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Many countries in the EU are enhancing rights for their gay, bisexual and transgender citizens. Poland is one of the few European countries that still constitutionally restricts marriage to a man and woman. Efforts to pass laws to protect the LGBT community in Poland from discrimination and violence haven't gotten anywhere. But as Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports, there is a notable change in public attitudes.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: The Polish city of Gdansk on the Pomeranian coast is known for being first. World War II started here. So did the famous Solidarity workers movement that helped precipitate the demise of the Soviet Union. Last month, Gdansk celebrated another first - a gay rights march which was posted on YouTube. Psychologist Marta Kosinska helped organize the event that attracted about a thousand participants.
MARTA KOSINSKA: Gdansk is a symbol of freedom, and we are fighting for freedom too.
NELSON: Yet, doing so in this city would've been unthinkable for the LGBT community even two years ago. At the time, its most famous native, Polish democracy icon Lech Walesa, said on TV that gays had no right to impose their will on the Polish majority, nor should they play a prominent role in Polish politics, Walesa added. Robert Biedron says homophobic attitudes were prevalent among Polish lawmakers, too, when he was elected in 2011.
ROBERT BIEDRON: So I was first member of the Polish Parliament who is openly gay, and they would not be brave enough to shake hands publicly because somebody would think they're gay.
NELSON: Nor did they take him seriously.
BIEDRON: And I remember when I went to the parliament, I had my first speech, and I said, your arguments are below the belt. They all started to laugh. They said, what else gay guy can talk about?
NELSON: But Biedron, who is 39, says attitudes are improving toward gays, which he attributes, in part, to the shrinking influence of the Catholic Church in Poland and to more Poles coming out of the closet. Take, for example, his successful run last year for mayor of the northern city of Slupsk. Biedron was 1 of about 30 openly gay candidates who ran in local races across Poland, and he says his opponents never made his sexual orientation a campaign issue. Also telling was that his partner of 12 years attended Biedron's swearing-in ceremony, the first time he's done so.
BIEDRON: To go, finally, with my partner for the public ceremony - it's one of the greatest things. And I had my mother with me.
NELSON: Polish gay rights activists say there are other changes too, like the first homeless shelter for LGBT teens in Central Europe which opened earlier this year in Warsaw. Marianna Szczygielska is project coordinator for the Warsaw-based Campaign Against Homophobia. She says attitudes toward homosexuals here began to change when Poland joined the EU in 2004.
MARIANNA SZCZYGIELSKA: Also, with the opening of the borders after joining the European Union, things have changed, especially for, like, queer youth, even, like, LGBT characters being featured in popular TV series. That already makes a difference in social acceptance towards LGBT.
NELSON: But the group's vice president, Miroslawa Makuchowska, fears that progress could be short-lived as happened in Ukraine following the annexation of Crimea.
MIROSLAWA MAKUCHOWSKA: The public discourse has said, look, you are not important right now. We cannot discuss gay issues right now. Stop talking about it. It's all about the war.
NELSON: She predicts real equality for Poland's LGBT community could be generations away. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News.
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