The European Union’s (EU) recent punitive action against six self-proclaimed Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ)-Free Polish towns will likely continue to strain relations between the EU and Poland. The formal action is highly likely to exacerbate rising anti-LGBTQ sentiment within Poland and worsen the threat environment for LGBTQ persons, particularly in existing LGBT-Free Zones.
Earlier this month, the EU and its executive branch, the European Commission, have decided to withhold funding to and “twinning” capabilities for six “LGBT-Free” Polish towns, marking the first legal consequence after the EU’s formal warning earlier this year. EU authorities and their European Commission counterparts have justified the sanction as a response to rising anti-LGBTQ sentiment in the country, citing the alleged violation of human rights and discrimination of LGBTQ persons. Polish politicians and media specifically use the term LGBT, as opposed to LGBTQ or other variations of the abbreviation; however, the legislation and implications relate to the greater community. The monetary support is upwards of hundreds of thousands of euros and the inability to twin or partner with another European city literally and symbolically inhibits the Polish towns from cooperating with other EU member cities.
Conservative leaders in the country denounced the decision, including the current Polish president, asserting that the EU was pushing its LGBTQ agenda on its members. President Duda has historically criticized LGBTQ rhetoric, continuously asserting that non-heteronormative families and LGBTQ values pose a threat to Polish traditionalism. Nonetheless, the EU Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, cited both the overt declaration of LGBT-Free Zones and the more subtle “family rights” resolutions as ways in which these areas have facilitated anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and resulted in the inequality of Polish citizens.
Underlying Issues between Poland and the EU
The action comes as part of a greater dispute between Poland and the EU amid allegations of the former not upholding the EU’s standards concerning human rights and democratic integrity. In response to local Polish authorities’ LGBT-Free declaration earlier this year, the European Commission issued a formal letter to local leadership stating that such a distinction violates the Treaty on European Union and can result in legal action and the withholding of funds. The letter cited the treaty’s articles guaranteeing respect, freedom, and equality, as well as the member states’ duty to fight discrimination. In addition to alleged human rights violations, EU authorities have also voiced concerns regarding freedom of speech and the upholding of democratic values in Poland.
Poland’s LGBT-Free Zones
Currently, a total of 100 local governments, about one-third of Poland’s territory, have declared themselves LGBT-Free. Although varying levels of overt anti-LGBTQ and homophobic legislation exist, the majority of anti-LGBTQ resolutions take form as “pro-family” legislation designed to defend the perception of traditional families and prevent introducing sexual topics to children at a young age. In 2019, conservative NGO Ordo Iuris compiled the Municipal Charter of Family Rights. The charter serves as a framework for local authorities to build their own resolutions, such as suggesting the appointment of a “family rights ombudsman.” The ombudsman would oversee school curriculum and government projects and ensure the protection of traditional family rights from LGBTQ influence. Polish advocacy groups, as well as the EU, cite both overt heteronormative policy and pro-family legislation as facilitators for discrimination against LGBTQ persons and their families.
Current and Future Climate for Members of the Polish LGBTQ Community
The threat environment will likely worsen for LGBTQ persons, especially in the existing LGBT-Free zones and other predominantly conservative or traditional areas in Poland. Currently, homosexuality is legal, and there are no legal consequences for being an LGBTQ individual in Poland. However, the subject of protections against discrimination, adoption rights, access to government funding, LGBTQ rhetoric in schools, and same-sex marriage remain controversial topics. In its 2020 survey, the European chapter of the advocacy group International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA) published that Poland ranked the worst in Europe for LGBTQ rights. The survey considers the legal environment and social attitudes of each country and compares them to one another, with Poland ranking last. The subject of LGBTQ rights has persisted as a highly controversial topic in Poland, particularly since early 2019; in February 2019, Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski proposed the LGBT Charter, which sought to support those in the community and other vulnerable populations. Conservative authorities, including those belonging to the governing Law and Justice party (PiS), immediately began introducing resolutions positioned to protect the “traditional” Polish family and its values within their municipalities, therefore establishing the LGBT-Free Zones. In late July, two Polish courts ruled that two of the LGBT-Free Zones were unconstitutional, citing that anti-LGBT ideology directly affects the LGBTQ community and therefore leads to discrimination. The local authorities are still able to appeal the rulings, while other LGBT-Free Zones remain.
Despite conservative politicians’ efforts to ban Pride parades and symbols in Poland, Pride events have continued. However, such events sometimes result in physical violence, with incidents as recent as Aug. 8. Known anti-LGBTQ spokesperson and leader of the PiS, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has condemned the rainbow flag and claimed that homosexuality poses a significant threat to the Polish identity. LGBTQ rights remain a controversial political topic, and Polish LGBTQ advocacy groups cited that the anti-LGBTQ sentiment coincided with the European and national parliamentary elections in 2019. On Aug. 8, pro-LGBTQ protesters denounced the court decision to arrest and detain LGBTQ activist and member of the Stop Bzdurom civil rights group, Małgorzata Szutowicz, or “Margo,” who was accused of hanging Pride flags on statues in Warsaw and vandalizing a Pro-Right to Life Foundation campaigner’s vehicle. Hundreds of protesters gathered in what was declared an “unofficial Pride parade.” The incident began to escalate as protesters sought to prevent Margo’s arrest, finally resulting in a clash with Warsaw police forces and 48 arrests. The Bialystok Pride parade in June 2019 resulted in counterdemonstrators attacking the marchers, leading to clashes between protesters, and eventually police intervention.
International Stances on Poland’s LGBTQ Position
Tension within Poland’s leadership, as well as strife with the EU and other world powers is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, especially considering President Duda’s reelection. Duda and other anti-LGBTQ politicians assert that the community’s agenda is an infiltration from Western ideology and a threat to Polish values, grouping it with Soviet Union-era communism, in order to boost nationalism and denounce involvement from other nations. The subject of alleged human rights violations and anti-LGBTQ sentiment in Poland has also created strain with nearby countries and other European powers. The French region Loiret, including the city Saint-Jean-de-Braye, has suspended cooperation with the proclaimed Polish LGBT-Free zones. Additionally, primarily Polish expatriates in the UK held solidarity protests on Aug. 13 to support the Polish LGBTQ community and its rights.
Poland minister of justice Zbigniew Ziobro announced that the country’s federal government would supplant the EU’s refused funding. Ziobro vowed approximately EUR 50,000 (USD 59,200) to one of the rejected towns, Tuchów, justifying the move as supporting pro-family ideology and “fights against the imposed ideology of LGBT and gender, which is being pushed by the European Commission.” In addition to the monetary support, the minister illustrated the administration’s plans of determining the other denied towns and offering support.
What to Expect in the Near-Term
The LGBTQ community and its rights in Poland are almost certain to remain a highly controversial topic, both domestically within Poland and internationally between Polish politicians and EU authorities. Subsequently, the threat environment for LGBTQ persons in Poland will likely worsen as tensions within the country increase, especially in preexisting LGBT-Free Zones.
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