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LGBTQ+ rights in Poland: what is happening?

On the 6th August 2020, Andrzej Duda was sworn in for his second term as President of Poland. Members of the opposing party turned up in a vast array of colourful clothing to represent a rainbow, showing their support for the Polish LGBTQ+ community. 

Throughout his campaign, Duda promoted an anti-LGBTQ+ agenda. He described the LGBTQ+ movement as being “more destructive than communism”, comparing it to the struggle of his parent’s generation against communist ideology. Prior to this speech, he signed a “Family Charter.” This will prevent gay couples from marrying and banning teaching concerning LGBTQ+ issues in schools. He also has plans to amend the Polish constitution to prevent same-sex couples from adopting.

Throughout his campaign, Duda promoted an anti-LGBTQ+ agenda.

The Law and Justice party, also known as PiS (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość in Polish), endorsed and funded Duda’s campaign. Formed in 2001, the party is described as national-conservative, Christian democratic, and right-wing, with strong opposition to gay rights. PiS is currently the largest political party in Poland. The second-largest political party in Poland, Civic Platform, is fairly similar. Although there is some support from individual members, this party also opposes same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples. 

Mayor of Warsaw and Civic Platform member Rafał Trzaskowski is one of these individual supporters. In 2019, he signed a declaration protecting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. This included providing access to sex education in schools and the introduction of a local crisis intervention scheme. However, there were many negative reactions.

In March 2019, after the adoption of the new LGBTQ+ charter in Warsaw, PiS fortified its anti-LGBTQ+ message. This saw various Polish municipalities adopt new anti-LGBTQ+ resolutions.  A third of Poland is currently declared as an ‘LGBT-free zone’. Although the zones are non-binding in law, it sends a clear message of exclusion to the LGBTQ+ community in Poland. 

It is therefore hardly surprising that as of 2020, Poland is the worst-performing EU country in terms of LGBTQ+ rights. There has been little progression for the LGBTQ+ community since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1932. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual people can serve in the military, and gay and bisexual men can donate blood. Yet, same-sex couples are not recognised in law and are unable to legally adopt. Lesbian couples are not permitted access to IVF. 

As of 2020, Poland is the worst performing EU country in terms of LGBTQ+ rights.

Polish law also does little to protect the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination. Although the Polish Constitution states that everyone is equal before the law, there is no explicit reference to sexual orientation and no legislation explicitly protecting trans people from discrimination. 

Religious freedom, however, is strongly defended. In July 2020, the Polish government sued Ikea after they fired an employee for posting anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric on the internal Ikea website. The employee “used quotes from the Old Testament about death and blood in the context of what fate should meet homosexuals.” The Polish government justified the employee’s actions due to their religious context. To fire the employee would counteract Poland’s ideals of tolerance and respect. 

In 2019, a study by the University of Warsaw discovered that more than “two-thirds of people identifying as LGBTI in Poland has endured psychological or physical violence.” The Polish LGBTQ+ community remains unprotected by their government. 

Staunch Catholicism in Poland is a major opposition to LGBTQ+ rights. Time after time, the Catholic church has intervened with LGBTQ+ rights. In 1995, there was an initiative to alter the Constitution to specifically include the forbidding of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. However, this was heavily criticised by both the Catholic Church and right-wing parties. They declared that such a provision would “threaten families and moral education of children.” Today, the church in Poland is no more tolerant. 

In 2019, Polish archbishop Marek Jedraszewski described the LGBTQ+ movement as a “rainbow plague.” The movement is often compared to communism, which was in place post-World War II. The newly-created Polish People’s Republic was dependent on the Soviet Union. Jedraszewski declared he was thankful that Poland is “no longer affected by the red plague” but now fears a new “rainbow” that wants to control “souls, hearts and minds.” 

Around 92% of the population is Roman Catholic. This has heavily influenced public opinion regarding LGBTQ+ rights. Several polls exist, with variation in what public opinion is. In 2019, a survey was conducted asking Poles to identify what they believed to be their biggest threats in the 21st century. The most popular answer among men under 40 was “the LGBT movement and gender ideology”. Nevertheless, the LGBTQ+ movement continues to march on in Poland. Warsaw holds an equality parade every year. It had 47,000 people show up in 2019, making it the largest gay pride parade in Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw also hosted EuroPride in 2010, a Pride parade that is held in a different European city each year. 

The Polish authorities have recently cracked down on LGBTQ+ activists. LGBTQ+ activist Malgorzata Szutowicz, known as Margot, was arrested and placed in pre-trial detention for two months after charges of assault against a driver of a truck that displayed an anti-LGBT banner. Her arrest led to a protest in Warsaw on August 7th. Authorities detained 48 protestors and injured many more after “unprecedented levels of police aggression.” In response, Human Rights Watch has called for Polish authorities to stop silencing LBGTQ+ activists and instead “promote and protect the right to equality.” 

Demonstrations in response to Margot’s arrest are being compared to the 1969 Stonewall Riots in NYC, with #PolishStonewall trending on social media. It is just one way in which activists and people around the world are spreading awareness. Social media is significant in raising awareness for the anti-LGBTQ+ climate in Poland and Duda’s views. Many documents that aim to educate those outside of Poland are also being shared on social media to spread awareness. 

Demonstrations in response to Margot’s arrest are being compared to the 1969 Stonewall Riots in NYC.

Several petitions also exist, designed to raise awareness and receive a response from those in power. One petition for the Polish Prime Minister calls to protect LGBTQ+ people in Poland and abolish anti-LGBTQ+ laws. Another is a petition to the European Commission asking for EU solidarity and support. 

Many pro-LGBTQ+ funds are being shared on social media to raise awareness and allow supporters to help. One example is a Polish organisation working to introduce marital equality. Another is Lambda Warsaw which aims to help the LGTBQ+ community in a variety of ways, from legal assistance to counselling. Both of these organisations are non-profit and rely on the financial support of donors to continue their work.

The events of #PolishStonewall are continuing to unravel. Spreading awareness on social media has led to solidarity protests not only across Poland but the whole world, with demonstrations seen in Budapest, London, New York, Paris, and Berlin. International support is seemingly growing. This may be exactly what activists and the LGBTQ+ community in Poland need. 

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