On Saturday over 300 people turned out with rainbow flags, banners with pro-gay rights slogans, whistles and drums for a pride march in Wroclaw.
Starting near Renoma and winding around the Rynek, the march held up bus and tram lines, and while being loud and boisterous, was altogether rather peaceful. The event was organized by the Kultura Równości (Culture of Equality) Association.
First, while the number of people who marched was encouraging, there was also the matter of the number of police alongside the demonstrators. Large numbers of police officers flanked the protesters who were marching alongside, with many police vans and vehicles following before and behind.
However, with events like the March of the Patriots, and most recently, the anti-immigration demonstration, it is understandable why the city would be concerned about people’s safety.
Bystanders reactions were very friendly, as some people watched from balconies, took photos or filmed from streets and trams. There were also a few whistles and slogans chanted by the marchers, with the phrase "homophobia can be cured" being one popular example. When the march stopped in front of the Stary Ratusz in the Rynek, one of the march organizers mentioned he had brought his father. At the end of the march, the rainbow balloons people had tied to their backpacks were released into the sky.
From my position the march was reminiscent of pride events in the United States in the late 1990s and early 2000s: upbeat, but with safety a serious concern, and marches calling on politicians to change laws. Several of the speakers talked about how religion is taught in schools in Poland, and criticized Polish president Andrzej Duda for vetoing major trans rights bills.
Over the last decade, public opinion of gay issues in many countries has slowly changed, and pride marches have moved away from being just parties to drink at to being celebrations of diversity and tolerance. In some cases, they last for several days, with cities like London having events lasting an entire week.
Europe has also led the way in legalizing gay marriage, beginning with the Netherlands in 2001 and Finland in 2002. And it’s easy to forget how far this movement has come. In 2002, gay marriage was a hugely divisive issue in the United State’s elections, and any politician who supported it didn’t stand a chance of being elected.
Now, it’s nearly the opposite. Over the summer, both Ireland, which is heavily Catholic, and the United States, legalized gay marriage. Now, any US. government employees who refuse to follow the law, such as Kim Davis, are turned into jokes and memes.
Changing public opinion is a slow process, indeed frustratingly slow at times. However, it’s exciting to see the gay rights movement do their bit to push forward their case in Poland, even if the tide of social change still seems some way from turning.