Gay rights activists go on trial in Poland

Gay rights activists go on trial in Poland facing two years in jail for desecration and offending Catholics after replacing halos with rainbow flags on posters of iconic ‘Black Madonna and child’

  • Elzbieta Podlesna, Anna Prus and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar are standing trial 
  • Altered images replaced the halos in the icon of Black Madonna and baby Jesus
  • Activists were protesting hostility of Poland’s Catholic Church of LGBT in 2019

Three human rights activists went on trial in Poland yesterday for putting the LGBT rainbow on an image of the Black Madonna, a revered figure in Roman Catholicism.

Elzbieta Podlesna, Anna Prus and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar face up to two years in prison if found guilty of desecration and offending religious sentiment. 

During protests in 2019, they replaced the halos in the icon of the Black Madonna and baby Jesus with the LGBT rainbow flag.

The activists said they were rallying against what they saw as the hostility of Poland’s influential Catholic Church toward LGBT people. 

A group of supporters with rainbow flags and banners reading ‘The Rainbow Gives No Offense’ gathered outside the court. 

Human rights activists show an altered image with colors symbolizing LGBT rights as they gathered outside the provincial court in Plock, Poland

Elzbieta Podlesna, a human rights activist, walks outside the provincial court in Plock, central Poland, before her trial

The activists could face up to two years in prison if convicted on charges of offending religious sentiment and desecration of the Mother of God of Czestochowa, popularly known as the Black Madonna of Czestochowa (activist pictured holding the altered image)

Podlesna said in court Wednesday that their 2019 action in the central city of Plock was spurred by an installation at the city’s St. Dominic’s Church that associated LGBT people with crime and negative behavior.

The three do not deny putting the posters on walls and elsewhere around the church, but do not admit putting stickers with the image on garbage bins and toilets and deny wrongdoing.

The Mother of God of Czestochowa, popularly known as the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, is a revered icon in Poland.

It has been housed at the Jasna Gora monastery in the city of Czestochowa since the 14th century.

LGBT protests in 2019 when the three activists were first arrested by police 

A group of supporters with rainbow flags and banners gathered outside the court 

Podlesna was arrested in an early morning police raid on her apartment in 2019. She was detained for several hours and questioned over the posters of the icon that were placed around Plock. 

A court later said the detention was unnecessary and ordered damages equaling some $2,000 be awarded to her.

Amnesty International has called on Polish prosecutors to drop the charges against the activists. 

The case has highlighted the clash over social issues in predominantly Catholic Poland. 

The country’s right-wing government supports laws against insulting religious beliefs and symbols.

LGBT rights advocates say the laws are used to stifle human rights and freedom of speech.

The ruling Law and Justice party has previously targeted LGBT communities and some Polish towns have declared themselves ‘gay-free zones’.  

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