The European Parliament has finally taken a stand against rising state-backed homophobia in Poland, where more than 80 towns have declared themselves “LGBTQ-free zones” amid a heated culture war over gay rights.
MEPs voted by 463 votes to 107 Wednesday in favor of a resolution condemning discrimination against LGBTQ people in Poland, and explicitly calling on the Polish government to revoke discriminatory measures such as the “LGBTQ-free zones,” established by dozens of conservative local authorities that have symbolically declared themselves free from “LGBTQ ideology.”
"The European Parliament urges Polish authorities to condemn these acts and to revoke all resolutions attacking LGBTI rights," the European Parliament said in a statement.
Gay rights have become a hot-button issue in Poland this year since the ruling right-wing populist Law and Justice made its opposition to “LGBTQ ideology” a central platform of its campaigns for national and European elections. The party’s anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, echoed by Catholic hardliners, nationalist groups and state-run media, has painted gay rights as a dangerous, alien ideology — imported from the decadent, liberal West — that threatens the traditional, Catholic family unit.
Law and Justice chairman Jarosław Kaczyński, Poland’s de facto leader, warned in April of an “imported” LGBTQ movement that “threatens our identity, our nation… and therefore the Polish state.” In October’s elections, his party was returned to power comfortably with 44 percent of the vote.
READ: Poland’s populist government has declared war on the LGBTQ community
This unabashedly homophobic stance has resulted in an increasingly hostile environment for sexual minorities in Poland, with many local authorities banning support to projects that back equal rights for LGBTQ people. Rising homophobia has resulted in ugly scenes such as when right-wing mobs attacked marchers at a Pride rally in Bialystok in July. And last month, the annual edition of an annual Independence Day rally organized by nationalist groups had a markedly anti-gay theme.
In May, the Law and Justice governor of Lublin province even gave out medals to a group of local officials that had passed resolutions opposing “LGBTQ ideology,” praising them for their fight against a movement he said was attempting to “destroy the Polish family.”
READ: Poland’s far-right used Independence Day to rally against gay rights
The European Parliament’s resolution said discriminatory measures like the LGBTQ-free zones were part of “a broader context of attacks against the LGBTI community in Poland, which include growing hate speech by public and elected officials and public media, as well as attacks and bans on Pride marches.”
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The resolution also called on EU officials to ensure that European funding paid to Poland did not end up supporting discriminatory measures. Poland is one of the biggest beneficiaries of EU funding: in 2017, it received about 9 billion euros more than it paid into the bloc.
Polish LGBTQ groups hailed the European resolution, describing it as important support in their fight to revoke the LGBTQ-free zones. “It’s a huge success and a potential turning point,” Kuba Gawron, a campaigner who lobbied to bring the issue before the European Parliament, told VICE News. He said campaigners would use the European resolution to try to pressure local authorities who have adopted anti-LGBTQ resolutions to revoke them.
But Law and Justice MEPs were defiant in the face of the European Parliament’s criticism. In comments to Polish news site Onet, Witold Waszczykowski, an MEP who was Poland’s foreign minister from 2015 to 2018, attempted to differentiate between the LGBTQ community — a minority he claimed had “never been excluded” in Poland — and an LGBTQ “ideology” that was “demanding special treatment and causing upheaval.”
Same-sex marriage and civil unions are banned in Poland, and activists say that while the status of the country’s LGBTQ community has steadily improved in the past decade, especially in more cosmopolitan areas, homophobic and transphobic attitudes remain prevalent. Gay rights organization Rainbow Europe ranks Poland second-last of 28 European Union countries when it comes to equality and non-discrimination, ahead only of Latvia.
Another Law and Justice MEP, former interior minister Joachim Brudziński, accused supporters of the resolution of “destroying the image of Poland for their own interests.”
Bartosz Arłukowicz, a Polish MEP from the opposition Civic Platform, said the European Parliament’s criticism was warranted, given the clearly exclusionary practices being adopted against the LGBTQ community. He said LGBTQ-free declarations did not belong in a “modern state, in which the majority protects the rights of minorities.”
Cover: A woman participates in the National Rosary March in Warsaw, Poland, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, where people prayed and tried to appease God for what they called desecrations and insults of recent lesbian and gay pride parades. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)