Saturday, July 17, 2010

Gay Lib Comes to Warsaw

A small gay rights march in Krakow with objections from a young man in the foreground.

For the first time, the annual EuroPride event will take place in Eastern Europe, in Warsaw. Last year's event in Madrid drew over a million people. This event is expected to be much smaller, but still a big one for Warsaw.
The threats are already flying with condemnations from the Roman Catholic Church and numerous counter-demonstrations planned. I'm sure the Warsaw police department will have its hands full. We'll see if they act like a real police department and keep everyone separated, or if they'll do the whole Moscow thing and join the skinheads. There are already numerous calls to have the event banned.

There is a long and very interesting post on Thinking Anglicans about a recent high court decision in the UK permitting asylum for gay refugees fearing persecution in their home countries (Iran and Cameroon). It includes a link to a long article by Aidan O'Neill discussing the competing claims of religions and human rights organizations over gay identity. O'Neill concludes that human rights became a moral absolute transcending particular national, sectarian, or cultural claims in the wake of World War II and the war crimes trials that followed. Those international standards of human dignity and freedom were articulated in the United Nations Charter and in its Declaration of Human Rights. For the first time, religious institutions and regimes were required to abide by moral standards established in secular law. For this reason, the UN Declaration is rejected and roundly condemned by everyone from American evangelical Christians to the Iranian government. The conflict became compounded when the medical and scientific consensus about homosexuality changed about 40 years ago. Since the early 20th century, the medical consensus said that homosexuality was a disease (a position that rejected traditional religious teaching that homosexuality was a willful contrarian act). Now, the medical and scientific consensus says that homosexuality is a natural variation and not an illness (contrary to right wing claims that this consensus was a result of gay political pressure in the 1970s, physicians and scientists arrived at this consensus after almost a century of argument and research starting at least as far back as Auguste Forel's writings in the late 19th century). Now there is an emerging international legal consensus that says that if homosexuality is neither a crime nor a disease, and is a natural variation, then there is no compelling reason to deny LGBT persons full legal enfranchisement and protection other than very particular national or sectarian claims. There are now compelling reasons to see to it that the freedom and dignity of LGBTs are protected. Singling one group out for ultimately arbitrary reasons now threatens everybody. The UK high court rejected the arguments of representatives of the Iranian government against an Iranian gay man seeking asylum in Britain precisely because their objections were sectarian. The Iranian claims were particular to one religion and conflicted with a moral absolute in international law that transcends national and sectarian claims. (O'Neill speculates at length about the implications of the UK decision for American law where the Constitution explicitly refuses to favor any particular religious sect, contrary to right wing ideologues who claim that American law favors Christianity over all other faiths).

I suggest that this is part of what is behind the battle in the Anglican churches over the inclusion of gays and lesbians. This is a battle over authority and identity. Liberals see the post war international standards of human rights as a vindication of Christian teachings on human dignity and their universality. They see the duty of Christians as leading and waving the flag for universal human freedom and dignity, that social justice is a Christian vocation commanded by the Lord Himself in His life and teachings. Liberal believers point out that Christ said nothing about what was sexually "normal," but had a lot to say about fidelity, to our spouses, to our word, and to what we profess to believe. They counter the famous 7 "clobber verses" in the Bible condemning homosexuality with the hundreds throughout Scripture that condemn hypocrisy and injustice.
Conservatives object to the claims of non-sectarian secular law superseding religious teaching (even if that teaching is in dispute within a religious community). They regard it as impossible that a secular moral standard, even one created out of long and painful historical experience, should take precedence over what they see as divine revelation (although the nature of the revelation is another matter in dispute). They object to the blurring of lines of identity between those who are in and who are outside the community.

Of course, I'm a partisan in these conflicts. I have skin in the game, and a lot at stake. It's that, plus what little is left of American pragmatism (not much in these ideological and doctrinal days) which makes me wonder that the right cannot or won't see the consequences of their claims on the lives of actual people; not just on gay men like me, but also on our families, friends, colleagues, and communities.

As we watch the rainbow flags battle it out with the skinheads in the streets of Warsaw, with the church hierarchy cheering on the thugs, let's remember who the real moral relativists are.


Joe.My.God reports on the march in Warsaw. Apparently the police did their job, though the march was not without incident. A lot of eggs, rocks, and Bibles were thrown at the marchers. A friend of Joe's took a rock to the head, but was not seriously hurt. There were skinheads and other far right folk there, but the police kept them away from the marchers. The hostile Catholics limited themselves to marathon rosaries and novenas in their churches.
Police estimate the turnout for the march to be around 8000, not bad for a gay-hostile East European country.
Polish gays are finally saying enough is enough after getting beat up by the cops under the Communists, and by skinheads and the Church under the Capitalists. According to Joe's reporters, they seem very resilient and hopeful about their future in Poland.

Here is some footage showing counter-demonstrators ringed by police and a brief glimpse of the rally in Warsaw:

Here is footage of the parade from Polish TV. Keep in mind that it is probably not meant to be friendly.

More Polish TV footage of counter-demonstrators threatening demonstrators holed up in a building festooned with rainbow flags. The police apparently order them to move on:

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