In the face of discrimination
On IDAHOBIT, Anisa Easterbrook learns about LGBTQ+ rights in Poland
Today marks International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia or, the shortened catchier version that you’ll see trending on Twitter which has absolutely nothing to do with Lord of the Rings - IDAHOBIT.
This day was created in 2004 to grab the attention of key stakeholders such as policymakers, opinion leaders, social movers, the media and general public to the discrimination and violence experienced by the LGBTQI+ people internationally.
It is one of the few dates specific to the LGBTQI+ community which is celebrated on a global scale on the same day - so is seen as one of the most important dates for us to mobilise and make a splash.
Living in London as a cisgender femme lesbian is a privilege in itself and a privilege which must not be forgotten. I have the option of going to areas in London which are exceptionally LGBTQ+ friendly. London, for me, is also diverse and populated enough for me to avoid hanging out with certain groups or individuals who do not share the same values as me. I can easily create my nice, safe bubble.
However, I mustn’t forget that just because I don’t experience prejudice everyday, that doesn’t mean it’s the same for everyone else. In London there are still people who are faced daily with hate crime. Some of us gaining the right to marry does not mean we’ve achieved equality - being gay is still criminalised in over 70 countries.
However, even in those countries which do have protective laws in place, hateful views and experiences of homo, trans and biphobia have not been abolished. Many of our neighbours in European countries are bound by legal systems and societal attitudes which are heavily influenced by religious leaders, but if there’s one thing we know about the LGBTQ+ community, it’s their ability to resist.
With And For Girls is an initiative which funds and recognises organisations which focus on working toward gender equality, including LGBTQ+ rights. Ponton Group of Sex Educators is one of 60 organisations which is being supported by the initiative. It empowers young people to embrace adolescence and adulthood with confidence, by improving their knowledge of sexual and reproductive health and rights through education and advocacy!
In Poland the Catholic church still wields huge influence and sex and sexuality are taboo subjects. Sexual education is delivered by priests or teachers in lessons called “Preparation for Family Life”, which are fraught with gender stereotypes and homophobic messages.
I spoke to members of Ponton (Joanna Skonieczna, Finka Heynemann, Patrycja Wonatowska and Paulina Wawrzyńczyk) about LGBTQ+ rights in Poland.
DIVA: How far do you think Poland has come in terms of societal attitudes and rights for LGBTQ+ people?
JOANNA SKONIECZNA: Just a few days ago the newest ILGA-Europe ranking of LGBT friendly countries was published and Poland ranks almost last... It seems that the situation has worsened after the 2015 election that brought the conservatives into government. Any LGBTQ+, women's rights and SRHR issues are dismissed, funding has been cut, language and societal attitudes have become more and more violent.
It felt like things were progressing in around 2011, when we saw our first openly gay, as well as the first trans, politician in parliament and there was real hope for legislative changes in terms of marriage equality and trans rights. But more recently, Poland has taken many steps back.
Why was Ponton started? What do you do? What do you like best about your work?
Ponton was started as a group of peer-educators - young people providing sex ed to each other. However, in the span of around 17 years, we have evolved and are now one of the most known organisations focusing on sexual education and sexual rights and reproductive health (SRHR) advocacy in Poland.
The most important part of our work seems to be the impact we have on teens’ safety and wellbeing. We know that our activism influences young people and helps them make safer decisions about their bodies and sexual lives.
What are some of the most common challenges the LGBT+ community faces in Poland today?
The limited access to comprehensive sex education including LGBTQ+ diversity remains one of the biggest challenges. Teachers do not always have up-to-date information and it’s therefore difficult for them to support LGBTQ+ youth coming out. It is key to educate both students and teachers to get rid of discriminatory behaviours and eradicate homo-, bi- and transphobic bullying in schools.
What steps do you think need to be made to make sure we progress as an inclusive and safe society?
Since at this moment there is no chance of Poland introducing any legislative changes, we need to make sure young people who will have the right to vote in the near future will be advocating for equality. This is where Ponton steps in. During our lessons, speeches, media appearances and any other activities, we try to be as inclusive as possible. We strive to ensure the safety and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ pupils in our classrooms by using inclusive language, educating about LGBTQ+ issues and reinforcing the message that no LGBTQ+ person should ever be discriminated against. It is by teaching young people and making them aware of LGBTQ+ issues that we can make progress as a better society!
Protective laws are a huge step toward equality however they do not abolish hateful views, it has to be a social movement which changes mindsets, not just a legal process.
Today we should think of the LGBTQ+ community as a global one, rather than just our mates and the regulars we see at our local gay bar, and remember why we still partake in Pride parades, why we still fight against the closure of so many LGBTQ+ safe spaces, and who we are speaking up for when we do. We need to continue to support efforts made by both individuals and organisations who have dedicated their lives to ensuring everyone has the right to be themselves in safe, enabling environments!
Find out more: withandforgirls.org
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