The recent re-election of President Andrzej Duda has caused uncertainty and increased fears within the LGBT+ community. Despite his electoral victory, Duda won with only 51.2% of the votes. However, his alliance with the Law and Justice Party (PiS) demonstrates a desire across a certain demographic of the Polish electorate to return to a more conservative, Christian way of living. One of the main concerns of Duda’s re-election is his criticism of the LGBT+ community. With right-wing populism on the rise in Europe, does Duda’s win signal a change not only in Poland but across the border too?
These spaces [LGBT+ free Zones]…create a hostile environment for anyone who falls under the LGBT+ spectrum.
Duda’s history regarding LGBT+ rights has been anything but positive. He claimed during the election campaign that LGBT+ rights were an ‘ideology’ that was more destructive than communism – a remark that was met with backlash from rival politicians. Placing LGBT+ rights activism in the same category as communism is a contentious issue within Poland, as it was the anti-communist Solidarity movement that led the fight for democracy in the 1980s.
His alliance with the Law and Justice Party (PiS) demonstrates a desire across a certain demographic of the polish electorate to return to a more conservative, Christian way of living.
Tensions within the EU have been increased further by the LGBT+ rights group ILGA-Europe stating that Poland is the worst-performing country in the EU in terms of LGBT+ rights. In fact, the European Commission has even written to the heads of five Polish provinces expressing concern about resolutions in which they declare themselves “free from LGBT+ Ideology”. Poland’s move away from tolerance is at odds with the EU’s values, and this has placed a notable strain on Poland’s status within the EU. Nonetheless, Poland has garnered support from further afield, with President Trump claiming that Duda is doing a “terrific job”. This message of support illustrates an increasingly socially conservative attitude, not only in Europe, but worldwide.
Already, Poles are beginning to see the dangerous impact of Duda’s policies. The ‘Family Card’, introduced as part of his presidential campaign, prohibits ‘LGBT ideology’ from being promoted in public places and forbids the teaching of LGBT+ education to children. The ‘Family Card’ also defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman and does not allow gay or lesbian couples to adopt children. Anti-LGBT+ propaganda can be seen in public media, including the brutal arrest of Margot and Lania from the Stop Bullshit Organisation for placing rainbow flags on statues around Warsaw, an event that has attracted international scrutiny.
Perhaps most extreme is Poland’s introduction of ‘LGBT+ free zones’, with a third of Poland already declared as such. These spaces, which do not allow LGBT+ events or equality marches, create a hostile environment for anyone who falls under the LGBT+ spectrum. In 2019 a vote by the European Parliament condemned the presence of these spaces and in July 2020, Provincial Administrative Courts in Gliwice and Radom ruled that the LGBT+ free zones established by local authorities in Istebna and Gmina Klwów are null and void, and violate the constitution.
This small step forward will hopefully be a catalyst for change across the countless other LGBT+ free zones in the country. The EU has also begun to deny funding to areas claiming to be LGBT+ free, as they violate the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. This strong stance by the EU will weaken Duda’s authority, and hopefully cause a shift away from the excessive focus, by him and his Government, on the LGBT+ community.
So, what else is being done to tackle this? A number of MPs from opposing parties wore rainbow colours to mock the president at his swearing-in ceremony, a defiant and bold move that caught the attention of international media and no doubt humiliated Duda.
Elsewhere in Poland, other political figures such as the Mayor of Warsaw, Rafal Trzaskowski, have been announcing their support of the LGBT+ community. Last February, Trzaskowski signed a 12 point LGBT+ Declaration, which is aimed at fighting discrimination against the LGBT+ community and provides guidance in areas such as security, education and culture. The reforms proposed would also assist homeless and impoverished LGBT+ youth, and encourage non-discriminatory sex education within schools. Politicians from the Law and Justice (PiS)party objected to the program, claiming it would sexualise children.
Despite condemnation from the EU, it seems that Poland is one of an increasing number of European countries which are taking a tough stance on LGBT+ rights. Duda’s re-election has created many uncertainties and the community within Poland must brace themselves for tougher laws and further restrictions on their freedom if the EU cannot successfully keep Duda and his allies under control.
By Tabitha Wilson
Image by Rachel Cottrell