At 22, Julia became chair of Warsaw’s Equality March, and possibly the youngest leader of a Pride in the world. Andrzej is a lead volunteer with the organisation, and helped us to facilitate the recent conference of Pride activists from across Poland.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the LGBTI community in Europe right now?
Julia: Of course on the one hand we have rising populism and right-wing movement getting stronger in Poland. They are supported by big money from church and ultra-Catholic organisations that want us to go back to the Middle Ages where there were only women and men and everyone had stereotypical roles in the society which is super scary especially connected with a climate crisis.
On the other hand a lot of people don’t have space, time, money and resources to support minority groups like LGBT people because they need to focus on surviving and combating challenges caused by surprising weather or falling economy but this is not what I think is the biggest problem.
The biggest problem I would say is indifference. People that actually have resources but decide not to use them. A lot of people think that our fight is over, that we have achieved what we wanted and what we needed. They forget about Eastern countries and the rest of the world. It came to me on one of the ILGA conferences when someone from one of the ‘top’ countries said that it’s hard to keep people engaged to the cause since everything that was to achieve is achieved. This is simply not true. We still have a lot of countries that needs our support and it’s not going to happen without the international support especially in the age of social media and internet.
Why? When Belgium introduced same sex marriage in 2003, the internet was not so popular – it was even before Facebook existed! Back then people got the news from newspapers or television and when the law was introduced it was already done and everyone was like “OK, fine”. Right now we are facing a huge wave of disinformation and fake news. It’s easy to quickly spread panic by social media.
Some people would say “oh, but it’s obvious that LGBT people are not paedophiles”. Maybe it is in your circle of friends but the worst thing is what is happening outside our circles, outside our Facebook walls – there are places in the internet where people are grouping themselves based on fake beliefs planning to hurt people and we can’t do anything about it.
Andrzej: There are a lot of challenges that the LGBT+ community has to face – they are different and very strongly connected with the particular country. There is still a huge discrepancy between Western European countries and those in the East. I would say that the most common challenge is fighting violence and hate crimes.
LGBT+ people have also to struggle with emotional challenges. People often don’t accept them, reject them and they end up on the streets. Children in schools don’t get enough information about sex education, gender identity, etc., so their lack of acceptance may be due to fear of something they don’t know and they are not aware of.
How can the Pride movement help to combat these challenges?
Julia: I believe in the great power of the Pride movement since it’s constantly taking the streets that are not made for us. Especially here in Poland, the streets are usually ‘property’ of violence – hooligans, drugs, right-wing boys. But we are taking the streets. With all of the rainbow, all glitter, all flags, wearing our best smiles, showing people the truth – that we are the same human beings as they are. That we don’t have horns and tails and we are not kidnapping kids.
It’s also a great place for teenagers to find themselves, maybe meet their own community that is waiting for them, to meet people that accept them unconditionally, to feel safe.
For many people attending Pride is still a fight, not a celebration but what I believe the most is that love always win over hate. So whenever we are walking the streets, holding hands, kissing each other, singing and dancing to Madonna or Lady Gaga songs, we are doing the job. Whenever we are walking and eggs or stones are being thrown at us, we are doing the job. Whenever we are only a group of 100 people against 1000 protesters, we are doing the job. Whenever at least one person feel that they are not alone, that they have community behind them, we are doing the job. And this job is not done yet.
Andrzej: We have a very important role – to show who we are and raise awareness around us. Pride is a very effective tool because we are visible and we gain people’s attention. We also need Prides and marches in smaller cities to show local communities that we exist and encourage them to come out and join us too.
What’s your biggest hope for Pride in 2020?
Andrzej: I hope that in 2020 we will be more together. The Pride network in Poland can be a very strong one. Last year in more than 30 cities people went out into the street to march in the name of love, equality, and solidarity. We also need this solidarity between all cities – in Poland and Europe. Together we are stronger and make a bigger impact. We need to have a common voice.
I love the fact that more and more young people become brave and decide to march with us. I hope that the trend will remain upward and young people will have the courage to show themselves and change the world. I also hope that we will reach people from outside the information bubble, who are not very close to LGBT+ people, their issues and we’ll encourage them to show their support.
