Poland’s LGBTQ-free zones: the rapid rise of hate

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Aiden Wynn
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LGBTQ+ repression has taken a turn for the worst in Poland, where more than a third of local governments have signed a pledge against “LGBT ideology”. 

Poland has rapidly become a hostile place for LGBTQ+ people. In recent months more than 80 Polish municipalities have declared themselves “LGBT ideology-free” zones, with local governments signing a pledge aimed at quashing “LGBT propaganda”. The pledge seeks to protect large swathes of the country from what has been called an attack on traditional family values and Poland’s national identity – but which is in actual fact the mere reality of LGBTQ+ people visibly existing and fighting for equality

The zones are not enforceable by law, but that will be little solace to LGBTQ+ people living in or near them. The very existence of these zones acts as an ever-present threat, and a reminder that LGBTQ+ people are neither accepted nor tolerated in large areas of the country.

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Activist group Atlas of Hate mapped out the zones, and the visual representation of the scale of the problem is sobering. The zones, which cover an area larger than Hungary, mark an officially demarcated space of intolerance and hostility towards an already marginalised minority. 

Poland’s problem with homophobia and transphobia is not new. In 2011, the issue was a topic of discussion at the European Parliament, following a suggestion by the Polish minister of education that LGBTQ+ people should be restricted from working in schools. Same-sex marriage and adoption are also not permitted in Poland. 

However, public perceptions of LGBTQ+ people had been slowly improving in Poland. A 2001 survey had found that 41 per cent of Poles believed homosexuality “should not be tolerated”. By 2017, that number had dropped down to 24 per cent, while a record-high 55 per cent of Polish people now say that homosexuality should be tolerated. On the face of it, these may not seem like the most encouraging numbers. But they mark significant progress in a country where LGBTQ+ people have long been repressed and marginalised. 

Public perceptions of LGBTQ+ people had been slowly improving in Poland.

In light of these improving attitudes, the current state of affairs marks a disturbing step backwards. The sheer rate at which the municipalities are declaring themselves free of so-called LGBTQ+ “ideology” is more disturbing still: as of July 2019, there were 30 LGBT-free zones. Within the space of six months, this number had more than doubled to 80.

The implementation of the LGBT-free zones has come in the wake of increasingly hostile rhetoric used by the leader of the country’s ruling Law and Justice Party. The party’s leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, has spoken out vehemently against LGBTQ+ rights, describing the LGBTQ+ rights movement as an attack on family and Catholic values, and characterising LGBTQ+ people as a danger to children.

There have been other consequences of this hateful rhetoric. In July 2019, marchers in Bialystok’s first ever pride parade were up against protesters, who hurled rocks, rotten eggs and verbal abuse. There were other attempts to ban pride marches elsewhere in the country, although these were overturned by the courts. And in Lubin, a husband and wife who took three homemade explosives to the city’s pride parade were sentenced to just one year in prison. 

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The European Parliament voted in December of last year to condemn the LGBT-free zones, with a vote of 463 to 107. But so far, little else has been done.

There needs to be more than vocal condemnation to stop the rapid rise of vehement homophobia and transphobia in Poland. Otherwise, what is already an untenable living situation for many of the country’s LGBTQ+ residents could become more dangerous still. The EU is committed to non-discrimination and tolerance. These values need to be put in practice to stem the tide of hate. 

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