A culture war raging within Poland threatens to isolate the country from the rest of Europe.
For the past year, Poland has seen a dramatic rise in the number of towns and municipalities declaring themselves “LGBT-free zones.” The resolutions are not legally binding, as same-sex couples are protected under Polish law. But with a third of the country now seemingly anti-LGBTQ2, the disconnect is growing between religious conservatives and social liberals.
At a recent All-Polish Youth Movement meeting, attendees told Getty News that it was “unnatural to be LGBT” according to their faith and traditions.
READ MORE: (Aug. 8, 2020) Protests erupt across Poland against country’s government’s anti-LGBTQ2 stance
“The basic idea is that somehow LGBT people represent a threat to a kind of traditional values or particular forms of the family,” says Graeme Reid of Human Rights Watch. “And in the way in which Polish nationalism presents itself these days, it’s seen as a kind of threat to the nation.”
Faced with dwindling support for his re-election campaign in June, Polish President Andrzej Duda signed a “family charter” which included pledges to prevent same-sex couples from marrying or adopting children and a ban on teaching LGBTQ2 issues in schools.
Duda also hit on a sensitive subject for most Poles when he denounced the LGBTQ2 rights movement as an “ideology worse than communism.”
“I think the best way to understand it is really as a way of scapegoating a vulnerable minority in order to advance the political agenda,“ Reid says. “And that political agenda is one that’s undermining democracy in Poland. The LGBT ideologies zones are a distraction, but they are a distraction that’s very damaging to a group of people who are particularly vulnerable.”
The LGBTQ2 community has fought back with rallies and they’ve appealed for help from the international community, but there’s only so much that can be done. U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden publicly condemned the situation and the European Union denounced the anti-LGBTQ2 resolutions as “humanity-free zones” and cut off funding to several towns. Duda’s government countered by not only making up the difference but also by giving those towns three times what they would have received from the EU.
During Warsaw Pride, Canada was among a group of 40 countries that signed a letter supporting the LGBTQ2 movement and some European towns have suspended their relationships with Polish sister cities that have adopted anti-LGBTQ2 bills.
Canada has four municipalities that are twinned with Polish towns — Brantford, Chatham-Kent, Cape Breton and Windsor — but none of their Polish twin cities has passed the anti-LGBTQ2 bill. The issue was put before Windsor’s International Relations Committee in May. Coun. Fred Francis says councillors were relieved when their counterparts in Poland said Lublin town council was a firm supporter of LGBTQ2 rights.
READ MORE: (July 13, 2020) Polish president elected to 2nd term after harsh campaign
Poland decriminalized relations between same-sex couples in 1932 but is known for having the weakest gay rights in Europe with no protection from hate speech and hate crimes.
“I would say the situation in Poland is very concerning,” says Kimahli Powell of the Rainbow Railroad. “I would say that people are frightened. I would say that people are also being vigilant, as they always are, and advocating against these zones.”
The Rainbow Railroad helps LGBTQ2 people escape persecution and violence. Every year, it receives over 3,000 requests for help. Powell says Rainbow Railward is watching the situation in Poland closely.
“That’s when they usually come to us for help — when essentially folks are criminalized within their towns and local communities and cannot rely on any sort of protection from the state.”