The recent arrest of a transgender activist and dozens of her allies in Poland drew local advocates to the Polish consulate in New York City, where nearly a dozen individuals stood in solidarity with the protest movement that has blossomed in the Central European nation in response to a wave of homophobia that coincided with the re-election of Poland’s anti-LGBTQ president just weeks ago.
Thousands of people flocked to Warsaw on August 8 to call for the release of Malgorzata Szutowicz, also known as Margot, a transgender woman who is one of three people accused of displaying Rainbow banners over statues and damaging the van of an individual who is opposed to abortion. The movement to support LGBTQ rights in Poland has spread beyond Warsaw into other cities across the nation.
While the others were eventually released, Margot was hit with a two-month detention before standing trial. Meanwhile, 48 protesters were swept up by police for allegedly trying to shield Margot from getting arrested, according to Reuters.
The developments were the latest in an enduring wave of activism pushing back on anti-LGBTQ sentiments in Poland following the re-election of President Andrzej Duda and the emergence of a campaign to establish “LGBT-free zones” in certain parts of the country, where local regions passed symbolic resolutions opposing the rights of queer folks. The European Union responded by blocking funding to the towns that voted for the LGBT-free zones.
Brendan Fay, a New York-based LGBTQ activist who traveled to Poland last year at the request of activists there who sought his assistance, helped lead the demonstration at the Polish Consulate on August 10. Advocates there displayed Rainbow Flags and held signs reading “Duda = Fascist,” “Stop Homophobia in Poland,” and “Trans and Queer Stand Without Fear,” along with a social media hashtag supporting Margot. The group also unfurled a large Rainbow Flag, signed by the late Gilbert Baker, that Fay brought with him to Poland last year
“We call for the release of Margot Szutowicz,” Fay said in a written statement. “We call on the Polish president and government leaders to denounce the rise of anti LGBT violence. That is their responsibility.”
He added, “We call on European Union, the United Nations and the global LGBT community to respond to the violation of human rights.”
The re-election victory of President Andrzej Duda over Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski drew distinctions on LGBTQ rights, with Duda perpetuating themes of homophobia and serving as the champion of more conservative anti-LGBTQ voters in the overwhelmingly Catholic nation. Trzaskowski was hailed for his efforts to bring LGBTQ education to his city but boasted a mixed record on queer rights overall. Like Duda, Trzaskowski opposed allowing LGBTQ couples to adopt children.
Ahead of last month’s election, Fay wrote to the Consulate General of Poland in New York denouncing the Polish president for scapegoating the queer community and for the establishment of LGBT-free zones.
During his speech at the consulate, Fay read a note he received from Anna Grodska, a transgender national leader and former member of Polish Parliament, seeking international solidarity.
“Dear friends, in Poland for the last two years the authorities have been conducting a smear campaign against the LGBT+ community, spearheaded by state-owned media outlets,” Grodska wrote.”…This is why the solidarity of all people of good will in defense of freedom and equality is important. I thank all of you for your support of our cause — “justice and equality.” We demand immediate freedom for our LGBT community activist, Margot.”
Fay described the latest movement as a follow-up to last year’s uprising that was ignited when the city of Bialystok’s first-ever Pride march was tarnished by anti-LGBTQ people who physically attacked marchers. Last year Fay said during his trip to Poland one individual told him he hoped that the uprising could serve as Poland’s Stonewall movement.
“Just as happened last year after the anti LGBT attack in Bialystok, the LGBT community in Poland are rising up in defiance and determination,” Fay said. “We in New York and in cities and towns across the world raise our voices in protest and solidarity.”
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