Lesbi in Warsaw: A Photo Journal
I arrived in Warsaw on a rainy afternoon right in time for the annual LGBT Film Festival. Before arriving I had conducted some research about LGBTQ rights in Poland and I found out that there had been recent attacks against the Campaign Against Homophobia Office in Warsaw and instances of violence during pride marches. Fearing the worst, I came prepared to keep my sexuality a secret from my airbnb hosts and strangers I might meet along the way. But since I travel as the host of a lesbian podcast, keeping quiet about my identity means lying about why I’m traveling to begin with. I can handle that if needed.
I got to my airbnb flat shortly before I needed to get to the film festival. My airbnb host was a bit confused about why my only question for him on my first night in the country was how to get to the movie theater, but I played it off by telling him unconvincingly that I’m a huge fan of movies. The festival was being held at a cinema called Kinoteka in the Palace of Culture and Science which is a landmark built in the 50s during Soviet rule. Historically, lots of people have been pissed about the Palace. It’s been seen as a symbol of Soviet domination or in more general terms as an eyesore for a city that until very recently had few other buildings as high as it. Arriving there all by my lil’ lesbi self on my first night in a very foreign country was pretty rad. The fact that it was full of lesbis and other queer folks that night was even radder. It made me feel like, hey, if this event is being held right in the middle of town in a very popular movie theater, maybe homosexuality is more visible and accepted in Poland than I thought. But that's only because I was expecting the very worst before getting there.
I ended up meeting some pretty cool babes at the festival, and one of them told me about a girl party called Girls to the Front, which is held every two months at a bar called Eufemia. Luckily I was in town the weekend I needed to be. On my way to the party I stopped for some beer and dumplings. I probably shouldn't include this nasty, artless dumpling picture but I will anyway. And by the way, Poland has some great beer.
It's probably best not to kiss a girl immediately after dumplings and beer. Conveniently, I had no one to kiss. I continued on toward the party, which at first sight was a little more mixed than I expected. By mixed I mean that lots of very straight-looking men were hanging around. Not the creepy lesbi party crasher kind, but it basically looked like I had entered something that was NOT a lesbian or queer party at all. As the night went on though, something magical happened. The men started leaving, and the girls stayed! Suddenly a bunch of hot babes were swaying their hips to sweet grooves on the dance floor. It was a dream, and like a true lesbi creepo I just sat back and watched. I got to talking with a girl who was sitting nearby selling female-focused zines at a table. Turns out she was an organiser of the party and an editor of the Girls to the Front zine.
Ola and I had a conversation about being a lesbi in Warsaw. She's never personally had an issue and everyone she is close to, except for her grandma, knows she is gay. But these are strange times in Poland, due to the recent victory of the conservative, anti-LGBTQ Law and Justice Party, and the consecutive rise of right-wing movements and protests. Ola is concerned that Poland could experience something similar to what happened in Russia, where, in 2013, a law was put into effect banning “gay propaganda” to minors, which practically makes it illegal to speak in favor of LGBTQ rights and poses fines on people and media groups who use the media or internet to promote "non-traditional" relations. Evidence suggests that this has resulted in increased violence against the LGBTQ population in Russia because certain people are feeling supported in their hatred against the LGBTQ community and immune to punishment for hate crimes. This is the type of harshness some people are fearing could happen in Poland if the new government goes to that extreme. Let’s hope that things will not go that far. So far, they haven’t.
Wow, I really should have taken more pictures in Warsaw. Oh well, I took plenty in my next stops, which I'll post soon. Warsaw is a place I never really imagined myself going, but I'm very excited I went and I would return again in a heartbeat. The public transit is excellent, there are several lesbi and gay-friendly hangout spots and parties (although finding them might require some research), there's a river with beaches, lush green parks, an Old Town that survived the World Wars, and plenty of modern neighborhoods. I've heard of some amazing drag shows that unfortunately I missed, but I hope to catch those during a future visit.
I was amazed by all the awesome babes I met and by the relative open-mindedness in a country that also has a fair amount of discrimination and hatred against the LGBTQ community and other minority groups. Several of the girls I met told me they've never been discriminated against for being lesbians, although they're careful in certain parts of town, like the Praga District. Somebody did mention that a hateful man told his dog to attack her and her girlfriend when they were holding hands in the street. The dog knew what was up and was friendly instead. I was told of increasing racism and xenophobia, fueled by right-wing groups including the current right-wing government. But I also saw a strong counter-current to this hatred.
One day in casual conversation I ended up telling my airbnb hosts that I'm a total lesbi and host a lesbian-themed podcast. To my delight, they were excited about that and recommended some people I should interview. I thanked my intuition for choosing the artsy flat with a couple and their dog over the posher flat in a more central location. Poland, like everywhere else, is a contradictory place to be - the Catholic Church is extremely powerful here, and even civil unions for LGBTQ people seem a far way away. But it's wonderful to know how many powerful people are on the ground fighting for a better future, while celebrating their identities in the present.
Stay tuned for pictures from the pride march in Lodz, which was beautiful, breathtaking, and free of any violent incidents. Also stay tuned to the podcast episodes which I swear are coming soon.