LGBTQ+ Poles are at a crossroads after their nation’s homophobic president, Andrzej Duda, was sworn in to a second five-year term Thursday morning.
Duda ran on an anti-LGBTQ+ platform, promising to outlaw same-sex marriage (which is not allowed in Poland anyway) and bar same-sex couples from adopting children, among many other measures.
Now a significant number of LGBTQ+ people in Poland have decided to buy a one-way ticket out, although the queer exodus began long before today.
LGBTQ+ Poles began escaping what they deem “homophobia promoted by the highest levels of government” as early as five years ago, when the archconservative Law and Justice party, headed by Duda, became the nation's ruling party, the Associated Press reports.
Duda won reelection in a close race against challenger Rafal Trzaskowski, the mayor of Warsaw. During his campaign, Duda called the LGBTQ+ movement worse than communism and at one point said that LGBTQ+ folks were “not people,” which he half-apologized for by saying his language is sometimes too “harsh.”
While there is no exact count of how many queer people have fled the country, Polish activists told the AP that LGBTQ+ people have been emigrating to European Union countries like the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain — much like generations of Poles before them who fled the country during the communist era and again in 2004, when a number of Poles moved abroad after Poland joined the EU.
“This time, people are not looking for better-paid jobs, but they are looking for dignity and respect. People want to feel that they are protected by the government and not treated as an enemy,” said Bart Staszewki, a Polish LGBTQ+ activist.
Staszewki had posted a Facebook message asking if anyone was thinking about moving out of the country, and he received hundreds of replies from people saying they were considering it or had already left. He has chosen to stay in Poland to help fight for LGBTQ+ rights, using the story of his grandparents, who were part of the underground resistance in Poland during World War II, as his inspiration.
One-third of Poland’s municipalities have passed resolutions in recent years outlawing "LGBT propaganda,” declaring themselves "pro-family."
These cities, which collectively have a land mass larger than Hungary, categorize themselves as "LGBT-free" zones. This week it was announced that six "LGBT-free" cities have lost funding from the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union.
EU Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli later tweeted that these cities conflict with EU values:
In many ways, the conservative nation takes cues from nearby Russia. Politicians in both nations frequently use LGBTQ+ people as scapegoats. Legislation currently under consideration in Poland categorizes homosexuality as pedophilia.
“Like where’s the line? Is there a line they are not going to cross? I don’t know,” Piotr Grabarczyk, a gay Polish man who recently escaped to Barcelona with his boyfriend, told the AP about why he decided to leave. “That was kind of scary.”
Other people, like Michal Niepielski, who lives in Krakow and recently took a case to the European Court of Human Rights so that he can marry his partner of 16 years, have decided to stay.
“We have sympathy with the people who haven’t come out of the closet yet and now will have to stay in the closet for a long time, perhaps until the end of their lives,” Niepielski said. “That’s a tragedy. That’s one reason we are staying.”
As anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments grow across the country, queer people have felt obligated to raise their voice in other ways.
In April, a Polish gay couple, Jakub Kwiecinski and Dawid Mycek, produced hundreds of rainbow-hued face masks and handed them out at no charge in their hometown of Gdansk. They documented their advocacy in a YouTube video as a way to highlight LGBTQ+ equality and acceptance.
"We are tired but happy because it's cool, as it turns out, the rainbow does not offend, does not infect, but can protect people from a real threat,” the couple concluded in their video.