Mikołaj (22) LGBTQ*-activist about queer culture and politics in Polend
LGBTQ*-free zones, politicians inciting against queer people.
I talk with Mikołaj Obalski about his struggle for acceptance and equal rights.
The 22-year-old lives in Łódź, Poland's third largest city, where he witnesses on a daily basis what it means to live as a gay young man in Poland. Mikołaj is an activist and also an assistant to Polish Member of Parliament Anita Sowińska. In 2019 and 2020, he was nominated for the "Personality of the Year" award in his region of Łódź.
Mikołaj before the Polish Parliament in Warsaw: There is no freedom without equality
This week, the new law lexczarnek was passed in the Polish Parliament. What exactly is this law about?
Last Thursday, the "Lex Czarnek" was passed, a law that considerably restricts the competences of school headmasters and the board of trustees and is intended to make education about LGBTQ issues in schools even more invisible.
In future, it will no longer be possible for non-school organisations and associations to be invited to schools without the consent of the state school inspectorate. The aim of "Lex Czarnek" is to prevent initiatives such as Rainbow Friday (LGBTQ visibility day in schools) or sex education. Those who act against the law face impeachment and, in the worst case, a prison sentence of up to 5 years. The PiS party's Polish Minister of Education, Przemysław Czarnek, recently said: "Let's protect the family from this kind of depravity and absolutely immoral behaviour. Let's protect ourselves from LGBT ideology and stop listening to this idiocy about human rights or equality. These people are not equal to normal people, let's stop this discussion" 227 MPs in the Polish parliament voted for the amendment, 214 were against, no one abstained. This law is like a muzzle for all those who advocate for more diversity and openness in schools.
Why is the Polish ruling party PiS taking such an anti-LGBTQ course?
For years, PiS has used intimidation of the Polish population in its election campaigns. In 2015, when the Mediterranean refugee crisis hit Europe and people were fleeing war from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, Andrzej Duda's presidential campaign was running in Poland. At the time, the PiS had campaigned on "invading immigrants who want to rape women and children" and won the election. In 2018, Poland held local elections. PiS then came up with another idea to scare people and win the election: It was the "LGBT ideology".
It was reported that gays would rape children, want to teach them how to masturbate, and that they are pedophiles. In 2019 and 2020, PiS tactics focused on making people publicly afraid of the LGBTQ community.
Elections to the EU, parliament and senate, as well as the presidency took place during this period. At the time, Polish President Duda uttered contemptuous words: "These people are trying to convince us that they are human beings and that is just an ideology". Thus, they won the elections again and caused division and hatred in Polish society. New ideologies are just emerging with the participation of the Church. I have heard about the "single ideology" or "eco-terror ideology". I ask myself: what is that supposed to be?
We work, pay taxes, go to shops, help the poor and needy and live like everyone else. We just want to have the same rights that heterosexual people have.
I have seen pictures in the media of rainbow flags being burnt and that there are large counter-demos at Pride demos. Where does this hatred in the Polish population come from?
The problem starts at the top. Politicians use the words "pedophiles" or "perverts" in the state media. Hate speech on parliamentary tribunes and by many members of the church further divides society. The current government in Poland does not protect people from hatred, but encourages and legitimises it through its behaviour. This also has something to do with the fact that the implementation of laws (criminal law, administrative offences) is treated very differently by courts in Poland.
How do you experience the Polish judiciary and police dealing with LGBTQ activists at the moment?
I have been through several court cases. In October last year I was pushed away by a police officer during a demonstration. My head hit the pavement and I lost consciousness for a moment.
Sometimes the police brutally attack the demonstrators. Police officers kick people, use batons and tear gas.
When people are arrested, they are often held for hours at the police station and have to wait for questioning. As an assistant to MP Anita Sowińska, I have repeatedly helped people who have been beaten and arbitrarily detained by the police. We help these people who have done nothing wrong to defend themselves legally. A few hearings and accusations are already behind me, e.g. "disturbing the prayer of the rosary because of the sin of abortion". I have won many of them. At that time, I was almost constantly followed by the police and under surveillance.
I do this for myself and for others, for a free, tolerant and democratic Poland.
Do you think the EU should do more about anti-LGBTQ policies in Poland?
The EU should remind states to respect international agreements, covenants, laws and conventions. One such convention is the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 14 of this Convention speaks of non-discrimination. In the name of this article and others, it is the responsibility of the EU institution to respect the rights of the LGBTQ community. Today, I expect solidarity and support from the EU, I do not want anyone to do anything against my country, but I want the EU to be consistent in addressing the issue of freedom, tolerance and democracy in Poland.
How do you feel as an LGBTQ person living in Poland now? Have you experienced hostility or violence yourself?
I am afraid for my friends from the queer community in Poland and that is why I fight for their rights, for my rights. My rainbow flag has been burnt several times, I have been insulted and physically attacked. However, I don't give up because I love people and I do it for them.
Would you walk the streets of your city holding hands with another man?
I would hold hands with anyone on the street, man or woman. I do not want to hide and I expect only one thing in return: freedom and respect.