WARSAW – The United States ambassador held a U.S. flag high as he marched in the yearly Pride parade in Warsaw on Saturday, a clear message of Washington's opposition to discrimination in a country where LGBTQ+ people are facing an uphill struggle.
“America embraces equality,” Ambassador Mark Brzezinski said, as he marched with more than 30 other members of the U.S. Embassy and alongside representatives from Canada, Austria and other Western countries in the Equality Parade.
In recent years Western governments have been alarmed as the conservative government in Warsaw depicted gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people as threats to the nation and its children.
The participation of the U.S. ambassador sent a clear message to the government of Poland, a NATO member on the alliance's eastern flank where the United States has increased its military presence since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.
Poland has for decades considered Washington its key guarantor of security, but the importance of U.S. protection has only grown with the war playing out across its border in Ukraine.
The U.S. is also seen as a guarantor of protection to the LGBTQ+ community, which a few years ago was fighting for the right of same-sex union or marriage, but recently has been more concerned about a climate of hostility from the government and Catholic Church.
The colorful and joyful parade was a brief moment of celebration and relief for a community that has been criticized by elected leaders as a threat to nation’s traditional Catholic identity.
LGBTQ+ members have been especially worried because of elections this fall. The conservative nationalist ruling party, Law and Justice, has openly criticized the community ahead of past elections, an attempt to mobilize its conservative base.
Brzezinski told The Associated Press that his embassy “has heard disturbing reports of an organized campaign targeting Poland’s LGBTQI+ community with hate, lies, and slander in an attempt to divide Polish society. These attempts to sow divisions only strengthen the hand of those who seek to weaken democracy.”
“We hope these reports are not true. We hope disagreement does not devolve into discrimination or worse," Brzezinski said. "Words matter. Hate masquerading as morality can play no productive role in our societies.”
Some participants in the parade that numbered many thousands said they were not aware that the ambassador took part. A couple noted that the U.S., which is seeing a backlash against transgender rights in some states, also doesn't have a perfect record. But a handful interviewed said they appreciated the support.
“The fact that he supports basic human rights — that’s a great thing," said Aleksandra Jarmolinska, 33. She added that the ambassador is probably one of the few people able to pressure Polish politicians.
As Polish President Andrzej Duda campaigned for reelection in 2020, he called the promotion of LGBTQ+ rights an “ideology” more destructive than communism. The education minister, who oversees schools, was appointed to that job after saying LGBTQ+ members are not equal to “normal people."
Last summer, the ruling party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, mocked transgender people, saying “we must protect ourselves from madness.”
And this spring, Poland’s commissioner for children’s rights ordered an inspection of schools that were ranked as the most LGBT-friendly in the country, saying he wanted to make sure principals were checking their employees against a pedophile registry.