Gay Polish football fans have asked for separate seating at the 2012 European Championships to protect them from harassment and violence.

A group of fans made the request to the tournament organisers on behalf of gays and lesbians.

However, gay rights activists have distanced themselves from the appeal and argue that rather than protect homosexuals, the proposal would serve to single them out at football matches and put them at greater risk.

Teczowa Trybuna 2012, or Rainbow Stand 2012, calls itself the first gay fan club for Poland’s national football team. It says on its website that its members fear aggression from other fans and want to feel safe during the championship in Poland and neighbouring 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 are often the scene of 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.

The city of Gdansk, which will host one football match, has rejected the group’s call for separate seating, saying it would stigmatise gays.

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.”