Updated: Oct 19, 2021
While it is common to assume that nations throughout Europe and North American have “progressed” compared to those in the East in terms of human rights and civil liberties, progress has actually been held back in the West by cultural values and outdated conservatism, particularly in Poland.
Homophobia in Poland began with the ideologies of oneness and homogeneity left behind from communist rule during the time of the Soviet Union, which Poland was part of. After its dissolution, the Roman Catholic Church’s strong presence in the nation did little to advocate for those identifying as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Both influences fostered heterosexual normativity, allowing for conservatism to stand strong within the nation’s population: a poll conducted by CBOS found that 70% of Poles believe homosexual activity to be “morally unnacceptable;” 12% of non-heterosexual Poles have experienced being the target of hate crimes; a study reported that over 90% of hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community in Poland went unreported.
Homophobic rhetoric has been rising within the ruling Law and Justice Party since last year, but Polish President Andrzej Duda’s goal of reelection prompted him to launch a series of new anti-LGBTQ+ policies to gain public support, and it seems to have worked. President Duda won his bid for a second term by a small margin, at least partially due to his strong stance of protecting “traditional” families. By pushing such rhetoric he was able to sway the vote of Poland’s elderly and Roman Catholic populations in his favor against his more liberal challenger, the mayor of Warsaw. He ended up winning by only 2.06%.
So what exactly are these policies that are causing such an uproar even beyond the sphere of Eastern Europe?
Besides simply spouting his views against the community, President Duda signed a “Family Charter,” a declaration of policies and stances he would support to protect Polish families. Among them was the recognition of marriage as (only) between a man and a woman, as well as the act of banning LGBTQ+ imagery and “propagation” in schools and other public institutions, purportedly as a way to defend children from what is seen as harmful information.
The President’s recent push specifically against LGBTQ+ history and education was not a new idea – during his time in office in 2019, a third of the nation had been declared an “LGBT-Free Zone.” Said “zones” constitute of local municipalities that have adopted legislation that they claimed to be “pro-family” by banning sexual education in schools that attempts to inform children of LGBTQ+ culture and what many conservative groups claimed to be “propaganda.” Such ideas have also made their way into influencing where public funding is distributed, which may affect organizations and initiatives that have shown tolerance for the community. Nonprofits that do humanitarian work in education and provide community services could lose their likelihood in receiving grants or applying for financial support from local governments.
Much of the language and legislation established in towns and cities has been influenced by a version from a group called Ordo Iuris. They are a conservative legal group based in Warsaw, claiming to be “pro-family” rather than anti-LGBTQ+. Instead of referring to LGBTQ+ people directly, they describe their views as promoting “traditional” family values (specifically having heterosexual parents) and to protect children from being sexualized by exposure to sexual information.
The conservative views held by much of the population put many people residing in Poland in a constant state of fear. During an LGBTQ+ parade in the city of Lublin in 2019, a heterosexual couple brought homemade explosives with plans to disrupt the event and cause panic. They were only given a year in prison, which displays the lack of importance that Polish police and the criminal justice system place on hate crimes and otherwise dangerous behavior targeted at the LGBTQ+ population. IGLA-Europe, a nongovernmental organization aimed at advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, ranked Poland the lowest country in the European Union (EU) regarding their legal and political tolerance for members of the community.
The European Commission has condemned the policies put forth by many of the nation’s local governments and later by national law, stating that they go against the anti-discrimination stance that the EU has taken, but little has actually been done to push the Polish president to retract his support. It does not seem as though other nations or the EU at large are willing to act upon Poland’s discriminatory policies, which poses a danger for the LGBTQ+ community’s presence in the nation. While they may have allies outside of the country, they do not seem to be receiving legitimate aid, and as support within the country for conservative politicians holds strong, the security of their rights grows weaker by the day.
Through Teen Lenses: What do you think of Poland’s anti-LGBTQ+ policies and how they stand globally?
“The anti-LGBTQ+ policy in Poland perpetuates the stigma and hatred towards members of the community which not only harms those within the country but also outside. By allowing this to continue and not pressuring current government officials to denounce the actions of the government, we are all collectively responsible for the homophobia and prejudice that members face. A government should protect the rights of the minority, not take them away in their entirety. It is the principle of democracy and anything otherwise is similar to tyrannical rule.” Geena Kumaran, 15, Rising Junior at Thomas S. Wootton High School, Rockville, MD
“At first glance, it looks like Poland’s stance on LGBTQ+ people looks pretty good; trans people are allowed to change their name legally, and gays and bi men are allowed to serve in the military and donate blood. But then you look a little deeper and you realize, there are actual zones dedicated to being ‘LGBTQ-free.’” Firdaws Hakizimana, 18, Rising Freshman at University of Southern Maine, Portland, ME
“I think that Polish President Duda’s anti-LGBT policies are absolutely horrific. Not only do the ‘LGBT-free zones’ perpetuate the notion that being heterosexual should be the default in society while being LGBT is extraneous, erasable, and not a valid part of life, but they also suggest that the LGBT community somehow threatens everybody else. Coupled with Duda’s statement that ‘LGBT ideology is worse than communism’ (the latter of which quite literally fueled a worldwide conflict, the Cold War), we can see the frightening rise in hate crimes against the Polish LGBT community, and it is not certain how violent their future may become. But something equally concerning is that President Trump has recently voiced his support of Duda’s work. As a leader whose opinion can cause a major ripple effect, Trump’s backing might mark the slow but sure rise of regressive actions around the world that seek to nullify LGBT people for who they love.” Anonymous, 16, Rising Junior at Thomas S. Wootton High School, Rockville, MD