Prawa autorskie: Kraków, 2020. Ze względu na pandemiczne obostrzenia Marsz Równości zamienił się w demonstrację na Rynku Głównym. Pojawili się też kontrmanifestanciKraków, 2020. Ze wzg...

Anton Ambroziak: We most frequently look at social moods and likings with respect to minorities from a big city point of view. You’ve gone beyond the scheme and not only are you focusing on what is happening in local Poland, but you are also dealing with those who are not, in fact, the LGBT community, but who want to support it. Where did this idea come from and what did you essentially want to check?

Widżet projektu Aktywni Obywatele - Fundusz Krajowy, finansowanego z Funduszy EOG

Kasia: In addition to providing mini grants, the objective of the For a Change Fund is to mobilize allies to act and bravely support LGBT+ people in local Poland. We started to wonder what people who support our community are missing and what paths to being an ally are already beaten. We decided to organize six group interviews: two with people who already consider themselves kind, four with people potentially interested in this, and then a nationwide survey on a sample of 1,400 Polish adults to check how these ideas resonate more broadly. We also dug though activist narratives on how to be an ally. I must admit that my intuition was good that we mainly scare and slap wrists.

But isn’t that the case?

As activists, we frequently sound like a scolding teacher. We tell people they are in the wrong and we start to tell them what they could do but we speak little on how to do it. But, let’s take into account the fact that we conducted our survey a year ago, just after a politically heated moment when our movement was overstretched and burned out by the fight against the battue.

How did you define the alliance? This word in Polish is a copy of the English ‘ally’, but my intuition is that it still sounds alien.

We didn’t assume anything in advance. We first asked in interviews what it means to be a supported person and then we jointly tried to create a list of activities that could be a form of alliance.

What came of this?

First, the fundamental conclusion is that the word ally is difficult for Poles to handle. An ally may be North Atlantic or military.

The respondents spoke of conspiracies, getting along behind closed doors, promises that could not be fulfilled. So yes, ally sounds not only alien, but even discouraging. That’s why, in our study, we refer to the category of ‘kindness’, which can be filled with various activities.

People also have a hard time accepting being labelled differently. When I listened to the respondents, I remembered all those overlays on the profile pictures that can be set up in the social media. Recent years have been so politically intense that people are tired of identity declarations. Supporting teachers, the women’s strike, rainbow – how many epaulettes can you have at the same time? They prefer do specific things than belong somewhere.

We also discovered that the rainbow flag is absolutely not local. The argument that is often heard – if you don’t know what to do, how to support the community, at least hang a flag in your window, put on socks or carry colorful bags – this only works in the large city bubble. Similarly, equality marches, which seem to be the first step of initiation in large cities, are the last form of support people from smaller towns or villages would think of.

Just because they don’t want another badge?

We also understood that, locally, the rainbow flag and emblems end the discussion. This is the kind of support that works when you don’t have time to talk in the bustle of a big city where a picture is worth a thousand words. For us, this is a minimum, locally it’s like choosing the colours of a football club. Who’s with us, who’s against us. In small communities, there are a lot of things that can be done earlier, but they have to be brought down to a more intimate level. Support there is based on conversations, direct and joint action.

Well fine, I live in a small town, I won’t put up a flag because a neighbour will come and there will be a problem. But I still want to support, but I don’t know any gay, lesbian or trans people. What can I do?

Ola: It clearly arises from our trips and local work that it’s not the case that people in villages and small towns do not know LGBT people. That’s more of a large city fantasy. We recently visited a village in southern Wielkopolska. We went there because we were invited by the Circle of Country Housewives and the Volunteer Fire Brigade for a basic chat: who LGBT people are and how they should talk about them, or essentially about us. When I spoke about transgender people, they joined the discussion. ‘We know who they are. That girl from the village nearby. She had a hard time, she left in the end, but she has been coming to visit her mother lately. From the educational, abstract level, they themselves moved on to their own experiences of everyday life. And this is something that allows them to better understand the potential difficulties, challenges and barriers that LGBT people face.

Kasia: Our research probably most clearly showed that people want to support, but don’t know how. Dominant messages provide few scripts. Either you know someone and you can stand up for them because they are close to you, or you wear emblems and go to parades. Essentially, there are no other options of behaviour. Meanwhile, the broadest platform to support proved to be language.

In other words this frequently ridiculed equality language?

