Queer enough? Contested terrains of identity deployment in the context of gay and lesbian public activism in Poland

  • Anna Gruszczynska

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Gay and lesbian prides and marches are of crucial relevance to the way in which non-heterosexual lives are imagined internationally despite regional and national differences. Quite often, these events are connected not only with increased activist mobilisation, but also with great controversy, which is the case of Poland, where gay and lesbian marches have been attacked by right-wing protesters and cancelled by right-wing city authorities on a number of occasions. Overall, the scholars analysing these events have largely focused on the macro-context of the marches, paying less attention to the movement actors behind these events. The contribution of this thesis lies not only in filling a gap when it comes to research on sexual minorities in Eastern Europe/Poland, but also in its focus on micro-level movement processes and engagement with theories of collective identity and citizenship. Furthermore, this thesis challenges the inscription of Eastern European/Polish movements into the narrative of victimhood and delayed development when compared to LGBT movements in the Global North. This thesis is grounded in qualitative research including participant observation of public activist events as well as forty semi-structured interviews with the key organisers of gay and lesbian marches in Warsaw, Poznan and Krakow between 2001 and 2007, and five of these interviews were further accompanied by photo-elicitation (self-directed photography) methods. Starting from the processes whereby from 2001 onwards, marches, pride parades and demonstrations became the most visible and contested activity of the Polish lesbian and gay movement, this thesis examines how the activists redefined the meanings of citizenship in the post-transformation context, by incorporating the theme of sexual minorities' rights. Using Bernstein's (1997, 2002, 2005, 2008) concept of identity deployment, I show how and when movement actors use identity tactically, depending on their goals. Specifically, in the context of movement-media interactions, I examine the ways in which the activists use marches to challenge the negative representations of sexual minorities in Poland. I also broaden Bernstein's framework to include the discussion of emotion work as relevant to public LGBT activism in Poland. Later, I discuss how the emotions of protests allowed the activists to inscribe their efforts into the "revolutionary" narrative of the Polish Solidarity movement and by extension, the frame of citizenship. Finally, this thesis engages with the dilemmas of identity deployment strategies, and seeks to problematise the dichotomy between identity-based gay and lesbian assimilationist strategies and the anti-identity queer politics.
Date of AwardSept 2009
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorPam Lowe (Supervisor)


  • publi activism
  • sexual citizenship
  • identity deployment
  • Polish LGBT movement
  • emotions of protest

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