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shifting the conversation

Pride month: Shifting the conversation with Pawel Szonecki

Pawel shares his positive experiences as a member of the LGBTQ+ community in Poland while emphasizing the need for equal rights in the country.

At Sabre, we are committed to embracing and celebrating our diversity. In this inclusion & engagement series, Shifting the Conversation, our people share their stories to engage in open dialog and shed light on their broad, rich and unique perspectives. In celebration of Pride Month, Pawel Szonecki, an active member and co-leader of the Sabre Pride inclusion group, shares his positive experiences as a member of the LGBTQ+ community in Poland while emphasizing the need for equal rights in the country. Pride is dedicated to establishing Sabre as an organization that meaningfully stands for equality, by visibly engaging in business practices, social issues and outreach programs that are inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies. 

Here is a fun fact for you: out of the 37 million people who live in Poland, two million identify as gay. However, according to the ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association) report, Poland ranks 42nd out of 49 European countries in terms of LGBTQ+ rights. Sadly, many people are unaware of this. The LGBTQ+ community in Poland does not have equal rights. We do not have same-sex partnerships or marriages, we cannot adopt children and we are not protected against hate speech crimes.

Poland’s history with homosexuality is complex. Poland was one of the first countries in Europe to decriminalize homosexuality in 1932. However, after World War II, Poland was cut off from Western Europe by the Iron Curtain, and Communism began. The emancipation movement was not possible until 1989 when the Iron Curtain finally fell, and the Pride movement slowly began to grow in strength.

Every year, support for LGBTQ+ people in Poland grows. In 2019, 80,000 people participated in Pride in Warsaw. If large cities had the power to change legislation, the legal situation would be very different.

On a personal note, I was lucky to be born in Warsaw, and my experiences are similar to those in other European cities. My junior high school years were from 2006 to 2009, before the Netflix era, so I thought I was the only gay person in the universe. Later, thanks to U.S. mainstream media, I thought at least I could become a woman’s best friend. I watched Mean Girls and High School Musical, and suddenly it was okay to be gay. Coming out at 15 felt natural and was met with acceptance and pop culture support.

In high school, I was openly gay. In my first year around 2009, it brought me extra homework! My Polish teacher asked me to write an essay about Plato’s “Feast.” For context, Feast is Plato’s famous dialogue on the issue of love, arguing the superiority of homosexual over heterosexual love.

My experiences as a gay person have been positive. I have no trauma, I am in a happy relationship and I am proud of who I am. In recent years, I have not experienced homophobia. Why? I live in a bubble where everything seems fine and normal. But bubbles burst, especially when someone asks, “Are you going to marry your partner?” and my response is, “I do not have a right to that.” Luckily for me, it is as simple as that. Unfortunately, not everyone is that lucky.

Research from a Polish non-governmental organization (NGO) show that 71% of LGBT people hide their orientation in the workplace, 50% hide it from neighbors and tenants and 73.3% hide it at school or university. These numbers are terrifying! Fortunately, as an organization, we can make an impact. I am so happy to be part of an organization where everyone is welcome, and DIB (Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging) is not just a Teams group.

In summary, while my personal experience as a gay man in Poland has been largely positive, I recognize this is not the case for everyone. The struggle for equal rights and acceptance continues, and it is crucial for organizations and individuals to support and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. By sharing our stories and raising awareness, we can help create a more inclusive and accepting society for all.

Sabre is shifting the conversation with stories from passionate and bold inclusion group members. At the heart of our inclusion & engagement efforts, our eight inclusion groups, and counting, aim to amplify the voices of our team members and create a sense of belonging for all. Together, we celebrate diversity, applaud individuality and embrace unique perspectives to empower our global team members to bring their true selves to work every day. Learn more about our inclusion & engagement mission.

about the author

Pawel Szonecki is a proud member and co-leader of the Pride LGBTQ+ inclusion group at Sabre. He helps foster our accepting and inclusive company culture as Principal Communication on the Global Communications team.

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