We can be tired of dictionaries, we can laugh that, after all, this has already happened, but let’s think of it as being a school where a new class appears every year. If you state clearly why a phrase is harmful, most people won’t want to think badly of themselves and will start a long process of unlearning.

Doesn’t this declarative reluctance to offend diverge from the homophobia that is strongly rooted in the Polish language? The words fagot, dyke, she-male and, recently, a whole range of terms referring to trans people, are a very vivid imagination of a Pole. Furthermore, many people have an allergic reaction to any glossaries, claiming that this is how they are deprived of the freedom to express their views or freedom of expression.

Don’t you think it’s just that there’s still no alternative manual? The street, the family, the school and politics teach one thing, while some small group of activists teach something else. Who has the greater leverage? Those who teach insults or those who provide rainbow competence?

Obviously, contesting voices also appeared in the study. ‘So why can’t we laugh at fagots the same way as we laugh at blondes and mothers-in-law? It’s better to laugh at everyone equally than to tense up and fight every word,’ said the respondents.

And what’s your answer?

We don’t have a recipe for patriarchy, which probably most obviously came out in our study. Still, a woman will be kind to LGBT people in four out of five cases and she will also be sensitive to other exclusions.

And does kindness in Poland have political colours?

Ola: It would probably be cognitively interesting, but we didn’t consider the political thread in the study.


We decided that we were interested in the person. We don’t conduct research for electoral engineering purposes; we don’t want to find out which party to talk to and what to talk about in the context of postulates. You conduct such studies, at OKO.press. Other LGBT organizations also conduct similar research. There’s no point duplicating them. We try to take a slightly different approach to the matter, in the long term. Even if we manage to build extensive support or elect a government in Poland that will finally introduce marriage equality, we still need to be able to maintain it in society.

This is the situation the United States is facing today, about which there is very little talk. Since the introduction of marriage equality in the USA at federal level, support for it is growing, while the number of kids coming out is exceeding the scale – young people know that the State is behind them. On the other hand, homelessness of LGBT people is increasing, as is violence, especially with respect to transgender people. Activists in the USA are predicting that the Supreme Court might soon abolish the constitutional right to enter into same-sex marriage, just as it has just abolished the right to abortion. Why? Because there are many places on the map where the community hasn’t done its basic homework. And despite progressive legal solutions, LGBT people are still having to flee from these places. I recently spoke to an LGBT activist in Seattle who builds local communities. She told me that, when marriage equality was introduced, she cried with joy and horror at the same time, because she knew that this was not the end, but a potentially risky, dangerous moment – she knew how severely attacked especially young LGBT+ people could be.

Meanwhile donors and politicians will go away, because the topic has been ticked off...

Yes, this scenario repeats itself in many places around the world. I wouldn’t like that to happen in Poland as well. That is why we are thinking in the long term – we cast aside divisions, voters, tables in which we count how many liberals, conservatives and leftists there are.

You haven’t had enough of politics?

Kasia: It can’t be avoided in interpretation, but we have been focusing on specifics. Together with the respondents, we disarmed the entire willingness to support LGBT+ people into a dozen or so activities. From those considered the easiest, namely those not using offensive words or posting supportive content in the social media, to showing support through direct contact, or protesting against violence. To this, we added the question of the extent to which you accept LGBT+ people on a scale of 1–7. This is how a rather comprehensive picture of Polish kindness was created.

We also asked them directly how many people like them they believe there are in the community. They said probably no more than 5%–10%.


43% of Poles declare that they are inclined to be kind. And more precisely those who are willing to do or are already doing something specific to counteract the exclusion of LGBT+ people. The passives are a comparable group, 38%, while haters are a further 19%.

So do we think badly of ourselves?

Ola: Either we feel lonely and don’t show our support. I often use this example when we talk to teachers in small towns. They regret that, in their schools, they are the only people who support LGBT+ pupils. Furthermore, they are afraid to talk about it openly, so as not to have problems. I can understand that and I don’t question it in these interviews. However, I try to translate these percentages into reality and show that, if there are 10 teachers in the teachers’ room, four of them will probably not be interested in the subject, and two could cause problems. But the other four are potentially kind people. You are one of them, find the other three.

I’m not saying that these statistics will work in every school and town, but I do know that it encourages people to look around, to be brave. Sometimes one openly kind person is enough for a whole group of people who want to change the world to gather together in a flash. As long as fear eats you up, nothing can be built.

So who ultimately supports LGBT+?

