Jakub Kamiński, East News

“When running for political office, do you only ask for the votes of those whose life partner you approve of? Dear Politicians, I’m disgusted,” writes 19-year-old Tatiana from Poznan, Poland. “I’m disgusted of the fact that your actions provoke my generation to think of you as thieves, of how you never listen to the society which you are supposed to run, in the interests of whom you hold your office, and of the fact that you always present us with a fait accompli, leaving us no other choice than rebellion, boycott and bitterness.”

After witnessing the LGBTQ rights conflict in Poland getting more tense after the re-election of President Andrzej Duda, the candidate supported by the conservative Law and Justice Party, Polish high schoolers are speaking out about their perspectives on the anti-LGBTQ stance of the government and the state of LGBTQ rights in Poland today, as well as in the future. Tatiana is one of them. She openly expresses her frustration with the way Polish government is dealing with the conflict — or rather, has started it in the first place. And she is not the only one — many teenagers, regardless of the side of the conflict they take, feel the same way about the situation.

“I think that what we all most need now is empathy,” says Martyna, a 16-year-old from Bydgoszcz. 

 Martyna wishes that empathy was the main motivation behind the actions of politicians. In her view, however, the reality is very different — she says that both the actions of the right as well as the left only serve to radicalize. After the arrest of LGBTQ activist Margot Szutowicz for damaging a van promoting anti-LGBTQ propaganda in Polish cities and attacking its driver, it was no longer the vehicle that attracted most attention in the streets — but rather, the spotlight now falls upon thousands of people protesting, demanding justice for Margot and equality for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Several more arrests have taken place since then, with the police often using violence to silence the protests. In interviews, high schoolers unanimously agree that brutality is not a way to solve the problem.  

“Violence is a form of helplessness, and I feel sorry for people who have to use it to prove their point,” says Franek Alvarado from Warsaw. 

Still, there have been cases where supporters of the LGBTQ community behave in controversial, even aggressive ways — Margot is one example. Dominik Olczyk from Poznan observes that “showing support to one side of the conflict often equals aggression from the other side.” He added that he believes that no form of aggression should be tolerated, and nobody should be excused from practicing it, opposing the views of others. Even though Martyna disapproves of some ways in which those supporting the LGBTQ community fight for their cause, she said she understands that the reason behind often controversial, rebellious behavior is pain, bitterness, and simply having enough of discrimination from the country’s officials. Franek agreed somewhat, emphasizing that although neither side of the conflict should be excused for using brutality, the Polish government “treats gender and sexual minorities like dirt” through the use of public name-calling, introduction of LGBTQ-free zones, organization of anti-gay marches, and many more, causing deep pain and provoking aggressive behaviours. As a member of LGBTQ community, Franek said he often feels this anger and pain himself. 

 The interviewed members of Generation Z agree that the current situation in Poland is undesirable. Some of them view the future in bright colors while others are more pessimistic, but all agree that in the long term, they are their country’s only hope for change.

Tatiana looks back to her first pride parade four years ago, comparing the social situation of sexual and gender minorities in Poland then to current reality. “Back then, we were in a much better place,” she says, adding that although she believes that it is the responsibility of everyone to fight for improvement of the social situation of the LGBTQ community,  some qualities of the youth, such as a fresh perspective on the world and eagerness for searching for new solutions, are particularly valuable, and, if made good use of, can lead to a positive change. 

Franek believes that education should become the priority in the fight for change. He looks back to his sex education classes and feels upset with the curriculum designed by Polish Ministry of Education for not teaching him that being different, feeling attracted to the same sex or not feeling attracted to anyone at all is perfectly fine. He holds the view that Poles discriminate because they are often not aware, which is a consequence of lack of access to appropriate education. Franek thinks that as a result, many people believe in propaganda and fake news about LGBTQ promoted by the government. Identifying as LGBTQ in Poland is especially difficult for youth, who are still shaping their personalities and are particularly vulnerable to discrimination — according to Amnesty International, 70 percent of Polish LGBTQ teenagers have suicidal thoughts, and half of them suffer from depression. Franek asserts that seeing one’s peers actively engaging in the fight for sexual and gender minority rights can help queer youth accept and embrace their identity. He himself, alongside volunteering for Campaign Against Homophobia, a Polish gay rights organization, initiated and ran a series of workshops educating about the problems of LGBTQ youth in Poland. What gives Franek hope for a better future in Poland is the high opposition of Polish society toward the government’s policies which can be observed not only at strikes, but also in the overall attitude of more and more people. 

 Polish millennials are aware of the fact that their country is deeply divided and will probably remain as such until they grow up and take over the leadership positions in the society. In their view, the actions undertaken by the government are not leading anywhere, and they are willing to accept the lesson modern history is trying to teach them and make use of it in the future.