“Lgbt are allowed into these areas, but these declarations are setting the mood” says Sławomir Kokol, an Lgbt activist living in Poland’s Bielsko-Biała, a small southern town. He refers to the so-called Lgbt-free zones, spread over one third of Poland. “You can feel you are not welcome” continues Aleksandra Głowacka, another activist working with him. Since April 2019, more than 100 communities voted to introduce a “charter for the rights of the family”, allegedly protecting traditional family model and marriage but slyly discriminating against Lgbts.
After an ultra-conservative magazine, Gazeta Polska, distributed some stickers, showing a cross over a rainbow flag and the sentence “Lgbt free zone” in Polish, all the communities approving the family charter has been called like that. Some activists created a map, called “Atlas of hate”, to show the true impact on the country. This helped to pass a resolution by the Eurpean Parliament last December, strongly condemning these zones. “The map was a real game changer in order to spread awareness about the zones”.
“To explain you what this means, last year we wanted to organize an Lgbt event in a small town which passed this kind of charter. We were told that the community was not organizing any ideological events. Two months later, the mayor and all the authorities were following an homophobic event organized by public funds” says Magdalena Dropek, one of the most active Lgbt-activists in the country, that lives in Cracow, whose province became also an Lgbt-free zone last April. “It is unbelievable that still in the 21st century, in the middle of Europe, we have to feel symbolically discriminated just to be part of the Lgbt community”
The family charters have a symbolic meaning more than legal. In facts, as Dropek explains, “they are dangerous because they use a nice language but they set clear guidelines to the community about what can be and what cannot be done”. Also Kokol tells, an Lgtb-free zone does not mean that “you are going to go to jail for being homosexual or being and Lgbt activist. It is a tool given in the hands of someone that wants to discriminate against you. It makes you understand that the state is not anymore on your side”.
Adam Bodnar, Polish ombudsman, officially declared that these charters would be “against the law”. He went to the administrative local courts to complain. In his opinion “local communities have no legal provision to make statemetns like that. It constitutes a form of indirect discrimination. It’s a hidden message that you are against a certain group of people. The government would have the means to stop the spread of these charters but they never did.
Behind the spread of these charters, there are several conservative organization and Ngos. In particular one institution of lawyers called Ordo Iuris, accused to receive dubious fundings from other countries to lobby against progressive policies like abortion, feminism and also Lgbt rights.
Tymoteusz Zych, director of the board of culture, denies all these accusation. He says that the institution defends the UN charter for the human rights signed in Geneva in 1949 and he strongly defends the family charters, saying that “there is no mention of Lgbts in the charters. We only think marriage should be promoted because it is discriminated in Polish law and we think that the best environment for children to be educated is the one in which a mother and a father are present. We have datas that shows how children educated in same-sex couples households have problem to find a job and to be successful in life”.
Ordo Iuris and other pro-family organizations are supporting these charters in order to prevent the spread of the so-called Lgbt ideology, a term that has been created in the country by politicians to define a specific number of “threats” that would undermine the traditional structure of the society. “Lgbt ideology aims to introduce a tipsy model of sexual education in schools and wants to restructure the family structure” continues Zych. This point of view has been spread firstly by populist politicians of the Law and Justice party (PiS): “they had to find a new threat to rule by fear. After the refugee wave, the Lgbt ideology became the new scapegoat” says Cezary Gawris, editor of the moderate Christian magazine Więz.
The introduction of the charters in facts, happened exactly as a reaction to the commitment by Warsaw’s mayor Rafał Trzaskowski, to implement a charter for the rights of Lgbt people in the capital in February 2019. This event, after the local election of 2018, was the turning point. “This charter, willing to promote rights for Lgbts and their protection, was also including the access to WHO standards sexual education. Right-wing Ngos started arguing against it, saying that this sexual education was the hidden promotion of an ideology that would transform society and children”. Kazimierz Przeszowski, director of research for the pro-family Centre for children and family , declared that “Lgbts are people, but their movements represent an ideology. The problem of this sexual education, promoted by the WHO, is that it is down only to one thing: pleasure” he stresses. He is proud that the charter has not been yet introduced. “We won a battle and today the charter has not been yet implemented”.