Kasia: The approach to support differs between urban and rural areas, as we have already discussed, but what most strongly separates the kind from the passive and haters is gender. The more venom there is, the more masculine, the more kindness, the more feminine. This is the only demographic relationship that we have noticed becoming so clear.

This curve seems to appear in all studies that show sensitivity to social problems and minorities. What if we wanted to get to know the types of kind people. Who will they be?

My favourite, because it reminds me of my father-in-law; he is a mature large city man who has no personal relations with the LGBT+ community, but he considers its support to be an expression of Europeanness and attachment to liberal democracy. He will happily discuss equality in the social media, and he will also willingly go on an equality march. He first went to demonstrations in defence of the rule of law, and now he supports the most oppressed groups. For the people from this group, this is a way of showing that they are on the side of the State that protects all citizens. There are also the mature women type who simply disagree with physical and verbal violence. For them, this is a matter of non-negotiable values.

There are also young people from small and medium-sized towns, for whom the rights of LGBT+ people are also a derivative of being in Europe, but in the sense of living standards. They don’t want to feel inferior or excluded.

Are there no young people who say that acceptance for LGBT people is simply like breathing ?

There are, while people for whom support of the LGBT+ community is an element of social life, are a branch of this group. When I brought these results to the Fund, the team was a little indignant that how could it be that these people only benefit from wonderful events but do not give anything of themselves.

So how is it? After all, they give mass and the naturalness that has been missing for so long.

Precisely, there would not be this visibility without them. These people will never call themselves activists, nor do they need to delve into all the literature on the subject. Their support takes place in social life.

But what percentage of 100% kind people meets the expectations of a Polish LGBT activist: they hung flags in their windows, they do not leave home without rainbow emblems, they react to violence, they go to marches, they pay money to foundations, they support their non-heteronormative friends and have even memorized the equality glossary?

This isn’t much. Of all Poles, it will be 5%, which is slightly more than twice the number of kind people.

And that’s not many? I thought you would say that such people don’t exist statistically.

Ola: When we show the results to our queers, namely people who are already active in local communities, there are usually two reactions: sadness and anger. Sadness because of the sense that there is still a small number of kind people who are ready to act, and anger from the belief that there is a need in local activism to hide the rainbow flag, which would be a step backwards.

However, we believe otherwise. It doesn’t arise from our research that you can’t carry a rainbow bag if you live in a rural area. After all, such action, which is based on dignity, is very important. It arises from a sense of personal pride, the desire to show: see, I am here and I am at home. However, we want our research to encourage strategic activism. You can become annoyed that not many people in your town want to come to the equality march. You may be sorry that they look at you stangely because you’ve hung a rainbow on your house. These are all valid reactions. But you can also look around you for those kind people who need a different kind of commitment. They will probably provide you with a place for a meeting on LGBT+ people without any problems; they will react when someone spits on you in the street; they will not laugh at homophobic jokes. All they need is your advice on how to do it wisely. This is not a group for activism in the area of symbolism, only in relations, in direct contact. And there really are a lot of these people in Poland.

There are also numerous passive people. Has that surprised you?

Kasia: No, these are people who, in principle, are not interested in social problems. And we asked them about all possible forms of involvement, from dogs, to sick children, and district campaigns. The passive people are the group that think they have enough on their plate to deal with the ills of groups to which they don’t belong.

Of course, we also care about that group, because they are susceptible to all this disgusting homophobic and transphobic sewage. However, in this study, we really wanted to understand those who would like to offer their support, but don’t know how. A little bit in line with the idea that LGBT activists cannot be everywhere, in every Polish town. We need kind people on site, and it’s their super powers we’ve been trying to understand.

Ola: There is one very important conclusion. We sometimes don’t notice how big a group the kind people are, because people declaratively want to be in the middle. It’s only when you go into detail that you will find that actions and intentions are incompatible with self-presentation. Just 13% of Poles would call themselves allies, but 50% would consider themselves neutral people.

And who are the haters?

There are just 19% of them and we should be happy with such a number.

Wait, 1/5 of Poles hate LGBT people and wish them ill, and we are happy with that?

Given the state of the public debate, the still small resources of the LGBT+ organizations, and the fact that we have no rights other than protection under the Labour Code, yes.

In fact, this is a result worthy of the old democracies, the so-called western democracies.

