It was with some shock and disbelief that I read the news article from a local media outlet in Skierniewice, Poland, saying that LGBT+ people are not welcome there - still with the 'LGBT+ free zones bs, in the midst of a global pandemic! This, as it turned out, was based on an old piece of news, still, it was being dragged back out in the midst of the epidemic! What the actual f...! The date on the original document the article refers to is from Sept 2019. But the person writing for that local outlet had the ingenuity to think that it is a good topic to revert to (and let's just add, for complete clarity - not in defence of the rights of the local LGBT+ people) during a global crisis of extraordinary proportions. As if the gravity of the situation did not make everybody stop and think - at least to the extent of realising that ALL human life is more important than politics, political agendas or ideologies.
'Unity will get us through this crisis' was the story I had been feeding myself up to that point. I still am, to an extent. The stories of mutual support I have heard since the beginning of this pandemic are too many to count. But looking at Poland made me stop and think again
Everything in Polish politics today seems to points us to this, somewhat inevitable, it seems to me, conclusion. First, we thought it was crazy enough that the Polish government is still ploughing on with the planned May 10th election, against all reason or international pressures. But then they managed to surprise us even more - as they decided to put abortion rights and sexual education bans back on the agenda... They don't seem to think there's anything wrong about confusing sex education with paedophilia... Or with pointing the finger queer people as paedophiles... Despite warnings from many international health and human rights organisations. On the same day as the right to choose and educate was yet again debated in Polish parliament, a proposal that would see medical staff tested on regular basis was rejected! There seems to be no consideration for human life, rights or dignity in their political vision. Even in the midst of a pandemic! And yet, they persist on calling themselves pro-life. How ironic. If it hadn't been made clear enough before, it should be plain for the whole world to see now.
It then transpired that the media problem was far from just a local level glitch - publicly-funded TV in Poland is erasing rainbows from their reporting on how the crisis is affecting businesses...
All this ignores the deep human impact of the pandemic and our common humanity. The one thing that should unite and guide us in times like these.
Locally, a couple of weeks ago, the BBC covered a story of the impact of the crisis on the mental health of many young LGBT+ people is at increased risk during the crisis, as many are being forced to self-isolate with their homophobic families. When I shared this article with my friends on Facebook, a strange comment came my way, implying that there were more serious issues to worry about. Mental health might not appear to some as a serious issue, still. But with so many decades of campaigning against mental health stigma, one would assume that we're not so quick to brush concerns like these back under the carpet, as soon as 'more important' diseases catch our attention.
Don't get me wrong, I have also felt deeply heartened by some of the positive side effects of the crisis that have been many - the realisation of just how much we need human connection and the inventive ways that we've found to get it in times of pandemic; the countless mutual support initiatives people were coming up with on daily basis, especially in the early days of the crisis; the stories of young people 'adopting' lonely local grannies to make sure nobody is left alone during this crisis. My heart grows with hope for humanity during these dark times. There's hope for us yet, I keep thinking to myself. I hadn't had as many moments like that in the past few years as I've had in the past few weeks of isolation. That is what helps me carry on. And so I've taken it on as my personal mission for these dark times to spread the message of hope.
In Britain, as workers are coming together to exert pressure on the government to ensure that their health and lives are protected while they do essential work, and an unprecedented number of people are signing up to trade unions to create powerful, collective action, the overarching message of all the workers' actions has been one of strength through unity. And a radical one at that: "We're not going back to business as usual after this!"
What cheers me up most these days is the new levels of human connection that are, somewhat counter-intuitively perhaps, made possible these days by the lockdown. Online admittedly, and so they're not without their drawbacks, but the internet has made it possible for us, not just to stay connected during the crisis, but in some cases to expand on our normal connections and to develop new ones. New groups have been created - for mutual support and more, new modes of action made possible or evident for the first time.
Before I end this article, I want to highlight some of the ways that LGBT+ communities are finding to keep connected these days. It's been heartening to see that Opening Doors campaign to support older isolated LGBT+ people during the crisis has received great response. This is particularly important nowadays for people who do not have easy access to the internet, and Opening Doors recognised this with their telefriending support service (you can read more on their crisis resources here). In Poland, a similar campaign is run by the KPH.
Further, the KPH has recently covered the #Maszerujemy (We're marching) campaign which has gone viral in early April - celebrating online what could not be celebrated in real life during COVID (the pride season was meant to start at the beginning of April; you can read more about it here). The KPH has also created a list of shops saying no to hate and supporting LGBT+ communities.
I am co-hosting an online event this coming Thursday, focused on international solidarity with Polish LGBT+ activists. Everyone, everywhere welcome!
Other useful resources:
Listen to the Pride podcast.
Read more about the LGBT-free zones in Poland and what is being done to address it.
Join online pride action this Fri!
And just for fun!:)
Embark on a queer objects tour of London!
Or join a queer party online!