The story of lesbian couple Diana and Roksana from Poland, who left their home country to get married in the UK and to live a life in peace and love in the Netherlands. Diana Sokołowska-Kostyk met her future wife in Gdańsk, Poland, and they decided to get married in the UK. With conservative parties growing stronger and stronger in their home country, Diana and her wife Roksana decided to leave Poland behind and relocated to the Netherlands to start a new life. The latest decision of Poland’s conservative ruling party comes close to a near-ban of abortion in the country. Currently, thousands of people are protesting all over the country. During the last months, the country has made negative publicity by promoting so-called ‘LGBT-free zones‘. Clearly, the government keeps pushing their conservative agenda forward, tackling women and LGBTQ+ in Poland. However, we would like to share the story of Diana and Roksana on Couple of Men. Sarah had the chance to interview the lesbian couple currently living in the Netherlands. Learn more about how the two women are finding their own and independent way to live together as an openly LGBTQ+ couple.
Written by Sarah Tekath
„During the last year, I was never afraid to say the words, my wife!“
How did you two meet?
We met through a friend in March 2012. I had just moved to Gdańsk for work and befriended a colleague. Roksana had known her for quite a while already, as they are both part of the Ukrainian minority in Poland. When I came out to my colleague, a close friend, as bisexual, she said: “you need to meet this woman.” They sang in a band together, and so I was invited to their concert. And two weeks after that we were already a couple.
How did your families and friends react?
Until then, I had only had boyfriends, so I never felt the urge to let my parents know that I am bisexual. Roksana is the first girl I dated and was therefore the first female partner I brought home. I was already out to my brother, but everybody else found out when I introduced them to the person that I had already been in a relationship with for a few months.
My close friends in Gdańsk reacted well, which I think also is related to the fact that I was mostly friends with international people, expats, or polish nationals that had lived abroad for quite a while. There were no people in my peer-group that have to spend all their life in Poland. So, luckily, the people I was surrounded by were very accepting and open-minded.
With my friends from my hometown, it was slightly different because I come from Lublin which is in the very conservative east of the country. There is only a couple of people that I am still in touch with, but their reactions were mostly between very good and okay. At least to my face, I didn’t get any negative feedback.
However, with my parents, it is a process. It was for sure not a bad reaction, but it was not an amazing reaction either. It was a mix of being shocked, not understanding, and being confronted with a topic that was not very visible back then in public or media. At that time, there were maybe two people, LGBT activists, that were openly out in the entire country. Now, with my parents, we are on good terms, but not amazing yet. When it comes to my relationship with Roksana they are accepting, but I could for example not imagine them joining me for the Pride march in Poland. However, they had bought flight tickets to attend the Amsterdam Gay Pride, but then Covid-19 came.
On Where to be Gay, we would like to share information about the situation of the international LGBTQ+ community, their rights, and the struggle. Our goal is to support lesbian, gay, trans, and queer people in their fight for equality and acceptance in their countries. We want them to be seen by sharing their stories.
Would you like them to join the Gay March in Poland to show their support?
Of course, that would be good, but regarding that, I also need to say that Gay Pride in Poland is not comparable to Gay Pride in Amsterdam. It is not just a party for people to show that they are proud. Every march is a political statement. This might also be why my parents have not taken this step into public activism yet. Because especially during the last year, where we get to see the situation getting worse and worse, also the amount of violence has increased. It is less safe to join a Pride march [in Poland].
Do you know of any negative experiences among your LGBTQ+ friends when they came out?
I don’t know of anybody who was kicked out by their parents for example after coming out to them. However, I know a couple of women that have been together for 8 or 9 years but have never introduced their partner to their families and who never came out. We assume that the parents secretly know it already, but it was never openly talked about.
I also have a friend who comes from a very conservative family and their sister is a psychologist. She strongly advised them to start conversion therapy. But of course, we lived in a rather liberal bubble in Gdańsk, in a city that I consider more open-minded than Warsaw, so things were different from for example in the countryside. But even in Warsaw, there have been reports that the house of a gay couple was sprayed with a homophobic slur.
What is the daily life of LGBT (couples) like in public in Poland?
Do they get discriminated against on the street? Roksana and I were never hiding when we lived in Gdańsk. We would hold hands and kiss on the street. However, I fit was already late and dark, and we were alone on the street, we would probably be more careful. But during the day in Gdansk, I felt quite safe. Also, when we traveled to my hometown, we were never verbally or physically attacked, but it felt different. You could see that is holding hands in Lublin caught a lot more attention from people. They noticed, while in Gdańsk most of the time I felt people didn’t notice.
Is there a difference in the acceptance of gay women and gay men showing physical affection in public?
For sure, 100%. I cannot tell from my experience, but from what I have heard, it is so much worse. I don’t think I have ever heard of any gay male couple (unless they are celebrities) that would walk on the street holding hands or being affectionate. Also, when I think about it, I don’t think I have ever seen anything like that in public in Poland, while I have seen several female couples. Unless, of course, it is a Pride march, but then they are safe among the group.
You got married in the UK. What was the reason for you to choose this country?
