Diplomats from 50 countries signed an open letter Sunday calling on the Polish government to end discrimination in the country against sexual minorities. The letter expressed solidarity with Poland’s LGBT+ community while urging the Polish government to protect its citizens and give them the freedoms upheld by OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the European Union. This comes in response to intensifying hostilities shown against members of the LGBT+ community by conservative Poles fighting to stamp out what they call the “dangerous LGBT ideology.”
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), headed by Jarosław Kaczyński, has spoken in favor of “LGBT-free-zones” located in 100 towns and regions covering about a third of the country. Residents of these towns claim to fear that the country’s family rights and longstanding Christian tradition are under threat from “aggressive ideology promoting homosexuality.” Kaczyński has equated this “ideology” with nihilism.
Homophobic rhetoric is nothing new in the former Soviet bloc, whose ties to the Roman-Catholic church are some of Europe’s strongest. Tomasz Sakiewicz, a magazine editor based in Warsaw, equates LGBT+ people to the communist Soviets who controlled Poland in his youth. Both “ideologies” deny religion and discourage dissent, Sakiewicz says. While his claims lack justification, they nonetheless capture the spirit of a country shrouded in ignorance and denial. Prominent political and religious figures play to these fears with speeches about the “rainbow plague” ostensibly threatening their long-sought freedom.
The town of Swidnik is a small, regional community, and the first to adopt resolutions for “LGBT-free ideology.” Last week, gay activists in Swidnik took a stand, handing out multi-sprinkled donuts and “love is love” stickers. Not far from where they stood, a group of young men gathered, shouting, “Swidnik free of rainbow propaganda!” A testimony from one member of this group confirms the collective fear driving the discrimination. “They [LGBT+ people] are weakening the nation,” he says. “And that’s the goal of Poland’s enemies. Wars are no longer about tanks and missiles. You destroy a country by making chaos. And that is what these gays are trying to do.”
Poland reacted to the letter by denying all charges related to discrimination against LGBT+ people. Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki claimed that Poland does not need lessons in tolerance. “We are a nation that has learned such tolerance for centuries,” Morawiecki said, “and we have given many testimonies to the history of such tolerance.”
Early this month, in her first address to the European Union since becoming president of the European Commission last year, Ursula von der Leyen voiced her condemnation of Poland’s government for its treatment of LGBT+ communities. von der Leyen called the “LGBT free zones” “humanity-free zones,” which, she said, have no place in the E.U.
PiS policy changes which weakened the integrity of Poland’s independent judiciary have also worsened relations between Poland and the European Union, which has imposed financial sanctions in response to the country’s failures to follow rule of law. The E.U. has also cut funding to those regions that have declared themselves LGBT-free zones.
On Wednesday, a new report issued by the European Commission unveiled the ways some member states have failed to uphold their democratic commitments. The report included assessments of corruption, media freedom, justice, and the system of checks and balances. Polish leader Jarosław Kaczyński attacked the effort, claiming the report was biased and adding that his country would form its own international rule-of-law institute. Poland, along with Hungary, received the toughest opprobrium of any member state.
As we head into the eighth month of a global pandemic, we need to make addressing the needs of the vulnerable and marginalized a top priority. LGBT+ people experience higher rates of depression and suicidal ideation than straight and cisgender people do, especially when they are subjected to abuse and discrimination by virtue of who they are. COVID-19 has only heightened the danger. With no end to the coronavirus in sight, the E.U. and other international bodies can help by standing with and providing aid to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Poles. All the while, we must keep pressure on Poland to open its ears to its citizens’ calls for safety.
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