LGBTQ+ Poles call for action to boost rights at Pride march

By Louis van Boxel-Woolf and Camilla Borri

GDANSK, Poland (Reuters) - Thousands of Poles gathered in Gdansk on Saturday for the northern port city's annual Pride event, with many calling on the government to do more to boost LGBTQ+ rights, including delivering on a promise to pass a same-sex civil unions law.

A pro-European government led by former European Council President Donald Tusk took power in December after eight years of rule by the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, which critics had accused of fomenting homophobia.

Waving rainbow Pride flags as well as the blue, pink and white flag representing transgender people, marchers at Gdansk's ninth annual Pride event welcomed the new government's pledges on LGBTQ+ rights, but called for quick action to implement them.

"The new government is showing more support, it will be helpful, and people will feel safer," said Maria Malasiewicz, a mathematics student who identifies as asexual and non-binary - neither a man or a woman.

"But I feel like it's a long way to having marriages and really equal rights," Malasiewicz added.

Poland is one of five European Union member states that do not recognise any form of same-sex civil partnership, along with Bulgaria, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia.

The issue has divided the government, a three-party coalition, with the centre-right Third Way more reluctant than its partners, Tusk's Civic Coalition and New Left.

The Civic Coalition, the largest party in the government, had promised to legislate for same-sex civil partnerships in its first 100 days in office but equality minister Katarzyna Kotula said last week the government would decide on a joint approach only after European Parliament elections in June.

Monika Chabior, head of social development and equality for the municipality of Gdansk, said warmer public sentiment towards the LGBTQ+ community was not enough.

"LGBTQI+ people want to see their private lives changing, not only this public sphere," she said. "And this means acknowledging their rights like being able to get married. It's very simple."

Poland drew international condemnation under PiS for fostering an atmosphere hostile to LGBTQ+ people, with the European Parliament accusing the country of discrimination in 2021 after some municipalities declared themselves free of "LGBT ideology".

(Reporting by Louis van Boxel-Woolf and Camilla Borri; Editing by Helen Popper)