Saturday, July 17, 2004

May Day

I know that this issue is a bit dated; however, I felt it important enough to bring it up, at least in my little quadrant of cyberspace.  I wrote this article while living in Warsaw (spring 2002), and the reason I've been thinking about it lately is because my friends & colleagues in Poland, especially those serving in the Campaign Against Homophobia (KPH), were horribly discriminated against (Pride festivities banned in Warsaw) this spring by not being allowed to have their pride parade.
If by chance you'd like to put in your 2-cents worth, feel free to send letters to the Polish ambassador to the US:  His Excellency Przemyslaw Grudzinski, 2640 16th Street NW, Washington DC 20009.

While most citizens of Poland were preparing for the traditional worker’s parade on the first of May, Polish gays and lesbians were busy creating their own tradition:  a march and demonstration down the heart of Warsaw.

The rainbow flag replaced the red flags waved by various workers’ groups elsewhere throughout the country.  No one, including the organizers, knows why May Day was chosen for the second time as the day to march for gay rights.  But even with other parades and other reasons to march, the Parade of Equality drew a crowd of about 500 people.

A parade in Central Europe has little in common with its American version:  no floats, no marching bands, and no civic organization members in funny hats.  Instead, there were speeches from various organizations such as Lambda Warsaw, the Campaign Against Homophobia, and the local chapter of Amnesty International.

And there were cheerleaders.  The Radical Cheerleaders is an ultra-feminist group of punk women growling unwieldy slogans at the crowd.

Despite the overly sentimental “We Are the World” moment—and by ‘”We Are the World” moment’ I mean the point at the end of the parade when the participants were encouraged to hold hands and sing along with the a recording of the U.S.A for Africa anthem—the atmosphere of this event was imbued with significance and solemnity.

Lacking the diversity of various sub-groups within the GLBT spectrum, it would have been easy to confuse this parade with any other demonstration.  Even with the banners espousing equality for gays and lesbians and an arc of rainbow-colored balloons, spectators along the parade route had to stop and ask what exactly we were marching for.

The past year has been a tumultuous time for Polish gays and lesbians.  Even though homosexuality has been legal for a handful of years, social acceptance in this country that claims to be 98% Catholic is slow—at best—in coming.  The recent debate over domestic partnerships has proven disastrous.  Even the leading proponents of these civil unions in the Polish Parliament are backing down from sheer frustration with the issue as well as with the people it would help most.

The media does little to help the situation.  Reading five different magazine articles about the same issue, one finds the same quotes from the same individuals.  It is almost as if there are only a handful of homosexuals in all of Poland.

Homosexuality still has the quality of a freak show here, for unfortunately, à la uncritical media everywhere, those interviewed during the parade were two of the three drag queens in attendance and a man of African decent.  And the few protesters along the route from the Copernicus statue to the Castle Square received almost the same amount of coverage as the parade in one televised news report.

Perhaps next year the date will change, making it more aligned with worldwide celebration of gay rights typically held in June.

One of the most basic tenets of democracy is the protection of minorities from the majority because ultimately we all will belong to the minority in time.
On a related note, Alanis Morissette comes out in favor of required reading:

"It [having sexual experiences with a female friend in my 20s] was lovely, I loved it. And while there's part of me that deeply wishes I was hardcore homosexual, unfortunately I feel I am deep down heterosexual. I really think [gay experimentation is] a rite of passage, and I highly recommend it to anybody who's pre-lifelong-commitment. Wouldn't this planet be a different place if all fraternities and macho communities were required to experiment with their sexuality? I think it would be really great; it should be like required reading."

-- Singer/songwriter Alanis Morissette to the Miami gaynewspaper The Weekly News, May 27.

1 comment:

  1. Skajlab, you speak the truth!

    I will most definitely write a letter to the Polish Ambassador to the U.S. He needs to hear the truth as well. I wonder if your piece ever got published anywhere, like the Warsaw Voice? Can't remember . . . If not, it should have been! Poles really need a good dose of consciousness raising on the matter as well as other important civil/human rights matters.

    Thank you for contributing this on your "little quadrant of cyberspace."

    And, like you, Alanis Morissette, also speaks the truth! Beautiful idea!