On Monday 24th February, a local Polish voivodeship (the largest Polish administrative unit) postponed a planned vote on “pro-family” resolutions “against LGBTQ propaganda” to allow for more debate in committees.
Województwo Wielkopolskie (Greater Poland Voivodeship) is Poland’s 3rd most populous administrative unit, home to nearly 3.5 million people, and would have been the sixth voivodeship to adopt anti-LGBTQ measures. While the vote’s postponement may seem like a victory, it represents an alarming picture of anti-LGBTQ sentiments in Poland.
The adoption of anti-LGBTQ resolutions began in direct response to the LGBT+ Declaration, signed by Warsaw Mayor, Rafal Trzaskowski in February 2019, which promised to combat discrimination and provide support for vulnerable LGBTQ people.
The resolutions work by creating an ‘us vs. them’ situation, pitting the LGBTQ community against the “traditional family” as part of “the Polish nation and its age-old Christian values.” Of course, traditional here acts as a byword for heterosexual. In total, almost 100 local municipalities have adopted some form of resolutions since March 2019, making a third of Poland – an area greater in size than Hungary – an “LGBT-free zone.”
Some resolutions, such as those adopted by the town of Ryki in April 2019, are specifically worded to pronounce an area “free of gender ideology and LGBT.” Ryki’s declarations demonize rights-groups as “homopropaganda” and promise to “defend children, youth, families and Polish schools from sexual depravity and indoctrination.” The resolutions officialize an agenda of dehumanization and social othering, dismissing non-heteronormative sexualities as “pathologies” and warning of “sexual criminality” and “the crisis of the family.” The LGBTQ community is set apart from Polish society, a fundamental expression of self becomes a depraved ideology to be contained.
Other municipalities have opted for more insidious wordings. The Municipal Charter of Family rights, milder and more vaguely worded, has been adopted by 34 municipalities. The charter promises the “promotion of good practices regarding family rights in business,” the “monitoring and enforcing of family rights” and creation of “family-friendly laws” which uphold the “rights of families in the social policy.” When we read family as a direct exclusion of the LGBTQ community and consider that each municipality controls school activities and the distribution of public funds, the extent of potential discrimination is revealed.
Human rights activist Jakub Gawron explained to Balkan Investigative Reporting Network how the charter’s “neutral language” is more dangerous than its explicit counterparts “which are not translatable into the language of local law.” Gawron identifies an attempt to “cease all anti-discrimination and pro-equality measures” and warns “such resolutions, combined with conformism, fear and lack of legal knowledge, can be an effective way of symbolically excluding non-heteronormative people from public space.”
The charter was formulated by Ordo Iuris, a prominent Warsaw-based legal conservative group. A 2018 report by Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) revealed Ordo Iuris as one of many groups implicated in a growing network which shares funding across borders in pursuit of an ultra-conservative alliance across Europe. The group was invited to summits by another group – Agenda Europe – whose manifesto claims it “perfectly legitimate to strive for legislation that criminalizes abortion, euthanasia or sodomy.” Other groups implicated include the Evangelical Christian organization Alliance Defending Freedom (AFD), who contributed $8.4m to right-wing campaigns across Europe from 2013-2018. AFD has close links to the DeVos and Prince families, who in turn are closely linked to Trump’s White House and controversial U.S. private security firm Blackwater. Many other groups, including Russian oligarchs tied to the Kremlin, were also implicated.
Our current political landscape is defined by rapid change, generation-gap gulfs and novel instabilities. Shifting values and multiculturalism spurred by globalization leave many voters feeling alienated, while inequality and the disassembly of support systems leave others desperate and disenfranchised. This disaffection is easily courted by populist, right-wing governments (supported by networks like those above) who use vague promises of a return to traditional values to establish a scapegoat to unite against.
Poland’s governing Law and Justice (PiS) party are a prime example. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, party leader, prefigured the rhetoric of these resolutions with her anti-LGBTQ “Hands off our children!” election campaign. Peak growths in the number of resolutions adopted also coincide with the May-June and September-October election campaigns. Furthermore, Balkan Insight reports that nearly 60% of local councillors supporting the resolutions are PiS members.
In 2019, Sebastian Lukaszewicz – a PiS councillor for Bialystok – promoted a violent counter-protest on Twitter which lead to pride-goers being confronted by hundreds of protesters performing homophobic chants, burning pride flags and hurling projectiles. Police were forced to fire teargas and make 77 arrests. Following the violence, Education Minister Dariusz Piontkowski – also a PiS lawmaker – made the following statement: “the equality parades are causing an enormous resistance. Because of that, it is worth deciding whether in future such parades should be organized at all.” Attacks on pride events come together with tight education controls and limits on discourse in social institutions to create a dangerous suppression of LGBTQ voices.
It is important to remember that Poland’s problem is not a national one, but instead represents a single move in a larger right-wing push which is globally coordinated and funded. As such, it is vital that the international community come together to condemn the actions of states like Poland while also raising awareness and showing solidarity with LGBTQ rights. In an interconnected world, any step back for a marginalized community represents a step forward by an organized, authoritarian aggressor.