Police separating Pride marchers and counter protests in Bialystok | Photo: Twitter/K. Kadziewicz
A Pride parade in the Polish city of Bialystok was met with counter protests by far-right groups.
The first ever Pride event to take place in the north-eastern city saw about 800 people marching through the streets.
However, Catholic and nationalist groups began attacking the Pride parade by throwing bottles, stones and firecrackers at the marchers.
Poland is overwhemingly Catholic country. While there has been some progress with regards to LGBTI rights in recent years, LGBTI issues remain a contentious issue in the country.
In Białystok today, the town’s first ever Pride Parade was met with thrown stones and firecrackers. But the Parade made it through. 🏳️🌈
You can’t stop the march of progress. We’re coming for our rights.✊
Huge props to Tęczowy Białystok, the organisers. Photos by K. Kadziewicz. pic.twitter.com/4EtwWJY4qX
— Eva Infeld (@evainfeld) July 20, 2019
Videos taken of the march show riot police rushing the crowd to break up skirmishes between the two groups.
The LGBTI rights supporters were carrying rainbow flags and banners with slogans such as ‘love is not a sin’.
However, far-right groups were seen chanting and provoking attendees. Videos also appear to show the groups attacking people on the street.
There were reportedly over 40 counter-demonstrations against the Pride march.
First pride parade in białystok, Poland
-verbal and physical abuse
-burned lgbt flag
-people beaten up to the point they needed to seek medical help
-police force completely failed to protect anyone pic.twitter.com/9qLF5K3DAv
— Marcelina ⊗ (@mysticeminence) July 20, 2019
The decision to hold a Pride parade in Bialystok was highly contested by local religious groups.
The debate over LGBTI rights is a deeply polarising issue in Poland. This has become exaccerbated as the country prepares for its general elections in the autumn.
Earlier this month, several communities in Poland declaed themselves ‘free of LGBTI ideology’.
Several days before this, Polish Catholic Bishops lashed out at Swedish retail giant Ikea after the company terminated an employee for homophobic comments.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the ruling conservative party, also condemned gay rights as a ‘threat’ in April.
The clashes at Bialystok is not the first time the country has seen Pride events marred by violence.
Last October, the city of Lublin, also in the east of Poland, saw violent clashes after far-right counter protestors attacked the city’s first ever Pride march.
Przeciwnicy Marszu Równości szarpią i okradają płaczącą dziewczynę. Na nagraniu widać również jak gonią grupą jednego, samotnego chłopaka w różowej koszulce. Przez cały czas słychać „Wypier*alaj”. #StopHomofobii #Białystok #MarszRówności pic.twitter.com/Z29KM3Z3ad
— LGBT+ News Polska🏳️🌈🇵🇱 (@LGBTNewsPL) July 20, 2019
Many hurdlres to overcome
Poland’s LGBTI community faces numerous hurdles in their fight for equality.
The country has become more LGBTI-friendly in recent years.
Lawmakers have introduced several laws to protect LGBTI people, and have allowed gay me to donate blood. There are also plans to pitch a bill that will draft a ban on conversion therapy.
However, many aspects of Polish society and politics remain staunchly conservative and the Catholic Church remains highly influential.
Due to cultural, religious and politocal pushback, marriage equality, legal protections in the area of gender identity, and adoption remain far off in the distance for the country.
In 2018, ILGA-Europe ranked Poland at 38 out of the 49 countries polled in an annual review of human rights for LGBTI people in countries in Europe and West Asia.