Polish activists embrace ‘equality jogging’ at Pride parades

Polish activists are set to embrace “equality jogging” at this summer’s Pride parades following the success of exercise sessions under rainbow flags in public spaces across the country as a show of defiance following a homophobic attack on members of an LGBTQ+ sports club.

Two people were hospitalised last month when members of the Homokomando club were attacked while exercising by a gang of 30 masked men in Gdansk.

As a sign of solidarity with the men who were attacked, hundreds of people clad in rainbow flags took to parks and public spaces across Poland to exercise. The sporting events were dubbed “solidarity workouts” and concluded on Sunday 28 March with an “equality jog” in Gdansk. The jog was attended by 200 people, including the city’s vice-president, Monika Chabior.

“We wanted to show that violence is not permitted, that we will not allow ourselves to be intimidated and that we will keep on exercising together under the rainbow flag,” said Linus Lewandowski, who co-founded the club in Warsaw a year ago with his friend, Maciej Liskowacki.

Lewandowski and Liskowacki co-ordinated last week’s solidarity events with the help of other organisations as well as local city-councils.

Lewandowski, who works as a software developer, said he initially founded Homokomando to find other people in his area of Warsaw who were interested in obstacle courses. However, the club gained popularity and media attention after its members took part in the August protests against the arrest of Margot Szutowicz, an LGBTQ+ rights activists. Lewandowski made headlines when he attempted to prevent Szutowicz’s arrest by climbing the roof of the police car in which she was being detained.

Since then, branches of Homokomando were founded in other cities in Poland. “It turned out that many people were looking for some way of exercising in a rainbow environment,” Lewandowski said. Liskowacki added that many young Poles were attracted to the club’s proactive model of LGBTQ+ resistance.

The men said solidarity events took place last month all over Poland, as well as in Brussels and Los Angeles. “There are more and more people who support us and who also oppose violence,” Lewandowski said, adding that attendance had to be limited due to the pandemic.

However, some of the “solidarity workouts” were accompanied by heavy police presence, with participants having their names taken and threatened with arrest due to alleged violation of Covid restrictions. In Wrocław, the fourth-largest city in Poland, the workout had to be ended after participants were attacked by 12 men shouting homophobic insults.

The events were also criticised in state-controlled media, which accused them of increasing the risk of Covid infection, despite the organisers’ claims that participants wore face masks and were socially distanced. A report in Gdansk’s local state TV-channel, also argued that it was inappropriate for the “equality jog” to take place on Palm Sunday.

More “equality jogs” are planned in June in Poland’s largest cities, including Warsaw and Kraków, as part of the Pride celebrations, even if the pandemic makes more traditional parades impossible.

“We want to show that there are many strong young men and women in Poland who will fight for this country and who will defend human rights,” Liskowacki said.

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