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Interview to the history of LGBTIQ* movement

The LGBTIQ* movement in Poland was different from that in the USA and the FRG, as freedom of the press and freedom of assembly were severely restricted by socialist influence. Magda Wlostowska works at the University of Leipzig and her doctoral thesis deals with the development of gay and lesbian spheres since the 1980s in Poland. She answered our questions about this development.

ENOUGH is ENOUGH!: Thank you for letting us interview you about the history of the LGBTIQ* movement in Poland. Maybe you can start by explaining who you are, what you do, and with which view you look at the history of the LGBTIQ* movement in Poland?
Magda Wlostowska: I am a political scientist, a Ph.D. student at the University of Leipzig and I am working on a Ph.D. project on the formation and development of gay and lesbian spheres in Poland since the 1980s. Since I am not involved in structures in Poland, my perspective is more of an academic view from the outside.
EiE!: Same-sex sexual acts were decriminalized in Poland in the 1930s - far earlier than in many other countries in Europe. How did this occur?
Magda W.: The Second Polish Republic had existed only since 1918; before that, the country had been divided into Prussian, Austrian and Russian parts for 123 years. The Polish Penal Code, revised in 1932, abolished the punishment of consensual "same-sex sexual acts" between adults. (The law, by the way, referred only to sexual acts between men; lesbian love did not exist at all according to the law!) I can say little about the Commission's legal debates on this. Of course, one can speculate whether it wanted to avoid indirectly drawing attention to non-heterosexual lifestyles by banning them. In any case, I fear the repeal had little to do with a progressive policy in the sense of recognizing same-sex love...
EiE!: To what extent could a political movement involving LGBTIQ* take place in the People's Republic of Poland? Until 1989, as in the GDR, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly were only limited there, and thus the movement probably proceeded differently than in the USA or the FRG?
Magda W.: Yes, that's true. A feminist movement or a Gay & Lesbian Liberation movement could not emerge in the form we know, for example, from the Federal Republic of Germany in the 1970s, for obvious reasons. Many political forces in Poland had been active and tied to the political opposition, especially Solidarność, since the 1970s. Beginnings of networking of gays and lesbians with the goal of being represented in public, working toward legal equality, etc., are not seen until the mid-1980s. This was initiated - as a side effect, so to speak - by the Eastern Europe Information Pool (EEIP) project launched from Vienna in 1981. The Viennese activists actually only wanted to collect information about the situation and lifestyles of gays and lesbians in Eastern Europe and make it available to Western NGOs. Soon, however, the EEIP served as a platform for exchange between gays and lesbians from different countries in Eastern Europe.
EiE!: In the course of your academic work, you have already dealt with the first gay and lesbian newsletters in Poland. I have also read about gay and lesbian magazines that existed in Poland. Can you elaborate a little bit about this kind of networking and what impact it had on LGBTIQ* (especially lesbian women and gay men), but also in what way others from the community might have benefited from it?
Magda W.: From the mid to late 1980s, a newsletter produced in Vienna by activists of the aforementioned Eastern Europe Information Pool was distributed in Poland through non-official channels, but a small gay fanzine called "Filo" also emerged in Poland itself around the same time in Gdańsk. After 1990, "Filo" became a real monthly magazine that could be bought at newsstands. And also in Poznań, in 1990, the monthly magazine "Inaczej" (in English "Different") was created. If we look at the content of these magazines in the early 1990s, the first thing that comes to mind is self-location in culture and history. Classics of gay and lesbian literature are presented or presumed gay and lesbian historical figures are introduced. Whereas here, too, a great emphasis is to be placed on "gay"; women and lesbians are only marginally present in the magazines. At that time, a certain amount of networking on a personal level is only possible through the numerous contact ads and in newly emerging pubs and bars - to which the advertising bears witness. It was not until the mid-1990s that groups appeared in the magazines calling for people to join in, or texts appeared with a sociopolitical slant. At the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s respectively, both magazines had to be discontinued for financial reasons. However, during the time they were published, they certainly made a great contribution to the emergence of a gay and lesbian sphere in Poland.
EiE!: Since you just talked about how the LGBTIQ* community benefited from newsletters and magazines in the past, I was wondering if you could say something about the situation today? Meaning in what ways these magazines are affected by repression today?