We got married in Liverpool about four years ago because, obviously, we could not do that in Poland. We chose for several reasons. First was the language to make it as easy for us as possible. Second, maybe the most important, was how easy the legal process of getting married would be. Some countries, Portugal for example, required a 30-day residency back then and that was not manageable for us. The UK only required 7 days. It was also important for us to not just get a civil partnership, and the list of countries that would legally offer same-sex marriage was rather short four years ago compared to today. Most of the countries also claimed for one person to be a resident, which is why we couldn’t get married in the Netherlands as I had hoped.
This left us with Portugal, UK, and Scandinavia, as we wanted to get married in Europe for our families to be able to fly over and celebrate with us. Scandinavia we simply ruled out because of the weather. And since I had studied in Liverpool a few years ago, at least I had some sort of emotional connection to that city instead of picking a random place.
Why did you decide to leave your country?
We left one year ago, and we decided to leave because of everything that is going on with the LGBT situation in Poland. The situation has gotten worse and worse. Even though we had a comfortable life in Gdansk. We own an apartment, we had family and friends and we both had excellent well-paid jobs. But the hate and the propaganda became worse constantly. Even in the beginning, we had no rights in Poland regarding partnerships for example and there are no same-sex marriages. There was not a single law that would have made our life easier in Poland. There are also no anti-discrimination laws.
This is the situation where we started. But then the conservative government that came to power in 2016 decided to choose LGBT as their enemy for their political agenda. This was when more and more negative comments were given by the media or by the politicians. The bar of what was accepted was slowly lowered and finally, we got to the point where we said: „We only have one life, and living in this country has become more and more difficult for us.“ So, when the chance came we decided to move.
On Couple of Men, we share LGBTQ+ couple stories of women, men, and other queer people, loving, working, struggling, and living their lives together. Some of them show us how difficult it can be in some countries if you love another human being. Because that’s just it…
Now you are living in the Netherlands. What made you come here?
The choice of the Netherlands is a funny story for me. I first came here when I was 17, together with my father, and I fell in love with the city. I was convinced I would be living in Amsterdam one day. I even wanted to study Dutch for my Master’s degree and got accepted by the university in The Hague. But in the end, I chose Liverpool. But now, 15 years later, here I am. And even though Roksana equally loved Amsterdam when we traveled to the city to join several Gay Pride events, we were still indecisive if we should leave Poland or not. Because apart from the stupid homophobia, our life was really good. But then I received a job offer from Amsterdam which I did not even apply for. So, it felt like it was meant to be. Also, on the same day, the biggest conservative Polish newspaper published stickers for LGBT-free zones for people to put on bars, restaurants, etc. and that was it for us.
How is life in the Netherlands different from in Poland?
If you take away the reason why we moved, it was a very difficult year for us. Probably even the most difficult year both of us have had in our lives. In the beginning, Roksana didn’t have a job, and we had to depend on one income. We didn’t have friends and then the pandemic hit, and it was impossible to meet new people and explore the city and the country. From a strictly economical perspective, I believe we were better off in Poland. But if you look at the reason why we moved, this is incomparable.
I still remember in our first week here, we went to the city hall to register at our temporary address and we would have to go back for more time to update it to our permanent address as soon as we would have found an apartment for us. I was stressed because I wouldn’t be able to take off the time of work to do so. Then the employee just told us: „No problem, your wife can do it. You are married.“ This was such a shock. It was the first time after four years of marriage that somebody would see us as a married couple.
I doubt that anybody who has not gone through something like this themselves can understand, but during the last year, I was never afraid to say the words: my wife. Back in Poland, with every new person, you meet it was an active decision to disclose this important detail to them or not. Even though Roksana and I were always really open, we never hid, so in the end, it was still a question of choosing your battles.
What are the reasons for conservative tendencies getting stronger again?
It is so complex that I think it would not even be possible to explain it in five articles. Still, there are two reasons that I would like to highlight. Polish politics are now very similar to those in the US. It is truly polarizing and political support is built on hate. That way, one group can feel better than the other group. The first time the ruling party was elected they chose immigrants as their enemy and this time it is LGBT.
The second reason is the lack of education and awareness. Poland is a very homogeneous country where everybody is white, catholic, and hetero-sexual. Of course, this is not true, but it is seen like that. 99% of the people are white, 94% are catholic. So, when you grow up, you don’t see the diversity. Everybody is the same, and you don’t question that. At the same time, the education system fails to teach about different skin colors, religions, or sexual orientations. When I grew up, people didn’t realize that there was diversity. And if you don’t know people who are openly gay or Jewish or black, you don’t get to hear their experiences, and you believe what you hear in the media. And if it teaches you that gay people constantly rape kids – because this is the message in Poland at the moment – and you don’t have any other source to inform yourself, then, of course, you believe it and you will like you need to do something to save those kids.
And then of course there is the Catholic Church that plays an important role and is not known for liking LGBT.
Can you picture yourself as a couple moving back in the future?
In the near future, for sure not. Even if the politicians introduce same-sex marriage at some point and even if we lived with a group of liberal friends, I still think it will take decades for society to accept LGBT. But I don’t see that happen any time soon. The thing with Poland and other similar countries is that it feels like the situation is for sure not good, but it is also not too bad. You live and you get used to it. And then, when you leave for the country for a trip for example, and you get to see other societies, it is like a shock to see how life actually can be. You see the difference between your life, which is not too bad compared to something amazing. And now that I have experienced this freedom, I am not confident if I’d be able to go back.
Diana, thank you very much for your time and for sharing your story with us. I wish you two all the best.
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