Acceptance of LGBT+ people rarely exceeds a level of 80%. In neurolinguistics, which studies the relationships between language, brain structures and our susceptibility to metaphors and messages, it is accepted that 10%–20% of every community in the world are people with a very conservative worldview. That’s where we meet the haters. That group will not change, regardless of the circumstances. Whereas the potential to do anything in it is at such a low level that it’s not worth wasting time and energy on this group.

Kasia: And this is a trap we often fall into.

Every time we quote fundamentalists like Kaja Godek or Ordo Iuris?

Yes, because you advertise their key words and transfer their narrative to the centre-left media. This is our real problem.

And that’s why a false impression is created that 5% are true allies, namely as many as LGBT+ people. Compared with the haters – just a few. Haters are so dangerous because they can be intimidating: the topic upsets them the most emotionally and they need it to disappear. Hence such strong reactions to visibility activities.

Ola: This is just 19%, but damn visible in the public debate and generously supported by the anti-gender movement, namely by extreme right-wing billionaires from Russia and the United States. It’s the 19% who are active in the social media. It’s the 19% that a right-wing populist can easily activate. Finally, it’s the 19% which has great potential to intimidate the well-wishers. And we have to remember that.

Kasia: And here, I would also look for an answer to the question of why many kind people prefer to describe themselves as neutral. I was shocked by the stories of people from small towns who said that, when one of them goes to an equality march to a larger city, his house is pelted with dog poo. It never occurred to me that someone could even be interested in what you do in your spare time. It seemed to me that the default reaction was simply a lack of support and not overt aggression. As we know such things, we think a little differently about the rainbow flag, which will sometimes lead to a broken window in a big city, but, in a smaller community, it can be the start of harassment.

A model example of false symmetry in the public debate is a situation in which the so-called two sides of the dispute are invited to a public affairs programme on TV. An LGBT activist sits in one chair, while a member of the national movement sits in the other. Who would you invite to such a national rainbow debate?

A member of the circle of country housewives from eastern Poland, a fireman from the Volunteer Fire Department, an elderly female farmer, a deeply religious Catholic living in a rural area without fibre optics, with only the first TVP channel.

Kasia: A middle-aged gentleman who knows why he overthrew communism and will not allow Poland to be ruined because someone is stigmatized and excluded.

Ola: And a primary school teacher from a small town.

What would they have to say?

Ola: I’ve had such conversations. A lady from the circle of country housewives would ask why LGBT+ people insult Catholics in Poland. She would present the broadcast she receives from the only channel she can pick up in her village. I can assure you that it’s very easy to talk to her about this. Suffice it to say that we didn’t start it, it was the episcopate saying horrible things about us. She would then protest and say that she does not agree with such rhetoric from the Church and that it is not ok that the episcopate treated us this way.

A fireman from the Volunteer Fire Department, a strong, soft-hearted guy, would say that he also has children and realizes that they can be different, heterosexual, homosexual, that they don’t have to be cisgender; they can be transgender. He somehow feels that the times are changing. He wants to be prepared to be a good father.

A teacher from a small town would say that she feels trapped and that she wants to know how she can help and how to deal with all the twists and turns between the school board, the local government and the school’s management. How to provide support in partisan conditions so that no child is left alone.

Kasia: People in Poland really are hungry for solutions. The question most frequently asked in our survey was: what am I to do and how? Instead of telling me which side to take, tell me what to do.

People want to know, but they don’t like being lectured. How do you do it to avoid the situation where ladies from Warsaw and Berlin come to the village and lecture on how to be good to LGBT people?

Ola: This requires great care and kindness on our part. The intention is very important here. Self-awareness, whether I am going there to lecture and teach, or to meet these people, let myself be known and really talk. I think I learned the most from my visit to the village of Wygnanka, near the Polish-Belarusian border. 120 people live there, and we were invited by the ladies from the Circle of Country Housewives. We came to give our lecture, but the projector didn’t work. Everything got screwed up, we couldn’t show anything, so we had to sit down at the table and talk to each other. What was supposed to be a one-sided meeting turned into an exchange. We talked about ourselves, and they talked about life in rural areas, what we face together as Poles. We spoke about the right to abortion, the role of the Catholic Church, transport exclusion, the lack of Internet, access to information and the oppression of rural areas by large cities.

It was very educational for us. We can’t go there and expect support if we don’t know what kind of problems these people have. We heard a lot about people from the cities insulting them, calling them peasants and yokels, and that hurts them. I suppose many participants of that meeting sympathize with PiS. I don’t think my story will change their political choices. But I believe this group will no longer succumb to the government’s homophobic or transphobic narrative.