Magda W.: Similar to Germany, there has been a shift of community and communication on the Internet in Poland since the 1990s, later especially to various social media platforms. This was also one of the reasons for the discontinuation of the magazines "Filo" and "Inaczej". It is only since 2005 that there has been a regularly published print magazine in Poland again: "Replika". At that time it was founded as a project of the NGO Kampania Przeciw Homofobii (Dt. "Campaign against Homophobia"), but has been independent for several years. It was laid out free of charge and financed by donations, solo subscriptions, and advertising. However, its reach was limited mainly to larger cities and relevant locations. By 2021, it can also be bought in the bookstore chain "Empik". The same chain faced calls for boycotts by conservatives when it distributed an American children's book about two gay penguins and their adopted chick a few years ago. So far, however, "Replika" has not faced direct government repression.
EiE!: It turns out that most of the information, newsletters, offers, etc. were directed at men? What was the situation like for women, and did they also get the opportunity to network and participate in the movement?
Magda W.: Yes, most magazines were primarily addressed to gay men. This is not to say that there was no lesbian activism. In the documentary "Yes we are" by Magda Wystub, some contemporary witnesses from the 1980 and 1990 years also have their say: e.g. Roma Cieśla or Yga Kostrzewa. However, I have the impression that unlike in the early magazines, women and lesbians are much more present in the work of NGOs such as Lambda Warszawa, the oldest Polish LGBTQIA* organization, from the very beginning.
EiE!: Most of the development can be described as a movement by and for homosexual people. Do we know anything about the history of other members of the LGBTIQ* community, such as trans* people or inter* people?
Magda W.: In the sources from the 1980s, I found a lot about gay lifestyles. In the magazines of the 1990s, one can see that the editors draw the attention of their readers to the fact that there are other gender identities besides gay and lesbian ones, e.g. with references to literary figures or to historical personalities such as the Polish writer Piotr Włast. However, I am not aware of a larger community or network from that time. The aforementioned magazine "Replika" also strives to live up to its self-designation as a magazine for LGBTQIA* and regularly interviews public figures who are also inter- or trans* activists, such as former Sejm deputy Anna Grodzka or former Solidarność activist Ewa Hołuszko. Since 2008, the NGO Trans*Fuzja (Trans*Fusion) has been offering counseling, networking, and campaigning - especially in the context of the recent feminist protests, pointing out that non-binary people and men can also become pregnant and have a right to bodily self-determination.
EiE!: What are other important events in the history of the LGBTIQ* movement in Poland after 1989 until the introduction of the first "LGBT-free zone" in March 2019?
Magda W.: That is, of course, a very long period of time, and difficult to summarize in a few words. As a scientist, I would divide these 30 years into phases. In the first phase, in the 1990s, it was more about self-understanding and self-location - that's where journals play a big role. Since about the end of the 1990s, a new phase occurred, in which groups were increasingly founded, which either make self-help offers and create spaces - such as Lambda Warszawa - or focus on campaigning in the general public - such as Kampania Przeciw Homofobii. Legal equality and the demand to be able to be different without fear have also been themes of Pride demonstrations since the beginning, which have taken place in Warsaw, for example, since the late 1990s as Parada Rowności (Engl. "Equality Parade"). Poland's accession to the European Union in 2004 was also important in this regard, as it was associated with many hopes for a gentle but steady adaptation of Polish laws to those in force in some Western and Northern European countries, such as the right to marriage for all. For several years, a backlash can be observed, I would also call this now its own phase. In this context, the events since summer 2019 are a temporary low point. There have been major steps backward, particularly in education and health policy. The tightening of the right to abortion and its de facto abolition should also be mentioned here.
EiE!: How was the cooperation with international organizations and activists and what relevance can be attributed to the involvement of non-Polish activists? Was this perhaps also perceived as paternalism by some supporters of the LGBTIQ* community in Poland? To what extent do you consider this international cooperation meaningful, in which points would you see alternatives and what can we learn from it for the present?
Magda W.: Simple imports of structures or ideas do not work. This has also been shown by the example of the EEIP in Poland. It was an important platform for exchange in the 1980s, but as soon as it was possible from 1990 on, autonomous magazines and groups were founded in Poland. It is more effective when activists working on the ground, for instance, activists who know the legal or social conditions. Nevertheless, also for activists from Poland a look into the history of e.g. Western European LGBTQIA* movements can be important because then you can recognize certain strategies and take them as inspiration for your own struggle - this is also the point where I want to emphasize the enormous importance of movement archives. For politically interested people and activists who want to be in solidarity with the struggles in Poland, it is important to listen to Polish activists and learn what kind of solidarity and support they need and want.

Enough is Enough Team