the several thousand marchers and a nearby small counter demonstration of young Polish men who waved banners reading, "Ban paedophiles".

Concerns

The "Equality Parade" organisers wore T-shirts which read "Europe = Tolerance".

Many Poles are deeply attached to their faith and the Catholic Church's opposition to homosexuality sometimes reinforces homophobic attitudes

But it is a lack of tolerance towards gays in Polish society which concerns many, including the dozens of politicians from Western Europe who had come along to show solidarity with the march.

One of them was Michael Cashman, a British MEP.

"We've all become extremely worried in the European Parliament in particular about the increasing hate-speak from senior politicians here in Poland.

"Poland has joined the club of the European Union. The same rules apply throughout those 25 countries and part of that is respect for minorities and we're not seeing that at the moment," he told the BBC.

He singled out remarks by Wojciech Wierzejski, a senior politician from the nationalist party, The League of Polish Families, which recently joined the conservative coalition government.

Mr Wierzejski was quoted as saying by a Polish newspaper, Zycie Warszawy, that if gay rights groups marched illegally then the police should beat them with sticks.

He has subsequently denied making that statement. He has called for an investigation into links between homosexual groups and paedophiles and organised crime.

Taboo

Anti-gay protesters at a counter-rally
Anti-gay sentiment in Poland is concerning many

Robert Biedron, one of the march organisers, said the government is fuelling hostility towards gays and lesbians.

"They're calling for hate crimes. The hate that is all around is so terrifying. That's why we're here today to protest against this craziness which is going on," he said.

He cited the attempts by the Warsaw city authorities to ban this parade twice in the past, and plans to withdraw school textbooks which promote tolerance towards homosexuals.

Homosexuality remains a taboo subject in Polish society.

Many Poles are deeply attached to their faith and the Catholic Church's opposition to homosexuality sometimes reinforces homophobic attitudes.

The country's mainstream politicians, such as President Lech Kaczynski, and Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, from the centre-right Law and Justice Party, have pledged to act against discrimination against gays.

But in an interview shortly after his appointment last September, Mr Marcinkiewicz called homosexuality "unnatural".

According to opinion polls, nine out of ten people here agree with him.

I see no point in discriminating against people because of their sexuality. I want to live in a country which respects human rights
Katarzyna Maszkowsk, law student

Robert Biedron, who also heads the Campaign Against Homophobia, says it is not easy to be gay in Poland.

"It means invisibility. You are not welcome to talk about your homosexuality at home, in your professional life, in public. Homosexuals are 5% of this society but they're completely invisible," he said.

But it was not only gay rights groups and MEPs on the march. There were also left-wing political groups and members of the public. One of them was law student, Katarzyna Maszkowska.

"I came here to support the idea of freedom. I see no point in discriminating against people because of their sexuality. I want to live in a country which respects human rights," she said.

Recent gay rights parades in other Polish cities have been attacked by youths hurling stones and eggs. Apart from a few egg missiles, the march was by and large peaceful.


SEE ALSO
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10 Jun 06 |  Europe
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