Trying to Exist as a Queer Person in Poland

Before coming to Poland, my knowledge of the country has largely circulated around the current anti-LGBT environment and the rise of far right politics. Over this past summer, there were several counter protests at pride parades that resulted in violence. These counter protests were led by far right groups who actively sought to frighten the LGBT+ Polish population. The cohort of students on this group have all expressed our anxieties about Poland because our group is incredibly queer. Because of the violence that erupted at pride parades and our discussions of Poland in class, I have been very wary of what it would be like to actually stay in Krakow.
During a lecture by Agneis Kakrol, a queer activist in Poland, I learned a lot more about the political and cultural difficulties that the LGBT+ community faces. In Poland, there is no recognition of same sex coupledom and zero hate speech regulation. However, there is state-sponsored homophobia. Despite this, there are many queer activists within the country who are willing to fight against these issues through diverse LGBT organizations and social media activism. A great example of this resistance is shown through a rainbow sculpture that was created in the public square Plac Zbawiciela in Warsaw. Originally, a sculpture of a rainbow was placed in this public area, but the artist had not intended for the piece in any way to be read as “queer.” However, this sculpture was repeatedly burnt down by far right nationalist groups. There are images that depict the rainbow being set on fire—a symbol of the active violence that the Polish LGBT+ community faces. The original sculpture was eventually taken down. But during Warsaw’s Pride March last year, several LGBT+ organizations came together to design a new sculpture. This new sculpture was made with simply water and light—creating a holographic project of the rainbow that was unable to be set on fire.
Following Agneis’ lecture, many of us students had questions about queer life here in Krakow. Agneis had suggested that we go to the local underground lesbian bar that was only a few blocks away from our class.
Later on in the week, a couple of us students decided to go to the bar where we had an underwhelming time. After this, the three of us had decided to take electric scooters to get home since it was late in the night and we were somewhat faraway from home. Katherine and I shared a scooter while Cassie decided to ride their own. Admittedly, driving an electric scooter on cobble street roads is very difficult, but it is far more difficult when a man attempts to attack you. As we were scooting down the road, a man decided to try and play chicken with us. At first, I thought he was drunk and would eventually jump out of our way. Instead, he refused to move and began to run along side us and grab both of us. We began to shout at him, yelling at him to leave us alone. He yelled back in Polish which we were unable to understand. He got angrier and grabbed Katherine by her suspenders in an attempt to yank her off the scooter. During this entire time (only a course of a few minutes), I was attempting to not crash into Cassie’s scooter. We eventually managed to get away from this man. There were so many parts of this experience that I struggle to comprehend. One of these is the fact that after speaking with Katherine and Cassie we are all unable to determine whether this was a homophobic experience, or one that was rooted purely in misogyny. That night I had been dressed very “femme” whereas Katherine was dressed very “masc,” and we easily could have been read as a queer couple. But did this man view us in that way? Was he angry that we were queer? Or was it because we were women and he thought he had a right to our bodies? We can’t be sure because the man only yelled at us in Polish. It is also important to note that there were many people who saw what was happening to us, and they all chose not to interact. Was this because this was a homophobic attack and they agreed with his actions? Am I relying too heavily on the assumption that if this was a misogynistic attack people would be willing to defend us?
After getting home, all of us made sure that our other flatmates were safe. We were all scared, anxious, and disgusted by what had happened to us. We have only a short time left in Poland, and I am grateful to be leaving soon that I do not have to worry about the safety of my classmates and myself.