WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A group of gay Polish football fans has called on the organizers of the 2012 European Championship to set aside separate seating in the stands for gay men and lesbians to protect them from possible aggression.
But other gay rights activists worry that separate seating would only single gay fans out and put them at even greater risk.
Teczowa Trybuna 2012, or Rainbow Stand 2012, calls itself the first-ever gay fan club for Poland's national team. It says on its website that its members fear aggression from other fans and want to feel safe during the tournament in Poland and neighboring Ukraine.
"During trips to matches of our beloved clubs ... we unfortunately are often faced with unpleasantness, harassment and violence from the 'real' fans," it said. "We dream of being able to relax in the stands — we can't imagine not being at the Euro 2012 matches, which will be held in our country!"
Polish football matches sometimes see violent attacks and fights involving hooligans.
Homophobia also remains deeply embedded in Poland because of the legacy of communism — which treated homosexuality as a taboo — and the teachings of the church in the predominantly Roman Catholic country.
One match venue, the city of Gdansk, rejected the group's call for separate seating, saying it would only further stigmatize gays. And some gay rights groups are distancing themselves from the appeal.
Gregory Czarnecki of the Campaign Against Homophobia, a leading gay rights group in Warsaw, said he believes that very few gays and lesbians would willingly choose separate seating.
"I understand their initiative, and what they are trying to do," Czarnecki told The Associated Press.
"But the message might be counterproductive in Poland," he said. "I don't think many people would be brave enough to not only come out, but also to sit in this section."