Equality Parade History
The Equality Parade marched through the streets of Warsaw since 2001. A small demonstration at first, with time has grown into the most important celebration of equality, diversity, and acceptance. Its 16 years of history have shaped the Parade’s unique shape and character.
The idea for the Equality Parade originated with reverend bishop Szymon Niemiec, a former chairman of the International Lesbian and Gay Culture Network in Poland (ILGCN-Polska) and current leader of the Free Reformed Church of Poland. Among the founders was also Robert Ciepela, an artist, Agata Gorządek, a photographer, Miłosz Rodziewicz, an actor parodist, and Krzysztof Szymborski, a social activist. The group of friends got the inspiration for the Equality Parade from a documentary about a gay pride in Sydney, Aulstralia. After a viewing from a Warsaw gay club, an idea hatched in their minds to organize a similar march against discrimination in Poland.
The primary objective assumed by the founding fathers was to make the Polish Parade about more than just lesbians and gays. To create a national event for all who value freedom, equality, and tolerance. That’s how the name of what would become a yearly march was born: “Equality Parade”.
In the years 2001-2004, the Equality Parade was coordinated by the members of ILGCN-Polska, who, from the beginning, made efforts to persuade other organizations representing many different circles to join in. However, it was only in 2004 when Lech Kaczyński, the president of Warsaw at that time, banned the Parade. The movement gained momentum and a wider range of institutions promoting tolerance, acceptance, and civil liberties became interested in taking part in the march. On the day the Parade was supposed to take place, 21 different groups organized a gathering in front of the city hall (Freedom Rally). Due to the big number of organizers the gathering turned out impossible to block.
The Parade returned to the streets of the capital in 2005. Unfortunately, as an illegal demonstration, after a renewed ban was issued by Lech Kaczyński, who was then preparing for the national presidential election. The task of organizing the Parade was taken over by the Equality Foundation, newly founded only for this purpose by the three biggest LGBT organizations in Poland: ILGCN-Polska, Campaign Against Homophobia, and the Lambda Warszawa Association. Thanks to the determination of the organizers, the support of the Minister of Internal Affairs Ryszard Kalisz, as well as the unprecedented move by many high officials who decided to take part in the Parade (among them deputy prime minister Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka, deputy marshal of the Sejm Tomasz Nałęcz, senators Maria Szyszkowska and Kazimierz Kutz and members of the European Parliament Claudia Roth and Volker Beck) the Equality Parade marched through the streets of Warsaw. This became one of the biggest illegal peaceful gatherings in the history of Poland after 1989.
One of the most important achievements of that march was that the Polish Ombudsman (in Polish literally: Advocate for Citizens’ Rights), Andrzej Zoll, upon request of the government’s Plenipotentiary for Equal Status of Men and Women Magdalena Środa. On June 30th , 2005 applied to the Constitutional Tribunal for the assessment of the law that served as the basis for the president’s ban of the Parade. The trial took place on January 18th, 2006 and was led by justice professor Ewa Łętowska. The Tribunal ruled that the ban was unconstitutional to the extent that it limited the freedom of assembly. On the same day, the European Parliament enacted a resolution condemning all kinds of discrimination based on sexual orientation and called upon all member states of the European Union. Upon the European Commission and European Union to condemn homophobia, its manifestations, and take actions to fight it. On May 3th, 2007, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that by banning the Equality Parade in 2005 the authorities in Warsaw had violated the European Convention on Human Rights. Therefore, the Equality Parade has made a difference not only in international law, but also in the history of Poland and the European Union.
The Equality Foundation has been responsible for organizing the Equality Parade until the year 2009. There was no Equality Parade in Warsaw in 2010, however, in July that year, a private company organized a commercial event under the name of Europride. The commercial character of the event and its unclear finances which constituted the organizer’s trade secret caused a wave of criticism to emerge from some LGBTQ activists.
The Equality Parade finally returned to the streets of Warsaw in 2011. The organization of the event was taken over by a grass-roots formed body: The Organizing Committee, an informal group of individuals, members of NGOs, political parties, the media and other institutions. The Volunteer Equality Foundation became responsible for the logistics. Its founders were Szymon Niemiec and Paweł Kiepuszewski. The Council of the Foundation was constituted by Patrycja Wróbel (former leader of a youth organization under the Social Democracy of Poland, a social-democratic political party) and Sławek Starosta (one of the first LGBT activists in Poland). Until 2016 the chairman of the Board was Łukasz Pałucki, a co-organizer of the Parade since 2005. Between 2012 and 2016 the second member of the Board and the Secretary of the Foundation was Jej Perfekcyjność, who was also the Parade’s spokesperson between 2011 and 2016.
In October 2013, the Organizing Committee decided to change the relationship between the Foundation and the Committee. Since then, it is the Foundation, in cooperation with the Committee, is the main organizer of the Equality Parade. The changes had to do with improving the process of decision-making and implementing logistic (security) and legal (signing contracts) decisions.
Currently, the Council’s chairwoman is Julia Maciocha.
One of the biggest changes since 2010 was the return to the ideas that were so important to the first organizers of the Parade – openness, acceptance, and tolerance. Thanks to the open form of the Organizing Committee more and more groups interested in fighting for equality have found their place in the Parade. Among the participants of the march there is no shortage of ethnic minority organizations, religious groups, organizations defending the rights of disabled persons and pro-animal groups, such as Foundation Kocia Mama.
On 27 February 2014, Robert Ciepela (born December 25th, 1976), one of the first organizers of the Parade and a long-term activist, died. It was Robert, performing as Lady Vicky (and later as Lady Vee), who was one of the three artists-performers (drag queens) who had the courage to perform during the first Parade and took part in it every year since, representing the art community. His commitment was especially valuable in the first years of the Parade. Without his support, both logistic and moral, many of the events that were part of the Parade would not have taken place.