Katarzyna Skorupa is one of Poland’s most well-known volleyball players. She has represented Poland in various European championships and even at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. At the height of her career, she was recognized as the Polish Cup’s best quarterback in 2008, 2009, and 2011 as well as named MVP. She is still active in her career, most currently as a member of the Italian Volleyball Club Casalmaggiore.

While she is well recognized for her accomplishments, people in Poland didn’t really notice her until a picture of her kissing another woman was published in the Italian magazine, La Gazzetta dello Sport.” While there were rumors and speculation regarding Skorupa’s sexual orientation, it was the first time that Skorupa herself has confirmed; she is lesbian. In an interview with Szymon Krawic of WPROST, a Polish magazine, Skorupa shared her story…

Szymon Krawiec- The Italian daily “La Gazzetta dello Sport” published a photo a couple of months ago, during which you kissed a friend from a former team.

Katarzyna Skorupa- Yes, this is a famous photo that Poland talked about. After all, it was a normal behavior when you want to kiss your loved one after the match. If I kissed a man then, no one would pay attention to it. And so, a big scandal broke out that a woman kissed a woman.

SK- The photo went to the media, and you never confirmed whether you are a lesbian or not.

KS– Yes, I am and I do not intend to make a secret of it. I want to be myself, I want to be happy and I will not give it up just for someone’s convenience.

SK- Why did not you say that before?

KS- I am not a person who makes a lot of noise around me. I live by my calm rhythm.

SK- You did not do coming-out either.

KS- I did not have a chance. Nobody ever asked about it. After all, before this famous photo I had other partners. For me, you did not have to make a big come-out. Everything came out spontaneously and naturally. In addition, homosexuality is an uncomfortable topic in Poland.

SK- Why?

KS- Because we live in a specific society. In my opinion, sport should be a study for the youth, that no matter what skin color you have, what religion or orientation you are, we are all the same, we are people. We train to win. Unfortunately, in sport, not everyone is equal. I can not say that there is no discrimination in it, because it is.

Living in Italy now, Skorupa is in a better place to publicly disclose her sexual orientation. Italy is considerably friendlier to LGBT people, especially when compared to Poland where 70% of LGBT people have faced violence as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Skorupa shared that she has been discriminated before herself, but did not want to reveal to the extent she has been discriminated against out of fear the potential consequences. However, she did share about the general consequences of being an openly lesbian player in Poland…

SK- Are you the only volleyball-lesbian in Poland?

KS- Certainly not. I know a lot of girls who are homosexual, but they will not admit it. They do not decide to talk about it because of discrimination. They know that then there will be unpleasant consequences, so they assume that it is better not to say something. I do not criticize it because I know that feeling. This is the individual case of each person.

SK- What are the unpleasant consequences?

KS- Financial and image losses means that the sponsor will withdraw and will eventually throw you out of the club. I know people who cannot say about their homosexuality because they are afraid of losing their place in their national representations. There is an agent in volleyball who announced that he would prepare a list of lesbians and bisexuals. I ask “for what purpose?!” It is pathology. Discrimination, after all, does not only include athletes, but also ordinary people. I have a friend who works in a corporation and he has a homophobic boss, he hides his orientation, because if the boss found out, he would let her go.

Skorupa’s story is only one of many stories of hate and discrimination that LGBT people are facing in Poland and athletes speaking up have the potential to help change the conversation.

By Dirk Smith

(Interview was translated from Polish and edited for clarity)