Marek Szolc, an Lgbt member of the Warsaw city council and one of the main drafter of this charter, confirms what Przeszowski says: “The city council thinks that it is not the right moment to implement it. It is still a mere commitment by the mayor. However, unexpected was the amount of fake news that the public medias and the government spread about this. They basically said that in Warsaw, children would have been taught how to masturbate at 4 years old and some politicians said it would go even to pedophilia. They, so to say, told people that it was the right thing to be against Lgbts”.
This chaotic mix of concepts that led to the pure scapegoating by politicians and conservative organization, together with the silent consent of the most conservatives of the Catholic church. The confusion starting, as Bodnar reckons, had as a consequence “the promotions in different local communities especially in eastern and southern Poland to adopt these family charters. The debate around sexual education was critical, because it allowed Ordo Iuris and PiS (Law and Justice party, with majority in the government and described as populist) to use the term Lgbt ideology, which nobody know what it exactly is”.
Huber Sobecki, Lgbt activist of the Warsaw-based Ngo “Love does not exclude” explains how Ordo Iuris and other organizations would operate on the field, in order to promote the charters: “they would send they experts to local communities to talk with officials and push them to vote, saying that otherwise Lgbt would come, threat your family and abuse of your children. They are very influential at high levels. They have their people in the supreme court and the government even”.
From all this situation, it is possible to understand the political struggle against the so-called Lgbt ideology, which PiS used more for political power rather than real homophobic sentiments, finding an “unexpected ally” as Gawris says: the church.
In facts, in a strongly conservative and catholic country like Poland, it is impossible to understand this issue without considering the Catholic church. “There is a strong coordination between church officials and government. The politicians know they need the support of the church because the church will tell many people in rural areas how to vote”. The most conservatives parts of the catholic church refuse to accept same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex coupled because it is against the basic values of the catechism of the catholic church.
In all this, also extremist have their say when it comes to Lgbt rights. Mateusz Marzoch, spokesperson of the far-right nationalist movement All Polish Youth does not hide it: “We don’t want to arrest homosexuals, but we want them to stay hidden. Homosexuality is a sin and their marriage is unnatural. Moreover, the danger for children to be abused in same-sex couple household is much higher. Their relationship is only about sex, that is why they want children, so they can abuse them”.
Lgbts have been under constant attack for the past two years, especially during political campaigns but also because of their increasing visibility. The prides multiplied across the country and their stronger voice, started to scare people but it became the perfect trojan horse for the politics.
Again during the last presidential elections, President Andrzej Duda, who won at the second turn against Warsaw’s mayor Trzaskowski with 51,4% of the preferences, used the Lgbt card to gain conservative supporters. He said that Lgbts are not people but an ideology and that this is worse than communism. The Monday before the second turn moreover, he publicly said he asked for the parliament to vote an amendement of the constitution to introduce same-sex couple prohibition to adopt children.
The continuous spread together with the increasing violence and more explicit aggressive tone against the community scares a lot of them, especially when it comes to the future. “The woke up a beast that will never sleep again” are the words of Warsaw’s university Professor Jakub Urbanik. “They needed an enemy to win the election. But once all this is over, this will not disappear. They legitimized people to be against Lgbt community”.
These words are also a symptom that many people part of the community are fearing to go around. And this because violence has increased in the last year. Not only during prides, but also in the streets. Some signs over walls stating “here live some fucking faggots” appeared before the elections. And some surveys say that more than 70% of Lgbt youth are having suicidal thoughts”.
Problems are a lot. Solutions seem not to be around the corner. In all this however, activists have still hope: “I believe change is possible. I hope we don’t get used to hate. This is an ugly political game with our lives, but I know that these people they are losing. They already lost and they are trying their last moves” end Magdalena Dropek.
After the elections, politicians’ next moves are unpredictable. But Poland remains, according to some survey, the number one Lgbt unfriendly country in Europe.