LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia

Monika Drubkowska: A New Dream For Poland

Equality March

Two days after a joyful Equality March in the Polish city of Gorzów Wielkopolski, organiser and activist Monika Drubkowska came to work only to find she suddenly had no job anymore. Despite the personal trauma, being fired has spurred her on to a new dream for her country.

Born and bred in Gorzów, a city in western Poland, Monika Drubkowska came out publicly when she campaigned in the European Parliament elections earlier this year. This led to her organising the Equality March in her home city this year. Unlike the Equality March in Bialystok, the march went ahead peacefully, but there were unforeseen consequences for Monika. Here she shares the story with the Polish activist Slawek Starosta for ILGA-Europe.

Where did the idea for organising the Gorzów Equality March come from, Monika?

In 2018, Robert Biedroń (Wiosna party) came to Gorzów with a brainstorming event which I attended. Robert inspired me to change my perception of myself and, consequently, to act for the benefit of society. and I got involved in political activities in Wiosna party. I met many activists connected with the area of ​​gender equality, exclusion of people with disabilities and the rights of LGBTQ + people. I learned that a record-breaking number of equality marches were being planned in many Polish cities in 2019.

Earlier this year I took part in the European Parliamentary elections. In my biography for the campaign, I said that I am a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Up to that point, only my immediate family and trusted friends knew about my relationship with a woman. I was very afraid of a negative reaction, particularly among my colleagues and superiors at work, but when I told the Management Board and colleagues about my political activities and my sexual orientation, I received no harassment or insults. I was encouraged to go on with my campaign.

My decision to organise the Equality March in Gorzów Wielkopolski came naturally, given my political activities, my public coming out, and a rapid increase in my awareness of the need for changes in Polish society and law on issues related to equality.

Was this the first event you’ve organised?

Yes, I never organised any public events before and I didn’t know what procedures had to be followed. I organised a meeting for people willing to help with the organisation and disseminated the information the first march would take place for the first time Gorzów Wielkopolski. To my surprise, several people who had experience in organising contacted me. So I knew I could count on support, both in terms of formalities related to the registration of the march and in the form of tips and advice on the logistics of running the event.

How many people got involved in organising the March?

Finding volunteers willing to cooperate proved to be a challenge. In May, as many as 40 people attended the first informal LGBTQ + picnic, which aimed to involve people in organising the march. They were all willing to help. Ultimately, only 20 people remained. A large proportion of these were very young people, teenagers, for whom our regular meetings were also integration events to a large extent.

Were there any obstacles when planning the March?

The Mayor of the City of Gorzów and the Chairman of the City Council did not want to take the patronage of our event, so we felt that we could not count on the support of the city authorities. This gave opponents of the March an advantage.

There was a lot of hate on social media too. Hate speech, threats, insults and vulgar comments were our everyday life.

To make matters worse, after registering the march, it turned out that 25 other events were going on in places where the march was to take place. One of these reported gatherings was a mobile passage of buses blocking 88 streets in the city. All of these events were attempts to stop the march from happening. Because of them, the March was banned.

We referred the case to court. It was a time of stress, fear and hard work, but we received huge support from many institutions, including the Ombudsman. The opinion of court was issued and the ban was lifted. The Mayor of Gorzów said he would not appeal. Then we received honorary patronage from the Marshal of the Lubuskie Voivodeship, Mrs Elżbieta Anna Polak. It was our star in the sky.

Were there any major problems on the day of the march?

 The march was better than I could have imagined. Monika "Pacyfka" Tichy, the President of Szczecin Lambda, who from the very beginning supported me with her knowledge and advice, gave a fiery speech. The march was led by drag queen Lelita Petit and about 1,000 people took part, with another 1,000 watching from the sidewalks. There were many along the route who greeted us with smiles and joy, and some even joined us. It was a cheerful and dynamic march to the rhythm of great music. The whole march felt safe and there was a real spirit of love, equality and acceptance.

What happened to you afterwards?

