"No more bullying. It's time to remove indoctrination from education," says 18-year-old Mateusz Trzaska, a high school student from the Podkarpacie region. He is helping with organising this year's edition of Rainbow Friday, a campaign to support LGBTQ+ youth at school. In an interview with #MyImpact he talks about the event and what education might look like after Przemysław Czarnek’s likely departure from the Ministry of Education and Science.
Rainbow Friday a cyclical nationwide event that aims to support young people from LGBTQ+ minority in Polish schools. This year’s event will take place on 27 October under the slogan "Safe Space" and is backed by the LGBTQ+ Friendly Schools Ranking initiative.
On the occasion of Rainbow Friday, we speak to Mateusz Trzaska, an 18-year-old high school student from Tarnobrzeg in the Podkarpacie region. Mateusz is an activist and campaigner for the GrowSPACE Foundation. He helped to create and actively runs, among other things, the LGBTQ+ Friendly Schools Ranking and Rainbow Friday initiatives.
Jakub Tyszkowski, #MyImpact: What is Rainbow Friday for you?
Mateusz Trzaska: Rainbow Friday is a celebration with LGBTQ+ students in mind, during which we show our presence. We belong to the school community and face issues that others do not experience at all or experience on a smaller scale. Rainbow Friday is to show that a different approach to education is possible and school safety is paramount.
The first Rainbow Friday took place in 2016. Did you participate in previous editions?
Unfortunately, in my school, as well as in many other smaller ones, Rainbow Friday never took place. The "chilling effect", for which Lex Czarnek and the policy of systemic vilification of LGBTQ+ people is responsible, played a big role in this. Institutional hatred led to school principals being afraid and either not organising Rainbow Friday or doing it quietly.
In this year's edition, we want to "unchill" schools from the state in which they have been stuck for the past several years. We want Rainbow Friday to become a permanent fixture in Polish education system. We want anti-discrimination education to finally appear in schools.
What’s your opinion on fact that the opposition won the majority of seats in the Sejm in the elections? Przemyslaw Czarnek's reign as head of the Ministry of Education and Science will most likely come to an end.
I feel very hopeful. I am in a secondary school graduation class and will probably not experience the change in the system. On the other hand, future generations, including my sister who is starting school now, will get a chance to experience normal schooling. One that is not filled with fear and indoctrination, but constituting things that are really needed. Including anti-discrimination education.
What changes are you hoping for now?
The most important thing is for schools to be able to implement pro-student initiatives such as Rainbow Friday. No more bullying. It is time to remove indoctrination from education. I believe it will be possible to introduce anti-discrimination education and appropriate psychological prevention for students.
Psychologists must appear in schools on a larger scale. As the GrowSPACE Foundation, we conducted a study on access to psychologists in Polish schools. In the region of Podkarpacie where I live, the situation is the worst. In primary and secondary schools, the shortage of staff reaches 46 per cent. If only primary schools are considered, the shortage exceeds 50 per cent.
Previous editions of Rainbow Friday have been targeted by Minister Czarnek and conservative organisations like Ordo Iuris. Are you worried it will repeat this year?
This year we want to "unchill" schools from what Przemysław Czarnek did. We know we will succeed, as evidenced by the one hundred schools where Rainbow Friday will take place. The change is happening as we speak.
This year we are running Rainbow Friday on a different basis. We want as many people as possible to participate in this celebration. Not only from Warsaw, but also from smaller towns. Everyone should have the right to participate in Rainbow Friday.
How is this year's edition different from previous ones?
Students have a lot of freedom to choose a form of Rainbow Friday that make them feel safe and comfortable with. This year we are launching a volunteer network. We will provide its members with substantial support for the organisation of Rainbow Friday in schools. We will send stickers, posters or photo frames that people can use during a Rainbow Friday at their school. In addition, we encourage people to enter a competition for a celebration-themed photo. You can follow the competition on our Instagram @teczowypiatek.
We have gathered more than one hundred people from one hundred schools where Rainbow Friday will take place. The support group is us, the GrowSPACE Foundation team, who guide the volunteers through the process of organising the event as efficiently and safely as possible.
What made you become an activist?
My beginnings as an activist are related to my activities in a student government, then I co-founded several different projects and that's how I ended up at the GrowSPACE Foundation. I have always been touched by the fact that LGBTQ+ people are discriminated against, because I myself am a gay person from a small town in Podkarpacie and I know that I want change.
I co-founded the LGBTQ+ Friendly Schools Ranking initiative. Now we are organising Rainbow Fridays. This makes me believe that things can be different. I know what Polish education system or Poland in general should look like.
Is awareness of LGBTQ+ people changing in Poland? Reports about discrimination against non-heteronormative people are still depressing.
Yes, the awareness of LGBTQ+ people in Polish schools is increasing. When creating the LGBTQ+ Friendly Schools Ranking, we asked students if they knew there were non-heteronormative people in their school. 93 per cent said "yes". 53 per cent of respondents noted that the situation for queer people is difficult or not good enough.
Discrimination and violence in Polish schools are present on a large scale. In my case, primary school was a bad, discriminatory place. In high school, the situation improved. Everything depends on the environment. It is necessary to fight the problem more effectively than before.
Where can a young LGBTQ+ person seek help when they feel discriminated against?
It should be a school psychologist, provided there is such a person and it is safe to talk to them. There is often at least one support person in a school, so it is worth talking to them and together try to counteract this discrimination. If we can't find help, we can always use helplines.
How big is the scale of this year's Rainbow Friday compared to previous years?
It is difficult to count how many schools took part in the initiative in previous years. It was grassroots, without a volunteer network. There was this "chilling effect" I have mentioned. Some schools organised Rainbow Friday without publicity or in a symbolic form, e.g. students were encouraged to wear a rainbow pin.
We are very pleased with this year's result. The one hundred schools where we know that Rainbow Friday will take place is a great success. We believe there will be even more in the future.
If you would like to join the volunteer network, you can find all the information on the Rainbow Friday Instagram. Write to us and we will guide you through the whole process and help you organise the event at your school.