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Polish Stonewall? Protesters decry government's anti-LGBTQ attitudes

The protests come amid an intensifying standoff between the LGBTQ rights movement and the conservative government, which has declared it a dangerous “ideology.”
Image: GBT rights supporters protest in Warsaw, Poland
LGBT rights supporters protest in Warsaw, Poland, Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020.Czarek Sokolowski / AP

WARSAW, Poland — Demonstrators turned out in Warsaw and other Polish cities Saturday to protest anti-LGBTQ attitudes promoted by the government as well as the detention of pro-LGBTQ protesters.

“You will not lock all of us up!” people chanted at a protest in Warsaw that drew thousands of mostly young people. Most wore masks for the coronavirus pandemic. Similar protests took place in Krakow, Lublin, Wroclaw and other places.

The protests came a day after LGBTQ rights supporters in Warsaw scuffled with police who arrested a transgender activist, Malgorzata Szutowicz, known best as “Margot.” Police said they detained 48 people, while activists said police used rough tactics against them. The incident has been referred to be some as the "Polish Stonewall."

“The police were aggressively pushing the protesters out of the way, knocking people to the ground and holding them down with their boots,” said the Campaign Against Homophobia, a Warsaw-based group.

The protests come amid an intensifying standoff in Poland between the LGBTQ rights movement and the conservative government, which has declared it an alien, dangerous “ideology.” President Andrzej Duda, who was sworn in for a second term Thursday, won re-election on a strong anti-LGBTQ platform, and social tensions have been rising.

Some critics accuse the government of stoking tensions in order to channel attention and anger away from what they say are plans to further erode the rule of law under the populist governing party. Last week the Justice Ministry said it is preparing legislation that would require non-governmental groups to declare any foreign funding sources, echoing laws passed in Russia and Hungary that critics say are meant to hamstring groups critical of authorities.

Szutowicz was put in pre-trial detention for two months for acts of civil disobedience, including using a knife to cut the tires of a van that drives around broadcasting anti-LGBTQ messages, including a claim that “homosexuals are preparing society to accept pedophilia.”

Police allege she also used violence against the driver of the van, shaking and pushing him.

She belongs to a group called Stop Bzdurom (Stop the Nonsense), which has been putting rainbow flags and anarchist symbols on Warsaw statues, including one of Jesus, infuriating the conservative government.

Some others sympathetic to the LGBTQ movement also say the stunt with the statues was offensive and counter-productive. Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, Duda’s challenger in the recent presidential election, called it “an unnecessary provocation.”

Those defending her say the legal measures being used against her — as well as the detentions of others Friday night — are disproportionate. Lawyers have not had contact with her, her defense lawyer said.

Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro defended the police behavior as appropriate. He accused opposition politicians who are defending the LGBTQ protesters of supporting “banditry.”

“Perhaps the knife that was used to destroy the van back then will be used for a bigger crime next time,” Ziobro said. “There can be no license for this type of attack ... we have to agree with this and stand together against criminals.”

Dunja Mijatovic, the human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe, the continent’s top human rights body, called Saturday for her immediate release.

“Order to detain her for 2 months sends very chilling signal for #FreedomOfSpeech & #LGBT rights in #Poland,” Mijatovic tweeted.

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