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Pride parades and rainbow art defy conservative Polish times

By Vanessa Gera Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland – Poland’s LBGT community celebrated a rainbow made of water and light in a Warsaw square as members geared up for the country’s largest pride parade.

Light projected onto water created a “water hologram” rainbow for four hours starting late Friday, getting people in the spirit for the yearly “Equality Parade” in the Polish capital Saturday afternoon.

The pride celebrations come as LGBT activists say a conservative turn in Poland is forcing them to fight harder for their rights, even though their hope of seeing same-sex marriage legalized has no real chance in the country now.

A record number of gay pride marches – 12 – are taking place across Poland this season, including five in cities having them for the first time. Some of the cities are considered conservative strongholds, like Rzeszow and Opole. Czestochowa, site of the nation’s most important Roman Catholic shrine, is also hosting a pride parade for the first time, on July 7.

“People are fed up with feeling like they are under a boot and being trampled down. And they are reacting, they are organizing, they are resisting,” said Hubert Sobecki, president of Love Does Not Exclude, an LGBT rights group seeking to legalize same-sex marriage.

Homosexuality was long a taboo in Poland, though views have changed in recent years, with Poles in 2011 making history by electing an openly gay man and a transsexual woman to the national parliament. A more conservative turn came in 2015, when no left-wing parties made it into parliament and a conservative pro-Catholic party, Law and Justice, swept into power.

The rainbow water installation took place on the spot where a rainbow of artificial flowers was installed and then burned down seven times between 2012 and 2015 by nationalists and other opponents of LBGT rights.

“It was a symbol for us and it was really sad for us when it disappeared,” said Sylwia Chelchowska, a 20-year-old physiotherapy student who viewed the light-and-water show Friday night with friends.

She was volunteering in Saturday’s parade, saying “we have to show people that we exist.”

The light-and-water show was sponsored by Ben & Jerry’s, the U.S. ice-cream maker that has been a longtime supporter of same-sex marriage rights.

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