Anxieties are running high in Poland right now — not just because of COVID-19, which is raising tensions everywhere, but because of a deep-seated tension between supporters of LGBTQ rights and the country’s reactionary political actors.
Seeing this, a husband-and-husband team of Polish YouTube personalities found a positive way to address both anxieties.
By distributing free rainbow-patterned protective face masks in the streets of Gdansk, Gdynia, and Sopot, Jakub and Dawid hope to help limit the spread of the virus while also showing solidarity with the larger community and demonstrating that LGBTQ people are nothing to fear.
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Nazywają nas zarazą, więc wzięliśmy to sobie do serca i postanowiliśmy coś zainfekować. Na cel obraliśmy koronawirusa. Pożyczyliśmy od babci maszynę do szycia i zaczęliśmy szyć maski, aby rozdawać je za darmo na ulicach. A maski są wyjątkowe, bo tęczowe! W pomyśle wsparły nas zaprzyjaźnione krawcowe i tak powstało 300 sztuk, z którymi ruszyliśmy na ulicę Trójmiasta! FILM z akcji na naszym YouTube Link w bio! #maski #maseczki #koronawirus #covid_19 #gdansk #gaymarriage #zarazvswirus #zarazalgbt #inwazja #darmowemaski #maskiochronne #rainbowmask #lgbtmask #j&dmasks
Jakub and Dawid are LGBTQ activists; on their Instagram page, they identify themselves as being known for their role in “the fight for LGBT rights.” They borrowed a sewing machine from a relative and used it in partnership with a local dressmaker to make 300 face masks. Then they ventured outside, spreading goodwill and protective clothing.
The couple made a video about their project, in which they explain the logic behind its genesis:
We have an epidemic in Poland. Basic protection measures are lacking, and masks have become scarce products. That is why we made our masks and will give them out to people.
But our masks are really unique because they are rainbow. So-called by many, the ‘LGBT plague’ is helping to protect people from a real plague.
Their high spirits are evident as they distribute the masks to strangers in the streets, remarking on “rainbow masks to make the world more colorful” and joking that the six colors of the rainbow imbue the masks with “six times protection.”
But the reality of LGBTQ life in Poland is hardly cheerful at the moment; as much as one-third of the country has declared itself “LGBT ideology-free zones.” Jakub’s remark about the “LGBT plague” references the words of Marek Jedraszewski, Archbishop of Krakow, who spoke last year about the “rainbow plague” infecting the country, comparing it to the rise of Nazism or Bolshevism.
Jakub admitted they were a bit worried about negative reactions, but they still wanted to make an effort to encourage goodwill towards the LGBTQ community:
Many LGBT-free zones were created in our country, so we were a bit afraid how people would react but they were really touched by our idea. I think they really appreciated that someone cared about their health. It was great to see that the rainbow didn’t scare people but will help them stay safe.
Many Polish people call us a plague, so we thought if we help people overcome real plague, they might change their minds. I know it’s naïve, but if we can do something good than why not?
The video shows a generally positive response to the couple’s overtures, despite anti-LGBTQ lobbying efforts taking place locally. Only one man seems hesitant to accept a mask, asking if they’re available in any other colours; the men respond simply with a confident, honest “nie” (no). They’re even approached by a security guard who commends them for “a great initiative.”
The pair ultimately decided their venture was a success. As they note at the end of their video:
We are tired but happy because it’s cool — as it turns out, the rainbow does not offend, does not infect, but can protect people from a real threat.