Julia: I agree. My biggest hope right now is a stronger cooperation especially between Prides from ‘top’ countries and the ones that are still far behind. Sometimes the smallest act of solidarity can become huge.
I also hope the movement will stay strong and this indifference of people is not going to spread. On the contrary we will show them that the cause is still important and it’s time to wake up and join. That people will still understand the importance of claiming the streets if not as a fight because it’s over in that particular country then as a tribute to people that were fighting before and the ones that are still in the way for their equal rights.
Looking further ahead, how would you like to see Pride develop in the rest of the decade?
Julia: I would really like to see Pride grow of course. But not only in numbers of individuals but in numbers of groups and communities. I would like other communities to join the movement so it will work not only for equality for LGBT people but also for people from other minorities that are facing similar challenges in the patriarchal society. And this is what I believe will make it stronger.
Andrzej: I would also like to see an increasing number of cities with Prides across Poland and Europe. I’m full of hope that one day in Poland I’ll see police as a group marching in the crowd and not being the security along the entire length of the march, which is necessary for the moment because even if we live in the capital of European country, we never can feel completely safe.
Which Prides are you really looking forward to visiting in 2020 or beyond?
Andrzej: I’m really looking forward to visiting Prague Pride in August 2020 as we started cooperating as a Visegrád group [referring to the cultural and political alliance of Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia]. We are similar cities and countries in the middle of Europe, having similar struggles and challenges, so I hope it’ll be a great experience for me.
I’m also hoping to visit Białystok for a second time. Last year during Pride I felt it was one of the most dangerous experiences in my life with attacks, firecrackers, glass bottles flying over the crowd, but I was also very proud that I had enough courage to go there, get into the crowd and march. I hope this year I’ll have a chance to take part in Pride in Białystok, but with much less fear about my life.
Julia: It’s actually a funny question because I’m not used to visiting Prides at all. I’m usually working at them. I’m looking forward to marches in Koszalin – my hometown – and Trójmiasto because I’m going to be an MC/commentator at them. I’m looking forward for marches in Ukraine as we planning solidarity actions in Poland.
I’m of course looking forward to my own Warsaw Pride because it’s the biggest pro-equality event in our country and many people are waiting whole year just for this one day when they can be whoever they want and feel safe on our streets while holding their beloved’s hands.
We will see if I’m going to be able to visit any Pride outside my country.
Finally, what’s your most cherished memory of a Pride?
Julia: I actually have two favourite memories – one from Poland and from Norway.
When I became President of Warsaw Pride I was only 22, we were the youngest team in Europe if not whole world that was making an event in a capital city. Before that, when I was a volunteer I was responsible for the security of our march. We were invited for the international schooling program to Oslo (which was awesome, thank you, Oslo Pride!) and as the march started we were watching different groups that were going in the parade. I was just looking around asking where the police are, and why is no one protecting the march? I saw them few minutes after – they were walking but as a group within the march and it was just so shocking. A huge Pride walked in the middle of the city and there was no need to protect it. In Poland we still have marches that have more police officers than attendees because it’s so dangerous to walk.
My second memory: It was my second Equality Parade as President. I had a broken leg so I couldn’t walk and my straight friends came to help me with moving around and ride the cart that I was sitting on. Two girls approach me. They were 14 I believe, maybe 15, and they were so happy giggling with their cheeks blushed. They approached me and they say “we wanted to thank you, because for the first time I could hold my girlfriend’s hand on the street without the fear.” It made a great impact on future work.
Andrzej: Last year I took part in a small Pride – around 1,000-2,000 people – in Olsztyn. It’s a small city in northern Poland. It was my first Pride I finished on the beach next to a beautiful lake. I felt a great atmosphere of this city and consider it as an amazing memory.
I also remember taking part in Oslo Pride in 2018. It was my first Pride outside of Poland and I’ve never seen such a proud city before. Everything was rainbow, people were smiling, watching march from the streets and their windows and I feel like in paradise.
Images: European Pride Organisers Association / Antonio Debska / Julia Maciocha