Gay Polish soccer fans want separate seating

Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland — A group of gay Polish soccer fans has called on the organizers of the 2012 European Championships to set aside separate seating for gays and lesbians to protect them from harrassment and violence.

But other gay rights activists criticized the proposal Wednesday, saying it would single gay fans out and put them at greater risk.

Teczowa Trybuna 2012, or Rainbow Stand 2012, calls itself the first gay fan club for Poland’s national team. It says on its website that its members fear aggression from other fans and want to feel safe during the championship in Poland and neighboring Ukraine.

“During trips to matches of our beloved clubs … we unfortunately are often faced with unpleasantness, harassment and violence from the ‘real’ fans,” it said. “We dream of being able to relax in the stands — we can’t imagine not being at the Euro 2012 matches, which will be held in our country!”

Polish soccer matches are often the scene of violent attacks and fights involving hooligans.

Homophobia also remains deeply embedded in Poland because of the legacy of communism — which treated homosexuality as a taboo — and the teachings of the church in the predominantly Roman Catholic country.

One match venue, the city of Gdansk, rejected the group’s call for separate seating, saying it would stigmatize gays. And some gay rights groups are distancing themselves from the appeal.

Gregory Czarnecki of the Campaign Against Homophobia, a leading gay rights group in Warsaw, said he believes that very few gays and lesbians would willingly choose separate seating.

“I understand their initiative, and what they are trying to do,” Czarnecki told The Associated Press.

“But the message might be counterproductive in Poland,” he said. “I don’t think many people would be brave enough to not only come out, but also to sit in this section.”

—  John Wright