Can the EU help protect LGBTQ people in Poland?
The head of the European commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has said that Poland’s self-declared LGBT-free-zones have no place in the European Union.
Von der Leyen has indicated that if necessary, she will make EU funds contingent on financial probity and alignment with EU principles. In her first state-of-the-union speech, she flagged a proposal to extend the list of EU crimes to cover all forms of hate crime and hate speech, whether linked to race, religion, gender or sexuality.
How did we get here?
Municipalities in Poland began passing anti-LGBTQ resolutions at the beginning of 2019. This is linked to a rise in rhetoric by the governing Law and Justice party (PiS) denouncing “LGBT ideology” as an allegedly foreign import threatening the Polish nation and its traditional Christian values.
Balkan Insight reports that religious conservatives in Poland are receiving support from ultra-conservative groups across Europe, such as CitizenGO, and Agenda Europe, as well as the US organisation Alliance Defending Freedom.
Poland remains a very socially-conservative country, with the Catholic Church a big player in shaping public opinion. Religious conservatism is a powerful force in maintaining support for the ruling Law and Justice party.
Poland’s 1997 constitution states that a marriage is between a man and a woman. Civil partnerships between same-sex couples are not legally recognised.
LGBTQ Pride parades in Poland are routinely attacked by far-right activists.
Despite international outrage – and threats from the EU of withdrawal of funding – around 100 municipalities have declared themselves “LGBTQ-free zones”. This equates to about one-third of Poland – an area about the size of Hungary.
The power of rainbow masks
A young queer couple in Poland are seizing the opportunity to combine the threat of Covid-19 with an LGBTQ equality message.
Jakub and David have been handing out hundreds of rainbow face-masks in the cities of Gdańsk, Gdynia, and Sopot. in an effort to fight the coronavirus pandemic and to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community. They borrowed a sewing machine from one of their grandmothers to sew the masks and have been giving them away for free.
“Many LGBT-free zones were created in our country so we were a bit afraid how people would react but they were really touched by our idea…” explains Jakub. “I think they really appreciated that someone cared about their health. It was great to see that rainbow didn’t scare people but will help them stay safe. Polish people call us a plague, so we thought if we help people overcome real plague, they might change their mind. I know it’s naive, but if we can do something good then why not?”