Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
According to the 2021 report of the International Lesbian, Gay, Trans and intersex association, the standing of LGBTQ+ rights in Poland is the worst across the European Union. As a person who has spent the majority of her life in Poland, I am not surprised by the results. Generally, the topic of gay relationships is a taboo in Poland, due to the traditional Catholicism that dominates its social discourse.
Poland decriminalised homosexual relationships in 1932, which was earlier than in other European countries, such as Britain in 1967 through the Sexual Offences Act. However, this does not change the fact that Poland’s constitution contains many legal limitations on recognizing same-sex couples, and marriage between two same sex partners is still illegal.
Yet this situation for the LGBTQ+ community has worsened since the rise of the right-wing conservative party PIS (Law and Justice). Since 2015, their time in power has been marked by undemocratic legislations that encroach on the basic human rights of vulnerable groups,
Current headlines surrounding the LGBTQ+ community is particularly attached to so called ‘LGBTQ+ free zones.’ These zones have rightfully raised concern among human rights activists, due to the fact this law provides legal cover for intolerance and hate.
But what exactly are these zones?
It is a declaration made by the municipal council and provinces to declare themselves free from the presence of the LGBTQ+ community. For them, this is a means of defending their ‘Polish-Catholic identity’. This identity has been entrenched within the fabric of polish society since the interwar years, and continues due to the enormous power given to Catholic institutions by the political representatives over the decades.
In other words, if you do not fit into their heteronormative narrative of Catholic identity, then you are not a citizen of Poland, but a criminal that offends ‘religious expressions and freedoms.’ The LGBTQ + community suffers greatly from such laws as they encourage others to be openly aggressive towards the community. Such open aggression is often displayed by so-called ‘pro-life’ vans, which ride around key polish cities and are plastered with homophobic messages.
This torment is also catalysed by the President himself; Andrzej Duda (also representative of the PIS Party) who, during his presidential campaign in 2020, stated that the LGBTQ+ community is not people but an ideology. Moreover, Duda’s presidential manifesto in 2019 outlined the introduction of so-called ‘Family Charter’ legislation. This charter proposes the prevention of same-sex marriage, the adoption of children by same-sex couples, and plans to disband sex education from the educational curriculum. The ban on sex education accordingly derives from the so-called logic that this type of subject influences children to be part of the LGBTQ+ community, and consequently leads to so-called overt ‘sexualisation’ and thus obliteration of ‘family values’. Just recently, the Polish government decided to discuss a bill ‘STOP LGBTQ+’ that would prohibit organisation of Pride events. Although the bill was not passed through parliament yet, such a situation causes great anxiety as the judiciary is undemocratically controlled by PIS, thus easily allowing the government to pass any proposed legislation.
Fortunately, this has not gone unchallenged. ‘The LGBTQ free zones’, have been condemned by the EU. The condemnation also comes in the form of hard power, as the EU who suspended its funding for the regions that establish ‘LGBTQ+ free zones.’ e. These results were successful with many regions withdrawing their plans for establishing these zones. Nevertheless, this change does not come from the change of attitude but rather from economic necessity, as the withdrawal of funds is a massive blow to a country’s economy which is already in an incredibly fragile state, especially due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The political climate in Poland towards the LGBTQ+ community is just a mere reflection of what happens when a religious institution continues to possess too much power and is not separated from politics. The homophobic attitude caused by Poland’s conservative values and fuelled by the Catholic Church have always been here. This time, however, active measures had been taken to display such viewpoints. It is also part of the rise of the right-wing populist rhetoric that dominates the political discourse in Europe, which searches for scapegoats for country’s socio-economic decline. Consequently, stirring more hatred rather than indicating the actual roots of the problem.
The current situation shows that the EU continues its pressure and induces its hard power by withholding economic aids to Poland. Will the Polish government still continue its draconian policies of ‘LGBTQ+ free zones’ even though it damages its country’s economic development? The answer is an ambiguous one, but continuing to putting international pressure on the Polish authorities and supporting the necessary domestic campaign groups.