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    Participants take part in the "Equality Parade" rally in support of the LGBT community in Warsaw, Poland, June 8, 2019 | Photo: Reuters

Published 8 June 2019

The parade is expected to be the biggest event of its kind in Warsaw, a significant fact considering it was banned in 2001.

Tens of thousands of people joined a pride march in Warsaw Saturday as gay rights continue to become a major issue in Poland's election campaign.

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The parade, which was expected to be the biggest of its kind in the city, came as the ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party ramped up its opposition to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, saying opposition support for LGBT issues threatens Polish culture.

PiS made alleged threats related to LGBTQ movements a big part of its campaign in last month's European Parliament elections and the theme is likely to remain a major topic ahead of a national vote expected in October or November.

Other sectors of society expressed disdain for the event. According to the New York Times, a far-right journalist, Rafal Ziemkiewicz, advocated violence against LGBTQ, saying on Twitter, “One must shoot at L.G.B.T.” but took it back by saying “Not in the literal sense of course — but these are not people of good will or defenders of anybody’s rights, (the movement is) a new mutation of Bolsheviks and Nazis.”

Analysts say PiS hopes to re-energize its mainly rural base by vowing to push back against Western liberalism and benefit from the deepening divisions in society over policies toward minority groups, the environment, abortion, and migration.

Warsaw is more liberal and open-minded than the more conservative rural parts of the country where PiS finds much of its support.

"I am here for my son, who is gay, and for his friends," said Tatiana Pawlowa, an 83-year-old pensioner who joined the march. "I want to show I am with them."

A Warsaw town hall spokesman said around 50,000 people were expected to take part in the parade, compared with 45,000 estimated to have taken part in a similar event in 2018.

"This parade undoubtedly breaks records in terms of attendance," the spokesman said in a text message.

Rafal Trzaskowski, the mayor of Warsaw, who won an election in the capital last year against a PiS candidate, was criticized by the ruling party this year for plans to introduce a sexual education program meant to teach students about sexual orientation, discrimination and reproductive health.

"Not everyone has to march in an equality parade, but everyone should respect the rights of minority groups," said Trzaskowski, who joined the parade. "This has nothing to with whether one is leftist or liberal or conservative."

PiS was not immediately available to comment on Saturday. In April, party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski called the LGBT movement "a threat to our identity, a threat to our nation and its long-term existence."

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