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Poland’s ‘LGBT-free zones’ provoke outcry in Europe

Updated: Sep 26, 2020

Shramidha Srivastava

21st September 2020

A conservative newspaper launched a campaign distributing ‘LGBT-free zone’ stickers in Poland. (Source: International Observatory of Human Rights)

On September 16, Ursula Von Der Leyen— the head of the European Commission, in her annual policy speech to the European Union (EU), criticised the advent of so-called ‘LGBT-free zones’ in Poland and termed them as “humanity free zones.” Ursula’s remarks come in retaliation to many towns and municipalities in Poland adopting resolutions ‘against LGBT propaganda’, creating hostile living spaces for queer people called ‘LGBT-free zones’, giving rise to a heated uproar in the European Union.

Last month, to counter anti-LGBT sentiments, the EU cut off funding for six such towns in Poland. But the Polish government countered it when its justice minister announced financial support to those towns. The European Commissioner for Equality, Hellen Dalli, wrote on Twitter, “EU values and fundamental rights must be respected by the Member States and state authorities.” In addition, several European cities have decided to discontinue their partnerships with the Polish municipalities in question.

These ‘zones’, as claimed by the Parliament of EU, are a serious threat to the LGBT Community in Poland, highlighting attacks and bans on Pride marches and similar events. In a motion carried out during December 2019, the EU Parliament voted (by a margin of 356 votes) in favour of condemning more than 80 LGBT-free zones in Poland. However, 27 EU affairs ministers of the bloc are yet to discuss the matter again in Brussels on the coming Tuesday.

The act of declaring these ‘discriminatory’ zones also invited international outrage, risking Poland’s foreign agreements and diplomacy. The Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide, announced that the Polish municipalities associated with the ‘LGBT-free zones’ would be denied the European Economic Area (EEA) and Norway Grants.

There has been a steady increase of acts and rhetoric against the LGBT community in Poland, with the nationalism and conservative sentiment on the rise. The right-wing newspaper, Gazeta Polska, issued ‘LGBT-free zone’ or ‘anti-LGBT’ stickers in July 2019. Furthermore, Marek Jedraszewski, an archbishop, made a mention that a ‘rainbow plague’ seeks to ‘control’ the population.

Hundreds of protesters within the community gathered for the ‘Campaign against Homophobia’ in different regions of the nation. Even amidst the present pandemic, the protesters continued their dissent. In April, they began handing out rainbow facemasks as a direct protest of what they labelled as ‘homophobic zones.’

President Andrej Duda, an ally of the ruling nationalist Law and Justice Party (PiS), swearing-in for his second term in office, was the straw that broke the camel’s back after he narrowly defeated challenger Rafal Trzaskowski. Duda has frequently used inflammatory, homophobic language against the LGBT community, according to BBC. During his presidential campaign, he said, “The LGBT movement is more destructive than communism.”

The rise of PiS, and their denouncement of the ‘LGBT+’ ideology as an allegedly foreign import that the Polish nation and its age-old Christian values, coincides with Polish gminas (municipalities), powiats (counties), and voivodeships (provinces) adopting these non-binding resolutions in early 2019.

As reported by the Guardian, this was in retaliation to a liberal mayor from Warsaw— Rafal Trzaskowski signing a declaration supporting LGBTQ rights and integrating LGBT issues into the Warsaw school system sex education curricula, back in February 2019. This was severely criticised by PiS leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who believed the initiative to be an ‘attack on families’ that could cause ‘sexualisation’ of kids. 

Sources: The New European, International Observatory of Human Rights, BBC, The Guardian

Edited by Mridula Kumar

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