An activist is protesting against the rise of homophobia and ‘hate campaigns’ in Poland by photographing queer people standing outside ‘LGBT free’ Polish towns.
29 year-old filmmaker, Bartosz Staszewski, has so far captured the portraits of five queer people standing in front of fake ‘LGBT-free zone’ signs positioned outside the towns involved in pushing forward this idea. The activist said that none of the subjects involved in his project have expressed regret or fear over their involvement, further stating, “They are the real heroes.”
In 2019, attacks against the LGBT+ community in Poland saw a stark rise following the anti-LGBT+ rhetoric at the forefront of Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, reelection campaign. Speaking to As It Happens’ guest host Helen Mann, Staszewski said, “Last year was quite tough year for LGBT persons. There was a big campaign against us made by the Law and Justice government. They used us as public enemy number one for the parliament elections.”
Local governments across Poland proceeded to declare their village or regional assembly free of ‘LGBT+ ideology’. After this declaration, a local Polish newspaper, Gazeta Polska, shortly announced that their July 24 edition would include stickers featuring a black cross over a pride flag, with the words ‘LGBT-Free Zone’.
Staszewski has called out the institutionalised homophobia within Poland, “For those people who live in those societies, [these declarations are] a sign that the politicians will not represent their problems in city council, that they will not treat them as equal to other members of these communities — that they are a threat.”
Through this series of photographs, Staszewski grounds the reality faced by many LGBT+ people within these towns and confronts the institutions who promote ‘LGBT free zones’. Describing the reaction to his project, he said, “Social media exploded. Top politicians from the European Parliament was posting them, commenting. Not just the European Parliament but also from Sweden, Italy, Germany.”
Staszewski further adds, “We need this support. It’s the only thing that is working in Poland. It’s the only thing that the Polish right-wing government is scared of.”
The photographs have sparked a widespread reaction from Polish authorities. Mayor of Trzebieszow, Miroslaw Szekalis, defended his town’s decision to pass the motion rejecting ‘LGBT ideology’, “Neither I nor any of the council members… have a reason to be ashamed.”
Since Staszewski posted the photos on social media, he has been accused of spreading ‘fake news’ and received numerous threats leading to him changing the caption to clarify the nature of the project. He said, “I thought … we live in such a time that people will understand that this is an art project. (But) we are living in a time when there is a thin line between what is absurd and what is reality.”
The activist has expressed his determination to continue the project and has called for other LGBT+ people to “stand up” and get involved. Through capturing the portrait of local queer people in Poland, Staszewski has begun a defiant protest through art against local government’s insistence that they are ‘LGBT free.’ Each image shows the beauty and pride of the Polish LGBT+ community as they continue to thrive and live in the face of widespread institutionalised homophobia.
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