As It Happens

Activist fights homophobia in Poland with photo series of 'LGBT-free' zones

Bartosz Staszewski is capturing attention for his portrait series of local LGBT people posed outside Polish towns that have declared themselves LGBT-free. 

Bartosz Staszewski targets trend among local communities to declare themselves 'LGBT-free'

Activist Bartosz Staszewski holds his fake 'LGBT-free zone' sign. (Przemyslaw Stefaniak)

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An activist in Poland is capturing attention for his portrait series of Polish LGBT people outside towns that have declared themselves LGBT free. 

Bartosz Staszewski, a 29-year-old filmmaker, created the series in response to what he calls an increase in institutionalized homophobia on the part of Poland's ruling Law and Justice party. 

"Last year was quite tough year for LGBT persons," Staszewski told As It Happens' guest host Helen Mann. 

"There was a big campaign against us made by the Law and Justice government. They used us as public enemy number one for the parliament elections."

Staszewski believes Poland needs to emulate the values of the European Union, which the country joined as a member state in 2004. 'Values like the dignity of the human being and respect.' (Bartosz Staszewski)

With his photo series, Staszewski specifically targets a trend among local governments to declare their regions LGBT-free. Staszewski photographs local LGBT people in front of a fake "LGBT-free zone" sign that he positions outside communities that have passed such declarations. 

The international reach of the project has been a surprise to Staszewski.

"Social media exploded,' he told Mann."Top politicians from the European Parliament was posting them, commenting. Not just the European Parliament but also from Sweden, Italy, Germany."

"We need this support. It's the only thing that is working in Poland. It's the only thing that the Polish right-wing government is scared of."

Thus far, Staszewski has photographed five LGBT members as part of his series. (Bartosz Staszewski)

Staszewski says none of the subjects he has photographed have expressed regret or fear with regards to their participation in his project. 

"They are the real heroes," said Staszewski, pointing out that some of the subjects that professed their LGBT identity in the series come from communities as small as 10,000 people. 

'LGBT-free zone' appears in four languages on Staszewski's sign. After each photo-shoot, Staszewski is sure to not leave his sign behind. (Bartosz Staszewski)

According to Reuters, Staszewski has taken portraits of five people so far, and is determined to keep going. 

"For those people who live in those societies, [these declarations are] a sign that the politicians will not represent their problems in city council, that they will not treat them as equal to other members of these communities — that they are a threat."

"I want to continue it ... and ask other LGBT people to stand up and present themselves to the photos."

Written by Sarah Claydon with files from Reuters. Segment produced by Kevin Robertson.