So, in other words, are you building resistance to hate?

Yes, we again mainly talk about language. It is really important in people’s everyday lives, it is really important not to hurt or offend. Some people say they prefer not to say anything, not to react, because they are afraid it will cause damage.

I don’t talk because I will cause damage or I don’t talk because what is in bed and in the heart is private?

Kasia: I think that, paradoxically, in small towns people talk about it more than at the bourgeois table.

Ola: The first question we heard at the meeting in Wygnanka was: ‘But how do you make these kids?’

A valid question.

Yes, but please note that this is not a question about whether we have children. They know we have them. They only ask how we make them. They wanted to know exactly what this looked like. So it was a discussion about insemination and in vitro fertilization.

What else pushes people into being passive?

Kasia: Outsourcing and delegating to the school. It is not me who is supposed to teach children the language of equality, because the school is responsible for teaching. Let the specialists handle it.

And did a distinction germinate in Poles between a gay neighbour, a decent person, and an LGBT activist who wants to demoralize children?

This came out in group interviews. In other words, I have a gay friend, he laughs at jokes about ‘fagots’, so what are you talking about, dear activists. But apart from the reluctance to associate, yes, objections appeared as to the activities of our organizations.

Because they’re too loud? Too rude?

Because someone once ‘did something wrong’ or ‘spoke badly about the Church’. And in fact, ‘Biedroń can’t be trusted.’

In other words, a public figure with whom we identify the whole community?

Yes, this is also the case of Stop Bzdurom [English: Stop the Nonsense], which was ‘too radical’ for many people. Another barrier, as we have already mentioned, is the fear of being associated with LGBT+.

You become who you hang out with?

In the public discourse, you are either ordinary, implicitly normal, or LGBT. There is no gradation, there is no lagging.

It arises from your research that it’s not as bad as you might think. On the other hand, for some reason, at every meeting with voters, Jarosław Kaczyński winks at the most conservative electorate and probes whether, by chance, the hate against transgender people and the fight for ‘gender biology’ will be a new ‘LGBT ideology’.

Ola: Looking at our research, but also OKO.press or even CBOS surveys, I keep wondering whether I should be happy that, despite all the bad things that are happening in Poland, it is quite okay, or should I rather be sad, because if there was no hate from the politicians, we would be in a completely different place.

I can’t decide, but I want to strongly defend the argument that the situation around ‘Stop Bzdurom’ had the greatest impact on the change in social attitudes.

In other words, obvious violence and shifting the discourse?

It is known that the energy of opposition declines with time, but then many people became involved in support. Not only because someone was beaten up in Krakowskie Przedmieście, but because people started to find out how we really live in Poland. Stop Bzdurom also took the discussion to a completely different level. It seemed to the public that the most radical postulate in Poland would be marriage equality.

Then came the street activists and made this marriage proposal conservative, calm and very far from radical.

Is it better to give them this marriage equality than to bring down our monuments? Or, even worse, demand a ‘whole life’ for LGBT people, as Zofia Nałkowska once did for women in Poland?

Well, it’s a classic strategy, the so-called Overton window. It’s a method of introducing topics from the ‘unthinkable’ category into the public debate, which means that postulates that initially seem controversial to the public start to be perceived as non-radical.

We take advantage of it in the feminist movement, LGBT+ movement or broadly understood equality activism, but it is also perfectly well used by the anti-gender movement with its ideas of banning everything. In this sense, Kaja Godek, with her idea of a complete prohibition of abortion, is very convenient for PiS. The rulers hope that their partial prohibition of abortion could become acceptable to a part of the electorate.

I’m not a sociologist, so it’s hard for me to formulate coherent social diagnoses, but I see an opportunity in an alliance between the despised and excluded that is being formed in Poland.

After all, PiS built its position on this, on noticing the sense of injustice of some citizens. But now it is using the same tool of contempt, which formed his post-transformation electorate, against women, people with disabilities and LGBT+.

And I am convinced that our painstaking work, as well as the awareness of kind people will mean that PiS’s time will also pass through the hate speech against transgender people.



Anton Ambroziak

Dziennikarz i reporter. Uhonorowany nagrodami: Amnesty International „Pióro Nadziei” (2018), Kampanii Przeciw Homofobii “Korony Równości” (2019). W OKO.press pisze o prawach człowieka, społeczeństwie obywatelskim i usługach publicznych.