I went to work at the usual time on Monday. After a few hours, I was called to the office of the President and in the presence of a lawyer, proxy and owner I was fired. I couldn’t believe it, I was in shock as I read the terms for my dismissal, which in my opinion were unfounded. I asked for a detailed explanation of the reasons, but I didn't receive a response. There was no space to defend myself; I could only say that I disagreed with the decision.

For a week I felt like a zombie. I couldn’t sleep at night, I could not function. For the first time in my life, I felt that I was treated very unfairly. My health and well-being deteriorated quickly.

A lawyer gave me his opinion that my dismissal was discrimination based on my involvement in organising the March. This was confirmed to me by people associated with the company.

A few days ago I received a letter from the company's CEO telling me to stop violating rights of the company by disseminating information that the organisation of the March and my social activities are the reasons for my dismissal. I was also told to declare the reasons for the dismissal contained in my notice in the media Otherwise, the case will be taken to court.

What was your situation at work like before the march?

From the very beginning, I was successful in sales, bringing on more clients than my predecessors had. I never received any admonitions or reprimands. At the end of May this year, the owner sold the company. A new Management Board was appointed and several people in the company were offered a promotion. I was one of those people.

During the holiday season, one of my colleagues did not show up at work for a total of four weeks due to alcohol abuse. The absence of this colleague resulted in difficulties that I informed the board about regularly and we established a strategy of actions that I implemented. I did not receive any signals that I did not achieve the company's goals.

I cannot understand why, despite the repeated absence of my colleague, not showing up at meetings with clients, appearing at work under the influence of alcohol, I was the one who was fired.

If I confirm in court that the reasons for my dismissal were my activities related to the organisation of the Equality March, and perhaps discrimination based on sexual orientation, then it will prove even more how much change Poland needs.

Many Gorzów residents, including my friends, did not show up at the march because of the fear of being revealed to employers and losing their jobs, and of stigmatization in the workplace. Even if you are heterosexual, just showing support for the demands of the march raises concerns about consequences such as getting fired from your job.

What are you doing with your life now?

Gorzów is a small city with 120,000 residents and I feel that I can no longer get work here. My post on = social media about losing a job after organising the march was picked up by local media, the news spread and there are probably many opinions and judgments about me, especially as an employee.

I am in the process of preparing the registration of a Foundation, whose aim will be to help socially excluded people. In the future, my dream was to build a Social Integration Centre, a fully adapted facility for the disabled, together with a hostel for LGBTQ + youth who need help in a crisis.

At the Foundation, we will register business activities that allow people to work. It will be a small café with veggie food and take-out coffees. There are many other ideas, and the most important goal is to integrate and help people like me who are socially excluded, as well as people who are struggling with depression or in need of new opportunities.

You are also running for election with LEWICA (the Left) list. Tell me a bit more about that.

After the events in Bialystok, I told myself that it was time for change - changes in legislation -and the only ones who can do this are politicians, hence my decision to run for the Sejm of the Republic of Poland. I am a candidate from LEWICA. In LEWICA we dream about a Poland in which every one is part of a community that does not exclude anyone and leaves nobody alone. We believe that we can build a Poland of the future in which we will all feel at home, regardless of gender, age, origin, faith, sexual orientation or wallet.

What would you like to do if you are elected?

Among other things, I will fight for the equality of men and women, the integration of people with disabilities and the rights of LBGTQ+ people. I will also prioritise actions for the protection of the environment.

I will be working for the introduction of marriage equality with the right of adoption; to strengthen legal protections against speech and hate crimes and for the introduction of legal regulations facilitating the process of medical and legal confirmation of gender for transgender people.

I will work for the introduction of reliable, modern anti-discrimination education, teaching openness to diversity, and ethics classes in public schools, for the creation of intervention hostels in Poland for LGBTQ+ people, which would help them in times of crisis and support them in preparing for independent living. I will work to ensure adequate, anti-discrimination and sex education in schools and responding to the needs of young people, in accordance with WHO standards.

Do you regret organising the Equality March in Gorzów?

No, I do not regret it. These negative consequences are nothing compared to having to act for our community. I dream about everyone being respected in Poland, regardless of their origin, abilities, religion or sexual orientation. Marches are needed until we are all equal before the law.