Queer Studies in Eastern Europe: LGTBQ scholars convene their fifth conference in Poland

The International Conference of LGTBQ Studies was held in Poland from May 24-26, 2004.
Themed as “Europe without Homophobia,” the conference at Wroclaw University brought together
an international group of scholars and activists to discuss homophobia, both in its global and East
European forms.
The conference took place just a couple of weeks after the participants in Cracow’s “Parade of
Tolerance” had been physically assaulted by a far-right militia group called “All-Polish Youth,” causing a
violent anti-queer, anti-feminist riot in the Old Town of Cracow. During the conference, we learned that
Poland’s capital city of Warsaw decided to cancel an annual street parade, the “Parade of Equality,”
because of its strong LGBTQ presence. All minorities are in danger in contemporary Poland: virulent
homophobia is but one symptom of a larger social crisis of failed justice.
Remarkably, given Poland’s conservatism, “Europe without Homophobia” was in fact the fifth
annual queer studies conference in Poland. The first was held in 2000 at the initiative of John Leo, then
Fulbright scholar at Curie University in Lublin, and Kate Delaney, Cultural Attache of Warsaw’s American
Embassy. From the very start, young Polish scholars of American studies—Dominika Ferens, Tomasz
Basiuk and Tomasz Sikora—spearheaded the organization of these conferences, which have been held
across Poland. This year’s conference was organized by Wroclaw University scholars, Dominika Ferens,
Marzena Lizurej and Pawel Kurpios. The streets are not hospitable for queers in Poland but universities,
as demonstrated by the series of conferences, can function as forums of intellectual exchange and, in
fact, political change.
At this year’s conference more than a hundred participants gathered together. Countries of the
region (Belarus, Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia,
Slovenia) were well represented. Contingents from Britain, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Sweden and the
United States were also present.
John Leo, currently a Fulbright Professor at Bratislava, Slovakia, gave the keynote lecture on the
troubled relation between LGTBQ rights and the ideology of the Catholic Church, still a central political
force in Eastern Europe. Other panels addressed legal, political, social and cultural attitudes about sexual
difference and homophobia. In her paper, Alisa Solomon warned against assimilationist tendencies and
the withdrawal from liberationist aspirations that characterize much of the LGBTQ movement in the US.
In the context of queer research and teaching, Luis Cárcamo-Huechante spoke about CLAGS’s
International Resource Network (www.irnweb.org). Many scholars and activists analyzed the situation of
gays and lesbians in Eastern Europe: Tatiana Zaitseva explored the grave problems in Belarus and its
LGTBQ presence on the internet (www.apagay.com); Alenka Svab and Roman Kuhar sociologically
examined Slovenia where queer rights and culture gain more and more recognition.
One series of panels examined the more theoretical aspects of queer studies and politics; other
presenters analyzed the local contexts of gays and lesbians in their home countries. In the cultural
section, queer literatures as well as popular and visual culture were explored. Topics in this session
included the narcissism of gay websites, queering art in Poland, porn movies in the Czech Republic, and
Polish pop music, the making of subversive meaning and subjectivity in Keith Haring’s art.
Activist presentations and workshops were given by the Campaign Against Homophobia from Poland and Lambda Berlin-Brandenburg from Germany. The
politics of intersexuality, the experience of transsexuality,
and specifically lesbian topics were also examined. The
artistic program of the conference showcased contemporary
lesbian cultural productions, including the screening of
Greek writer and director Christiana Lambrinidis’s theater
production “Lesbian Blues.”
Presenter Chris Bell spoke about the importance of
including analyses of misogyny, classism, and racism when
doing research on homophobia. Indeed, much of the work
of the conference centered on illustrating the connections
between anti-woman, anti-foreigner and anti-gay/lesbian
discourses in Poland. Conference participants engaged in
productive conversations about these connections and
strategies for fostering sexual and gender pluralism.
Because queer/sexuality studies are not as widespread
in the EU as in the US, Eastern Europe needs more initiatives
such as “Europe without Homophobia” to bring together
scholars and activists who often work in isolation.
Following Jonathan D. Katz’s presentation about the
subversive uses of queer creativity, we think the Wroclaw
conference on LGTBQ Studies generated resistance to the
dominant and official discourses of homophobia, and served
as a forum for cultural revolt.

Tomek Kitlinski and Pawel Leszkowicz are lecturers, performers
and cultural critics in Poland. They participated in Poland’s
lesbian and gay visibility public art campaign, “Let us be seen”
and in CLAGS’s International Resource Network meetings.