Julia Maciocha (she/her) is the Chairperson of Warsaw Pride and a board member of the Polish Pride Alliance. She has been at the forefront of the LGBTI+ community response to support refugees arriving in Poland from Ukraine. In the third of our Lesbian Visibility Week interviews, she talks to us about what lesbian visibility means in a country like Poland where LGBTI+ lives are politicised and often weaponised.
  Lesbian visibility for me means representation. We exist. We are an integral part of the community. We have built, we are building, and we will continue to build a movement for equal rights for all non-heteronormative people. When I was younger (and believe me, the internet was not there yet), I felt that I was sticking out, I didn’t quite fit into the group, that I’m not interested in the boys my friends told me about, but I didn’t know why. Nobody told me lesbians exist! Nothing fun growing up in such uncertainty. I was 12 when I fell in love for the first time. Instead of butterflies in my stomach and a broad smile came consternation and dread. I was told that it’s wrong, that I would never be happy and would always be alone. I don’t want anyone else to hear that and feel the way I felt by some old-fashioned social norms and hate groups. I would like to let other young Julias know with my attitude and presence – Hey, it’s fine, you’re fine. You can have a happy, colourful and successful life. In a country like mine, it is difficult to talk about ‘including’ any particular group, because we do not have such extensive weeks of celebration like in Norway or Germany. In Poland, Pride is still more of a fight, a demonstration, sometimes rioting, than a colourful party. I liked the concept of space to celebrate women, genderqueer and non-binary identities, which I saw in Copenhagen during WorldPride in 2021. It is a safe place, full of sisterhood and aimed at people with specific experience and problems other than the general LGBTQIA community. This year for the first time we will create a similar space in Warsaw after the march! ❤️ I believe that lesbians in activism experience a completely different kind of discrimination than gay activists. Often, even in groups that were to be devoid of homophobia, misogyny still does well. I do not count how many times men with zero experience in organising such events wanted to explain the world to me. But I focus on my gal pals, keeping in touch with people who hear and understand my experiences. In one of the photos I am with Monika, the organiser of the march in Szczecin. After an extremely violent march in Białystok, the community needed a catharsis. A change. Spontaneously, with a group of people in three hours we created a previously non-existing march at a music festival. We did not ask for anyone’s approval. We took the space that was ours without hesitation and this bravery combined with attention to others is what I love about my girl-friends the most. I often think of lesbians who abandoned their prejudices and looked after men during the HIV epidemic. I am moved and inspired by their heroism and courage. As a resident of a country bordering Ukraine, from the beginning of the war, aid work has been part of my daily schedule. We are in constant contact with organisations in Ukraine. We were the backbone of the community in troubled times in the past, and we are today. This is what makes me proud.
Thanks to Julia for sharing her thoughts with us. Warsaw Pride this year takes place on Saturday 25 June. Read more about the work Warsaw Pride are doing to support refugees from Ukraine here. Pic Anton Ambroziak