Far-right extremists clash with riot police as they try to disrupt the Equality March in Lublin, eastern Poland (WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP/Getty)
Pride-goers in the Polish city of Lubin defied far-right protesters who hurled eggs, bottles and firecrackers in an attempt to stop them marching for LGBT+ rights.
The event proved to be a violent flashpoint for conservative campaigners after Poland’s leading Law and Justice (PiS) party persistently targeted the LGBT+ community as one of its main campaign issues.
Undeterred, Polish LGBT+ advocates marched alongside a heavy police guard as counter-protesters attempted to block them, brandishing banners comparing homosexuality to paedophilia.
Riot police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowds, with witnesses reporting Pride-goers being kicked and beaten by men shouting homophobic insults.
18-year-old Alicja Sienkiewicz, who attended the march in a wheelchair, found herself surrounded by a group of young men who hurled firecrackers at her.
“I’ve never been subject to this level of aggression before,” she told Reuters. “It was a very traumatic experience for me.”
The conservative city’s second Equality March attracted a significant amount of attention in light of Poland’s fast-approaching October 13 general election.
“We’ve had death threats, (this violence) was about forcing us not to have this march,” said the event’s organiser, Bartosz Staszewki.
Police said no protesters were harmed despite the heavy far-right presence and attempts at intimidation.
In recent months the PiS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczyński has openly targeted the LGBT+ community and condemned Pride marches as a “travelling theatre” that must be “unmasked and discarded.”
The right-wing populist party is comfortably leading in opinion polls and is expected to win a fresh four-year mandate.
Political analysts reporting to Reuters believe PiS’s depiction of the gay rights movement as a distinct “threat” to Polish identity and the state is likely to be a strategy to rally their conservative rural base.
The result has been a heightening of tensions around LGBT+ issues, with at least 30 towns and villages pledging to go “LGBT free”, LGBT+ people being pelted with rocks at a Pride parade, and a conservative newspaper distributing “LGBT-free zone” stickers.
The Polish LGBT+ community is fighting back against the growing hate by joining the #JestemLGBT (I am LGBT) hashtag on Twitter to share support.