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EU: fight the oppression of LGBTQ people in Poland

August 24th, 2020
topic:LGBT Rights
by:Yair Oded
located in:Poland
tags:Change.org, European Commission, European Parliament, European Union, homophobia, LGBTQ Rights, petition, Poland, police brutality

Since October 2018, an anti-LGBTQ campaign has been gaining steam in Poland, with government officials, religious leaders, and public figures openly fanning the flames of hate and sanctioning the oppression of Poland’s queer population.

Criticism and condemnations emanating from prominent EU establishments have been ineffective thus far in pressuring Poland to cease its attacks on the LGBTQ community. Over the past few months, the Polish government has only escalated its campaign of hate by passing laws restricting the rights and freedoms of queer people and orchestrating violent police crackdowns on LGBTQ protesters and activists. 

A Change.org petition now calls on Ursula Von Der Leyen, president of the European commission, as well as other major EU institutions such as the European Parliament, to take meaningful action to stop the human rights violations taking place in Poland and pressure its government to pass laws that protect the safety and liberties of queer people. 

A history of repression

The situation for LGBTQ people has always been precarious in conservative and religious Poland. But things took a turn for the worse upon the rise of the populist right wing party Law and Justice, which campaigned on blunt anti-queer rhetoric and repeatedly denounced the LGBTQ community as a menace to religious freedom and traditional family values. 

With President Andreji Duda at the helm, socio-political and cultural figures in Poland espoused a markedly more hateful approach toward queer people. Denunciations, threats, and verbal abuse against the LGBTQ community began to emanate from the political establishment and both religious and secular leaders. A growing number of media outlets have also become promulgators of anti-queer sentiments. 

A third of Poland becomes an “LGBT free zone”

Emboldened by the atmosphere of repression and hate, over 100 local governments in Poland adopted noxious resolutions designating them as so called “LGBT free zones,” in which it is prohibited to promote queer “ideology” and advocate for LGBTQ rights. 

The institution of “LGBT free zones” in Poland has generated some backlash from certain European bodies and public figures. In December 2019, the European Parliament passed a resolution harshly condemning the Polish municipalities declaring themselves as “LGBT free” and ordered the European Commission to ascertain that funds aren’t funnelled “for discriminatory purposes”. 

In late spring 2020, the European Commission sent a letter to the heads of five Polish provinces, demanding an explanation for the anti-queer resolutions they adopted and reminding them that discriminatory actions on their part could result in the withholding of funds. “Twinning programme” grants were also denied to several cities across Poland for their espousal of the “LGBT free” resolutions. 

Alas, authorities in Poland remained largely unfazed. As seen in the Atlas of Hate, an interactive map prepared by Polish activists, about a third of Poland (a territory larger than the size of Hungary) is currently officially within the “LGBT free zone.” 

Violence, threats, and police brutality

The verbal attacks by politicians and prominent figures against the LGBTQ community on national media outlets have precipitated a wave of violence against queer people and inspired an atmosphere of fear. Activists who have been protesting against this swelling wave of hate have been labelled lawless hooligans by the government and violently attacked by police forces. 

On 14 July, Polish LGBTQ activist Margot Szutowicz, member of the Stop Bzdurom (Stop Nonsense) campaign, had been arrested for defacing a truck that used loud speakers to spread anti-queer propaganda. Szutowicz was arrested again on 3rd August, along with several other activists, for hanging Pride flags on monuments across Warsaw.

Szutowicz is facing charges of participating in a riot, property damage, and physical assault, for which she could face up to 7 years in jail. At the insistence of police prosecutors, Szutowicz will be subjected to a two-month pre-trial detention—a measure traditionally reserved for individuals suspected of posing an imminent threat to public safety.  

When, on 7th August, protesters attempted to block the van that was carrying Szutowicz from her place of arrest and demanded her immediate release, police forces staged a violent crackdown, throwing activists off of the van and onto the ground, and conducted dozens of arrests.

The barbaric display of police brutality in Warsaw drew criticism from some European leaders, including the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatovic, who tweeted, “I call for the immediate release of LGBT activist Margot from @stopbzdurom detained yesterday for blocking an anti-LGBT hate van & putting rainbow flags on #Warsaw monuments. Order to detain her for 2 months sends very chilling signal for #FreedomOfSpeech & #LGBT rights in #Poland.”

International action urgently needed

Live streamed videos and photos posted to social media by LGBTQ activists who were present at the site also helped shift some international attention to the events transpiring in Warsaw and rekindled a global discussion about the unbridled repression of queer rights in Poland. 

This, however, is far from sufficient. If continued unabated, the crackdown of Polish authorities on the LGBTQ community could result in repression on a scale unseen for years in the country.

International pressure, particularly but not exclusively from within the EU, must be consistently applied to ensure that the Polish government, as a member of the Union, abides by its human rights covenants and principles. 

“We demand the Polish Government to take action against homophobia and to pass laws that would protect LGBT people in schools, workplaces and the public and to abolish current homophobic and transphobic laws like the "LGBT-free zones" and the proposed "ban on propagating the LGBT ideology" which is a form of censorship similar to Russia's,” write the authors of the Change.org petition. “We also want to call the European Union to take action and to stop ignoring the violations of human rights happening in its member nation.”

Please take a moment to sign the petition and make your voice heard on the matter. With sentiments of homophobia and transphobia spreading like wildfire across the world, and anti-queer policies undermining the liberties of LGBTQ people and inspiring egregious bursts of violence against them, it is crucial for people around the globe to speak up and demand immediate justice. 

The marginalisation and oppression of any minority group guarantees, over time, the erosion of morality and liberty for the whole of society. 

Article written by:
yair oded profile
Yair Oded
Author, Project Editor, Contributing Editor
Poland
Criticism and condemnations emanating from prominent EU establishments have been ineffective thus far in pressuring Poland to cease its attacks on the LGBTQ community.
A Change.org petition now calls on Ursula Von Der Leyen, president of the European commission, to take meaningful action to stop the human rights violations taking place in Poland and pressure its government.
Live streamed videos and photos posted to social media by LGBTQ activists who were present at the site also helped shift some international attention to the events transpiring in Warsaw .