With support for gays and lesbians on the rise in Poland, the country's transgender citizens fear they'll be a major target of the right wing ahead of next year's parliamentary election.
The same day in June that Warsaw held its Pride celebration, the chair of the conservative Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, met with voters in the nearby town of Wloclawek to voice his disdain for trans people, The Guardian reports.
"We have elementary knowledge in biology, we know that gender is determined at the level of chromosomes. ... In extreme cases, an operation must be performed, but this does not mean that after this operation a man will be a woman and a woman will be a man," he said.
He taunted the crowd, making a point to look at his watch, saying, "It's now half past 5; before I was a man but now I'm a woman."
Kaczynski has touched on the subject several times since, poking fun at name changes and calling trans people "abnormal." He also insulted Poland's first trans member of Parliament, Anna Grodzka.
The Polish government has attacked the LGBTQ+ community on several past occasions, with the country's president, Andrzej Duda, running a successful reelection campaign two years ago based on anti-queer rhetoric. He is a member of Law and Justice.
Recently, polls have shown growing acceptance for gay people in Polish society, which trans activists believe will make them the next target for the party. Trans author Maja Heban told The Guardian that Kaczynski's June remarks amount to "workshopping" material for upcoming campaigns.
Polish politician Krzysztof Smiszek added that "homophobia doesn't resonate the way it used to" with Polish society. Smiszek is head of the parliamentary group on LGBT+ equality and member of Parliament from the New Left party,
"Poland in 2022 is not so easy to be manipulated with homophobia ... Kaczynski consciously did not choose the entire LGBT group, but only transgender people," he said.
Emilia Wisniewska, a member of Polish trans advocacy organization Trans-Fuzja, agreed the public doesn't understand gender like sexuality yet, as the terms have been interchangeable until recently.
"Many people already know someone who is gay or bisexual, and it's difficult to make people hate their friends or neighbors," she told The Guardian. "Trans people are still less understood and less accepted and that makes us a better target."
Because Polish law does not recognize trans people as a protected class, tracking hate crimes against them is challenging. Still, Wisniewska said such violence has risen as politicians engage in more bigoted rhetoric.
Trans activists have found advocacy within government "at best pointless and at worst counterproductive," The Guardian notes, instead focusing on educating Polish society.