On Saturday May 27th, I was privileged to join the Gdansk “Equality March”, which I attended as part of the European Forum of Lesbian and Gay Christian Groups, meeting here for their annual conference, “Forwards in Solidarity”.
This experience was quite different to London’s Pride Parade, in so many ways. First, it was definitely not a heavenly commercialised “Pride Parade”, so familiar in large Western cities. Far from being besieged by vendors selling rainbow merchandise, organisers were giving away small rainbow flags. Nor were there any signs of corporate sponsorship: Poland is a long way from being sufficiently inclusive to make such sponsorship an attractive corporate investment. With involvement in LGBT issues more of a risk than an opportunity, business (large and small) stayed away, leaving the heart of the event what (I’m told) London Pride was in the beginning, and many activists would like to see it again – very much a political event, drawing attention to ourselves, and demanding equality.
It was also much tamer: I saw only two drag queens, and no leathermen of bare-chested musclemen, that some opponents of Pride seem to think characterise all Pride Parades. Instead, there were just very ordinary people, mostly in very ordinary clothes, some carrying banners and rainbow flags.
It was also, not surprisingly, very much smaller the big city Western pride – but had a huge riot police presence – at least a hundred of them, armed (variously with truncheons pistols and rifles), wearing bullet-proof vests and carrying plexiglass riot shields and big round protective riot helmets. All very formidable. There were also additional conventional police on what appeared to be traffic control, some very well-muscled obviously plain-clothes police, a large convoy of assorted police vehicles on the ground, and a police helicopter above, keeping an eagle eye open for any sign of trouble.
We’d been promised police protection for fear of aggression from the crowds, which was very funny, because there were no crowds to speak of. There was on organised bunch of protesters with placards, but they were very much hemmed in by police, who outnumbered them something like 10/1. Still, I’m quite certain that if there had been no police presence, there could well have been more opposition, some of whom could well have turned violent. As it is, the worst we had to endure was some obvious anger and rude gestures from a handful of onlookers. As a South African who lived through forty years of apartheid, and more in the aftermath, I’m never comfortable with too many armed police around. Today was an exception – for the first time, I actually felt grateful to have so many clearly armed police in plain sight.
The protesters were there, claiming to represent “Christian” values in this very Christian country. This however fails to see that the Christian Gospels are implacably opposed to exclusion in any form, and insist instead that “all are welcome in God’s house”. That is why we were there – as Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christians from right across Europe, from Wales to Russia, and from Sicily to Norway, to show solidarity with the LGBT people of Gdansk in their pursuit of full equality and inclusion, in society and in the Church.
This will have been clear to onlookers, from the rainbow flags we waved – on which we had drawn black crosses, from religious slogans on some of our t-shirts, from the clerical collars worn by participating clergy – and especially from the sight of a bishop of the United Ecumenical Catholic Church, resplendent in episcopal purple, dashingly set off by a rainbow stole.