Polish court acquits LGBTQ+ activists over rainbow icon poster

A Polish court has acquitted three activists who had been accused of desecration and offending religious feelings for producing and distributing images of a revered Roman Catholic icon altered to include the LGBTQ+ rainbow.

The posters, which they distributed in the city of Płock in 2019, used rainbows as halos in an image of the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus. Their aim was to protest against what they considered the hostility of Poland’s influential Catholic church toward LGBTQ+ people.

The court in Płock did not see evidence of a crime and found that the activists were not motivated by a desire to offend anyone’s religious feelings, but rather wanted to defend those facing discrimination, according to Polish media.

The case was seen in Poland as a freedom of speech test under a deeply conservative government that has been pushing back against secularisation and liberal views. Abortion has been another flashpoint in the country after the recent introduction of a near-total ban.

Anna Prus (second right) and Elżbieta Podleśna (second left) and their defence team celebrate  after the  ruling at Plock district court.
Anna Prus (second right) and Elżbieta Podleśna (second left) and their defence team celebrate after the ruling at Płock district court. Photograph: Omar Marques/Getty Images

One defendant, Elżbieta Podleśna, said when the trial opened in January that the 2019 action in Płock was spurred by an installation at the city’s St Dominic’s church that associated LGBTQ+ people with crime and sins.

She and the other two activists — Anna Prus and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar — faced up to two years of prison if found guilty.

An LGBTQ+ rights group, Love Does Not Exclude, welcomed the ruling as a “breakthrough”.

“This is a triumph for the LGBTQ+ resistance movement in the most homophobic country of the European Union,” it said.

The image involved an alteration of Poland’s most revered icon, the Mother of God of Częstochowa, popularly known as the Black Madonna of Częstochowa. The original has been housed at the Jasna Góra monastery in Częstochowa, Poland’s holiest Catholic site, since the 14th century.

Podleśna told the Onet news portal that the desecration provision in the penal code “leaves a door open to use it against people who think a bit differently”.

“I still wonder how the rainbow – a symbol of diversity and tolerance – offends these feelings. I cannot understand it, especially since I am a believer,” Podleśna told Onet.

Podleśna was arrested in an early-morning police raid on her apartment in 2019, held for several hours and questioned over the posters. A court later said the detention was unnecessary and ordered damages of about £1,500 awarded to her.

Because of all the attention the altered icon has received, it is now a very recognised image in Poland, one sometimes seen at street protests.


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