Author: Jade MacEwan
Fifty ambassadors from various countries around the globe, as well as representatives of international organisations, recently signed a letter expressing their support for LGBT+ people in Poland. It was published as an open letter on 27 September and presented by the Belgian, Danish and UK ambassadors to the organisers of the Polish Equality Parade and a representative of the Polish government on the 9 October. The letter acknowledged the efforts to raise public awareness by the organisers and participants of equality parades which were planned to take place across Poland, although most parades had to be cancelled this year due to the Covid-19 crisis. It pointed out that governments in EU states are obliged “to protect all citizens from violence and discrimination and to ensure they enjoy equal opportunities” and that LGBT+ people are entitled to the full enjoyment of fundamental human rights (GOV.UK, 2020).
Polish leaders rejected the letter signed by the ambassadors, stating that they do not agree that LGBT+ people are deprived of human rights or respect in Poland. Mateusz Morawiecki, the Prime Minister of Poland, responded to the letter by saying, “dear Ambassadors, I can only tell you that tolerance is in Poles’ DNA. Nobody needs to teach us tolerance”. In response to a tweet from the US Ambassador Georgette Mosbacher, which stated that “human rights are not an ideology – they are universal”, the deputy head of the ruling Law and Justice Party, Joachim Brudzinski, tweeted that he expected another letter in defence of persecuted and “murdered” Christians. However, there are no instances of persecution of Christians in Poland, which is a predominantly Catholic state, and therefore it was not clear what Brudzinski meant by this statement (NBC News, 2020). In fact, the law favours the Catholic church in Poland, which is openly against better rights for LGBT+ people. At the Polish Episcopal Conference in August, Catholic bishops called for “conversion therapy clinics” to be opened in Poland, stating that they wanted “to help people regain their sexual health and natural sexual orientation” (Pink News, September 2020).
The bishops understood and admitted that such “conversion therapy clinics” go against scientific evidence, but insisted that they could testify that “different sexuality wasn’t some kind irrevocable judgment or irretrievable coding, but a symptom of wounds on various levels of their personality”. This is just one of many attacks on LGBT+ people by the Catholic church (Pink News, September 2020). Filmmaker and activist couple Jakub and David said in an interview with Polish media that “Polish bishops called us paedophiles, they say that we are a disease and even COVID-19 is a punishment for the world for LGBT+ sins.” In an attempt to bring awareness to the situation facing LGBT+ people in Poland, Jakub and David travelled to the Vatican in August, where they held out a huge rainbow flag in front of Pope Francis, with the word “help” written on it. They said that the actions of the Polish bishops are contrary to Pope Francis’s teaching and that Pope Francis says that “it doesn’t matter that you are gay, God loves you as you are.” However, the Pope has not made any significant changes to Catholic policy with regard to LGBT+ people, although he is more welcoming towards LGBT+ people than previous popes (Pink News, August 2020).
A third of Poland continues to be covered by so-called “LGBT-free zones”, in which local municipalities have passed resolutions claiming to be free of so-called “LGBT ideology” or resolutions which promote heterosexual marriage and heterosexual families, leading to condemnation from the European Union and termination of town twinning schemes. President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has publicly condemned Poland for its discrimination towards LGBT+ people, while the European Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, has withdrawn funding from some Polish regions and has rejected town-twinning applications (CNN, 2020). Existing twinning schemes with Polish towns in “LGBT-free zones” are also being suspended. The latest town to end their twinning relationship was Fermoy in Cork, Ireland, which was twinned with Nowa Dęba in south-east Poland. The chair of Cork East Social Democrats, Saoirse Mackin, welcomed the decision, stating that “in Ireland, we have seen real progress on social issues in recent years including marriage equality. Therefore, as a society, we are empowered to take a firm stance against the discrimination and erasure of the LGBT+ community.” (Euro News, 2020).
The Polish government is refusing to back down on its anti-LGBT stance. In July, the EU signed off an economic recovery plan to help the 27 member states recover from the current recession caused by the Covid-19 crisis, but Poland has threatened to veto the recovery plan due to a condition which links payments from the plan to adherence to the EU standard of democratic rights and freedoms. In an interview with Polish daily Gazeta Polska Codziennie, Deputy Prime Minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski said that “there will be a veto. If the threats and blackmail are maintained then we will firmly defend Poland’s vital interest.” (Thomas Reuters Foundation, 2020).
While these battles continue between the Polish leaders and global leaders who condemn Poland’s treatment of LGBT+ people, those LGBT+ individuals living in hostile areas in Poland continue to suffer discrimination and live in fear on a daily basis. Karolina Duzniak, who lives in Kozy, a small village in an “LGBT-free zone”, told CNN that “I’m more stressed. For the first time in my life I’m very, very scared.” She says that it is impossible for her to hold hands with her girlfriend in public, and her mother calls or texts her constantly, worried about her safety. Tomek Zuber, a bisexual man who lives in another town in the same “LGBT-free zone”, says that the “LGBT-free” resolutions have encouraged people living in these zones to be more actively and openly against LGBT+ people. Zuber told CNN that he recently heard a lady say that she was “disgusted by his rainbow tote bag” and that the level of fear for LGBT+ people had increased (CNN, 2020).
Many Polish LGBT+ people feel forced to either stay quiet and hide their identities or to leave the country. But others are also standing up to the homophobic and transphobic laws and attitudes. As Duzniak’s girlfriend Ola Głowacka says, young LGBT+ people cannot simply leave their towns and villages no matter how bad the rhetoric against LGBT+ people becomes, and activists such as herself “have a job to do here”(CNN, 2020).
Links to resources
Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. (September 28, 2020). 50 Ambassadors sign letter supporting LGBT rights in Poland. GOV.UK. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/50-ambassadors-sign-letter-supporting-lgbt-rights-in-poland
Holroyd, M. (October 17, 2020). Irish town terminates twinning agreement with Poland over ‘LGBT-free’ zones. Euro News. https://www.euronews.com/2020/10/16/irish-town-terminates-twinning-agreement-with-poland-over-lgbt-free-zones
Picheta, R. and Kottasová, I. (October, 2020). ‘You don’t belong here’. In Poland’s ‘LGBT-free zones,’ existing is an act of defiance. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2020/10/world/lgbt-free-poland-intl-scli-cnnphotos/index.html
Reuters. (October 13, 2020). Polish leader threatens to veto EU post-COVID recovery plan over LGBT+ issues. Thomas Reuters Foundation. https://news.trust.org/item/20201013070301-rlzya/
The Associated Press. (September 28, 2020). Ambassadors appeal for acceptance of LGBTQ people in Poland. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/ambassadors-appeal-acceptance-lgbtq-people-poland-n1241239
Wakefield, L. (September 1, 2020). Polish bishops want to force queer people into conversion therapy camps to ‘regain their natural sexual orientation’. Pink News. https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2020/09/01/poland-conversion-therapy-catholic-episcopal-conference-andrzej-duda-lgbt/
Wakefield, L. (August 24, 2020). Polish gay couple travel to the Vatican to unfurl a giant Pride flag in front of Pope Francis, begging for ‘help’. Pink News. https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2020/08/24/vatican-poland-polish-gay-couple-pride-flag-lgbt-pope-jakub-david/