In socially conservative Poland, a new museum opened this summer: the Polish LGBTQIA Museum. The museum aims to preserve the history of non-heteronormative people in Poland by documenting their stories. Its collection includes a variety of archival materials — from posters, photographs, flyers, leaflets, and magazines to DIY zines and film clips. The museum is virtual and therefore accessible from anywhere in the world.
Poland has a mixed record of how it has treated sexual minorities. In 1932, it became one of the first countries to decriminalize homosexuality and codified the homosexual and heterosexual age of consent equally at fifteen. During the communist era, state police launched the infamous Operation Hyacinth — a secret mass operation against the gay community during which approximately 11,000 Polish homosexuals and people who were in touch with them were registered and harassed from 1985 to 1987.
After Poland overthrew its communist regime in 1989, the situation improved somewhat. Many discriminatory laws have since been abolished: gay and bisexual men are allowed to donate blood; gays and bisexuals are allowed to serve openly in the Polish Armed Forces; and transgender people are allowed to change their legal gender. In 2001, Poland’s first Pride Parade was organized after which new political parties started speaking openly about LGBT issues. Anna Grodzka became the first transgender person in the Seijm, the Polish parliament, in 2011, becoming the third transgender parliamentarian worldwide. Several Polish politicians have openly come out as gay.
At the same time, Catholic conservatism is deeply enshrined in Polish society. Openly homophobic political parties (the League of Polish Families being one of them) have been elected and served in government coalitions over the years.
It is against this background that Poland’s first LGBTQIA Museum was inaugurated in June. Freelance journalist Richard Greenhill wrote a wonderful piece in the Calvert Journal about the museum and its founder, historian and psychologist Agnieszka Wiciak:
The virtual museum is a project of Foundation Q and Historical Club LGBTQIA FEM, two nonprofit organisations that Wiciak sits on the board of, along with fellow psychologist Justyna Bułdys and archivist Kamil Prykowski. Foundation Q is concerned with societal engagement, archival work and the direct support of Polish LGBTQ+ people, whereas Historical Club is solely focused on collecting, archiving and disseminating materials from LGBTQ+ communities both in Poland and around the world. “We started the Club because we’re observing now that these populist and right-wing parties [in Poland] are trying to redefine what sexuality and gender means,” Prykowski explains. “They’re trying to define it on their own terms, and we think that it’s quite important that there are local communities that own and are able to define what their sexuality is, what their gender is.” Wiciak and Prykowski began to reach out to people in the Polish queer communities, many of whom donated materials to them. Soon enough, Wiciak realised that they were building a large enough archive to merit a bigger project.
The team landed on the idea of a virtual museum, as they felt that it was the simplest way to reach their intended audience. The museum has a worldwide scope, but even for those living in Poland it is easier to access the museum online, rather than travel to a major Polish city. Ever conscious of the ways in which marginalised narratives are made invisible, they wanted to future-proof their collection. “If in 100 years, somebody maybe came and said ‘hey, there was nothing going on in terms of queer stuff’, then we can prove that we have the materials, everything will be in one place to prove that they’re not right,” Prykowski says.
Read the full article here.