A few weeks ago, I spent some days in London, Berlin and less than 24 hours in the city of Poznan, Poland’s fifth largest city. I decided to travel from Berlin to Poznan because of an invitation from Katy Peichert, a Member of the WAS Youth Initiative Committee. Katy was a wonderful host in Poznan, teaching me many things about Polish history and culture. After having a delicious traditional Polish dinner with Katy and her mom, she took me to a bar located in Poznan’s main and oldest square. During the course of the night, Katy introduced me to one of her gay friends. Talking with him, I posed the following question: How many Polish gays do you know?
“Gays in Poland?”, he asked, followed by an ironical laughter and another sentence: “Only me. If you meet some, let me know”.
Of course there are gays in Poland, there are gays in every part of the world! But what was Katy’s friend ironically referring to? A great part of the polish men who feel sexually attracted for other men, cannot assume a public identity as gay people because of fear. Fear to a society that during 26 years was heavily influenced by the conservative ideas of a very powerful native of their own: Pope John Paul II. Pope John Paul II was one of the greatest leaders in the entire history of the Catholic Church. He traveled all around the world, like not other Pope had done before, and preached about many subjects, like the importance of “family”, that according to his views, can only be established through the union of a man and a woman. On his last Christmas address, Pope John Paul II referred to same sex marriages initiatives as pieces of legislation that threat the “natural structure” of the family. Karol Wojtyla’s homophobic ideas were inherited by his two successors, Benedict XVI and Francis (the reigning Pope), and by many political leaders of his native Poland.
It’s not surprise, for example, to hear declarations like the ones made by Lech Walesa on March 1st of this year. He occupied Poland’s presidency from 1990 to 1995, he is a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a poster figure of democratic values. However, Mr. Walesa forgot that he is considered a human rights activist and he said in a television interview that gay people do not deserve to be part of part of Polish Parliament, the Sejm, that as a minority they have to adjust to a smaller role in politics, like being seated behind a wall!
Indeed, thanks to these kind of homophobic values that are linked to Karol Wojtyla’s teachings, many gays in Poland have to spend their whole lives behind a wall of lies, fear and self-hatred. They have to live double life behinds the closet, deceiving other people and deceiving themselves.
I could observe the “clandestine” nightlife of gay people in Poznan when Katy took me to a gay club after visiting the bar where I met her gay friend.
In the outside, the Polish gay club I visited was extremely sober. The entrance only said “HAH: Art & Music Club”, with no colors or images referring to LGBT culture. The inside of the place was also sober, dark and, again, with nothing that made reference to sexual diversity. However, a great part of the people were having a terrific time dancing, hugging, kissing or caressing. Watching a Polish gay couple passionately kissing inside such a little and dark club made me think that the panorama is beginning to change, possibilities of a better life for Polish gay people are beginning to destroy the wall Mr. Walesa mentioned. This is true when we also think about the fact that nowadays, the Sejm (the Polish Parlament), has one transsexual Member, Anna Grodzka and one openly gay Member, Robert Biedron.
This is also true when, for the first time in the history of the Catholic Church, there is a Pope (Francis) who comes from a country that already allows same-sex marriage: Argentina. The homophobia of Pope John Paul II might have been strong, but the pro-sexual diversity movement has also become very strong at a global level, and less dependent on what the Catholic Church has to say. After visiting Poznan and having a taste of its small gay scene, I think it would very positive for the Church to start breaking the homophobic wall they have built throughout the centuries, because if not, they will have to face another wall, the one coming from many people around the world who will not tolerate hatred anymore, and who will not tolerate professing a religion that promotes hatred…