Tens of thousands marched through the streets of Warsaw on Saturday to demand equality for LGBTQ people
WARSAW, June 17 (Reuters) - Tens of thousands marched through the streets of Warsaw on Saturday to demand equality for LGBTQ people, as the community eyes upcoming Polish elections in which gay rights could play a prominent role.
The country's ruling conservative nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party has focused on opposing what it calls "LGBT ideology" in previous campaigns. With an election in October or November looking tight, activists expect PiS to use issues like gay marriage or teaching about LGBTQ issues in schools to mobilise socially conservative voters.
"I am almost 100% percent sure that it will be happening again this year," said Alicja Herda, one of the organisers of Warsaw's Equality March. "But I am not very worried because we are a very strong community and we will not be easy to stop from doing our prides (marches) because it's okay to be who we are."
PiS says that extending marriage and adoption to gay couples threatens traditional family structures and is harmful for children. It also says that teaching about LGBTQ issues in schools results in children being sexualised.
"Children should not be subjected to practices that are certainly harmful to them and can lead to psychological changes that will negatively affect them in adult life," PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said in May.
That view, which is regularly featured in state-run media, strikes a chord with many voters in the predominantly Catholic country. However, critics say the government is seeking to gain votes by stoking prejudice against a minority that already faces widespread discrimination.
"We know that PiS can use any argument at the moment... That is why we want to show that today diversity, minority rights means Europe that is open, Europe that is tolerant. This is what Warsaw is like and I believe that this what Poland will be like," Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski told a press conference before the march.
Krzysztof Gora, 24, travelled to Warsaw with his boyfriend from London to attend the march.
"We want to celebrate but also fight for more rights [for the LGBTQ community] in Poland," Gora told Reuters. "I think that in a way parties like PiS are using us as a scapegoat. They show that we are monsters, that we are not really human."
While thousands celebrated marching to the sounds of music, a group of anti-LGBTQ activists from the Foundation for Life and Family burned rainbow flags, the symbol of the LGBTQ community.
But not everyone complained about hate and discrimination. Sabrina, 45, a march participant who works in international trade, has recently began sex reassignment process.
"Even when I dress as a woman, which is happening more often these days, I don't experience discrimination," she told Reuters. "But I assume that many people can have a problem with that. Especially outside Warsaw. In Warsaw we have more space."
Reporting by Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska, Alan Charlish and Kuba Stezyki; Editing by Nick Macfie and Mike Harrison