LGBT+ activist behind 'Polish Stonewall' not afraid to die

by Rachel Savage | @rachelmsavage | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 3 September 2020 16:00 GMT

Activists place the LGBT rainbow flag and a pink mask with the anarcha-queer symbol on the Christ Bearing His Cross statue, outside the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw, Poland July 29, 2020 in this image taken from social media. Marta Bogdanowicz/@spacerowiczka via REUTERS

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Margot Szutowicz said she would resume a hunger strike if she is sent back to prison, after her arrest sparked protests in Poland

By Rachel Savage

Sept 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The LGBT+ activist whose arrest sparked protests that were dubbed the "Polish Stonewall" says she is not afraid to resume her hunger strike and die if that turns the tide against homophobia in Poland.

"Dying from hunger is not the worst option when people are threatening you to be beaten to death," Margot Szutowicz said, alternating between English and speaking through a translator.

The 25-year-old refused food for two weeks last month, then called off her hunger strike as she could not get word out of the Polish prison about her protest.

Szutowicz's detention on Aug 7 - relating to damage to an anti-LGBT+ campaigner's van - sparked huge demonstrations, with 48 arrested as they tried to stop Warsaw police taking her away.

The following day, several thousand people marched in Poland's capital, as the incident widened a sharp divide between supporters and opponents of the nationalist ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) over LGBT+ rights.

"Every day ... (people) are making death threats against LGBT people in Poland," Szutowicz said in a Skype interview after being released from pre-trial detention by a judge on Aug 28, having initially been jailed for two months.

The Warsaw prosecutor's office, the Government Information Office and the Ministry of Justice did not respond to requests for comment.

Szutowicz - a member of Stop Bzdurom ("Stop the Bullshit", an anarchist, anti-homophobia group) - said she wants to change opinion about LGBT+ people in her socially conservative country, but has no desire to become a martyr.

"Everyone wants to talk with her, everyone sees her as a martyr, but the truth is that ... she just wants to have time for herself and for her friends," said Andrzej Kwiatkowski, a fellow member of Stop Bzdurom, who translated for her.

"She doesn't want to focus all the LGBT people problems in Poland only on herself, because there are many people that have a worse situation than herself."

He said Szutowicz, who identifies as non-binary - neither male nor female, was "not afraid to die now".

DEFENDING DIGNITY

LGBT+ rights are increasingly contested in Poland, with PiS politicians and Catholic bishops denouncing them as a foreign "ideology" that threatens traditional social values.

Poland is the worst place to be LGBT+ in the European Union, according to ILGA-Europe, a regional advocacy group. Same-sex couples cannot enter into civil partnerships or adopt children and there is no specific law against homophobic hate crime.

President Andrzej Duda was re-elected for a second term in July after an acrimonious campaign in which he proposed a constitutional ban on same-sex couples adopting children and on schools teaching LGBT+ issues.

Last month Szutowicz and two other activists were arrested for "offending religious feelings" and "profaning" monuments, after draping rainbow flags on statues in Warsaw.

Later the same week Szutowicz was re-arrested on separate charges that she had damaged a van in June that belonged to anti-LGBT+ group Fundacja Pro and attacked its driver.

"The guy from this foundation that was behind the wheel didn't get hurt," said Kwiatkowski, her translator.

He conceded the van's tyres were slashed and banners on its side linking LGBT+ people with paedophilia were destroyed - but did not say by whom.

Szutowicz said she had no clue of when her trial would be nor what specific charges she would eventually face.

Her arrest has been called the "Polish Stonewall", after the rioting against police brutality at New York's Stonewall Inn in 1969 that kicked off the U.S. LGBT+ rights movement.

Radicalism, said an unapologetic Szutowicz, wins change.

"Years of vanilla activist movement does not help us at all." said Szutowicz. "We cannot think all the time what fascist groups think about us."

($1 = 0.8452 euros)

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(Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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