Equality Parade has been marching in the streets of Warsaw since 2001. A small event at first has grown into the most important celebration for all people who value equality, diversity and freedom of each individual above all. The history behind Equality Parade has shaped it into what it is today.
Equality Parade was started by Bishop Szymon Niemiec, formerly the president of the International Lesbian and Gay Culture Association in Poland and now the leader of the Free Reformed Church of Poland. Among the founders were 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 Equality Parade from a documentary about the Sydney gay pride. After the viewing hosted by a no longer existing Warsaw gay club an idea germinated in their minds of organising a similar march against discrimination in Poland. The primary objective assumed by the founding fathers and mothers was to make the Polish parade about more than just lesbians and gays and to create a national event for all who value freedom, equality and tolerance. Thus the name “Equality Parade” was born.
In the years 2001-2004 Equality Parade was coordinated by the members of ILGCN-Polska, who made efforts to persuade other organisations representing different circles to join in. However, it was only in 2004 when the president of Warsaw Lech Kaczyński banned the parade that the movement gained momentum and a wider range of institutions promoting tolerance and acceptance got interested in the march. In 2004 on the day Equality Parade was to take place a gathering in front of the city hall was organised instead. Freedom Rally was prepared by 21 different groups, which for logistical reasons made it impossible for the city authorities to block it.
In the years 2005-2010 the task of organising the parade was taken over by Equality Foundation, newly founded for this purpose by Poland’s three biggest LGBT organisations: ILGCN-Polska, Campaign Against Homophobia and Lambda Warszawa Association. In 2005 the then president of Warsaw Lech Kaczyński, who was preparing to run for the president of Poland, banned the march again. However, the parade took place regardless all thanks to the determination of the Equality Parade initiators, the support of the then Minister of Internal Affairs Ryszard Kalisz as well as the unprecedented move by many high officials who personally participated in the parade. Among them were the Vice Prime Minister Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka, the Deputy Marshal of the Sejm Tomasz Nałęcz, senators Maria Szyszkowska and Kazimierz Kutz and members of the European Parliament Claudi Roth and Volker Beck. Equality Parade 2005 became one of the biggest peaceful illegal demonstrations in the history of Poland since the fall of communism in 1989.
One of the most important achievements of that march was that the Human Rights Defender (ombudsman) Andrzej Zoll (on request of the government’s Plenipotentiary for Equal Status of Men and Women Magdalena Środa) 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 18 2006 led by justice Ewa Łętowska. The Tribunal ruled that those regulations were unconstitutional in the extent that limited the freedom of assembly. On that 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 and the European Commission to condemn homophobia and take actions to fight it down. On May 3 2007 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that by disallowing Equality Parade in 2005 Warsaw’s authorities had violated the European Convention on Human Rights. Therefore Equality Parade has changed not only the international law but also the history of Poland and European Union alike.
Equality Foundation had been coordinating Equality Parade until 2010, when EuroPride was organised in Warsaw instead. After that the Foundation could no longer run Equality Parade.
Since 2011 Equality Parade has been organised by the grass-roots Organising Committee – an informal group of individuals, organisations, parties, media, foundations and other institutions. Volunteer Equality Foundation takes care of the logistics. One of the major changes introduced to the celebration after 2010 was the return to the idea of absolute openness, acceptance and tolerance, which guided the founders of the Parade in its early years. Thanks to the open format of the Organising Committee more different groups have the possibility to express their concerns and demands. Among the participants of the march we find animal rights organisations (such as Kocia Mama Foundation), ethnic and religious minorities as well as associations defending the rights of people with disabilities.