by Ewa Giera
As a ‘citizen of nowhere’ who spends far more time engaged with UK politics, I often get to turn a blind eye to the place I’ve left behind. But to many who follow the general flow of Polish politics, it won’t be a surprise that this year marks Poland’s drop to 42nd place out of 49 in ILGA Europe’s annual Rainbow Map ranking, making it the least LGBTQIA+ friendly country in the European Union. As we experience a rise in fascist politics across the majority of Europe, it’s worth to take a closer look at the way Poland has approached its place on the list and the way its government has enshrined its anti-LGBT sentiment in both culture and policy.
Fifteen years have done very little to curb Kaczyński’s rampant homophobia – and […] his grip on power in Polish politics hasn’t relaxed
The far right party Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (abbr. PiS, trans. Law and Justice) and its leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, have returned to power in 2015, although Kaczyski himself had been at the forefront of Polish politics long before then. He has been the Prime Minister of Poland between 2006-7 (his brother Lech, who was elected president at the same time, remained in his post until his death in 2010) and the chairman of PiS since the party first started in 2001. His homophobia is easily traceable to comments publicly made as early as 2005, having previously stated that “The affirmation of homosexuality will lead to the downfall of civilization. We can’t agree to it.”
Fifteen years have done very little to curb Kaczyński’s rampant homophobia – and as his grip on power in Polish politics hasn’t relaxed, his words as an authority figure have influenced the masses. His speech from March 2019 only reaffirms this. In a conference entitled ‘Polska Sercem Europy’ (Poland: the Heart of Europe), Kaczyński states that LGBTQIA+ ideologies are a direct ‘attack on the Polish family, attack on the children.’ He demonises trans identities as trying to undermine Polish culture through ‘oversexualisation and questioning the natural state of girls and boys the way they are born’. Perhaps the most frightening comment of the speech was the following statement:
‘Our party [PiS], just like most Polish people, is tolerant […] But we can’t confuse tolerance with affirmation. Affirmation is support [on an institutional level] for a group to expand and grow stronger. In Poland we affirm the [traditional] family unit, through our culture and through our laws, article 18 of our constitution […] And in the name of the constitution we will say no to the attack on our children. We will defend our children and won’t be intimidated [by LGBT movements].’
This speech is one of many that Kaczyński used to denounce LGBTQIA+ movements as an imported ‘threat to the Polish state’. It is widely believed that his statements have had a direct influence on the violent counter protests during Białystok’s first Pride Parade in the summer of 2019, where church groups and Polish nationalists outnumbered the actual parade, throwing stones and fireworks into the crowd. Although the official figures state that there have been no injuries, seven people have been charged with assault, twenty five were detained at the scene, and witnesses reported that one of the victims assaulted was as young as fourteen. Multiple videos – now inaccessible – circulated on Twitter at the time, showing a group of men chasing a member of the parade, others showing groups of people burning rainbow flags. It’s not difficult to see the connections between these acts and the violent, incendiary language that Kaczyński uses to vilify LGBTQIA+ groups and declare them enemies to the Polish national identity.
2020 has marked a year where more changes to the law began to be implemented. At the beginning of the year, PiS introduced a new, controversial Family Rights Charter, which allows local governments to ban the provision of public funding for organisations and charities that “undermine the constitution’s wording of the definition of a family: a union between a man and a woman”. The Charter has been widely regarded as a move directly against LGBTQIA+ partnerships, and its adoption has led to many of the municipalities to declare themselves LGBT-free zones, the name of which relates to ‘LGBT free zone’ stickers that the far right newspaper, Gazeta Polska, has distributed nationwide ahead of 2019’s Pride season.
The Charter has also been actively supported by the Catholic church. Rev. Przemysław Drąg, the director of Krajowy Ośrodek Duszpasterstwa Rodzin, said that ‘as Catholics we have the duty of taking care of our little homeland not only through prayer, but through local government action.’ The support of the church perhaps doesn’t come as a surprise, considering the warm relations between PiS and various religious outlets such as Radio Maryja, whose denouncement of leftist values such as LGBTQIA+ issues, feminism and gender identity have been all too clear across Polish media. Perhaps even more worryingly, the popularity of the Charter has also begun to gain some traction abroad. The progress of the Charter being adopted across the country can be viewed here.
Since Poland’s entry into the EU, many Polish queers have left the country, seeking a more tolerant future. Although the UK still has very far to go in terms of protecting LGBTQIA+ identities, it has managed, alongside countries such as Spain and Germany, to provide a safer space for many Polish queers. The 42nd place in the Rainbow Map ranking only reconfirms the fact that those safe spaces are unavailable back home.
Featured image via Atlas Nienawisci
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