Article photo entitled Happy Gay Pride in Poland by A. Davey on Flickr taken on May 6, 2019.
Natalie Oleksinski, Summer Student at Level Justice
With Pride Month ending, I’ve been reflecting on how great it has been to see all the support across Canada for the LGBTQ2S+ community and how this differs significantly from my motherland, Poland. LGBT+ people in Poland are subject to discrimination and face legal challenges that their non-LGBT+ counterparts do not face. As a first-generation Polish Canadian, the status of LGBT+ rights in Poland and the access to justice crisis faced by LGBT+ Poles is something that I am concerned about. With progress being made around the world recognizing the fundamental human rights of the LGBT+ community, you would think that Poland would follow suit. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
A quick Google search on the topic of Poland and LGBT+ rights, uncovers many news articles with titles such as “Report: Poland remains most homophobic EU country,” “LGBTQ News: Homosexuality Makes You Enemy of State in Poland,” “Poland re-elects president who creates 'dangerous' society for gays, advocates say,” and “Polish election: Andrzej Duda says LGBT 'ideology' worse than communism.” These headlines are jarring for someone born and raised in Canada where the support and fight for LGBTQ2S+ rights is an important aspect of Canadian human rights. Although no country is perfect, Canada has worked hard to recognize LGBTQ2S+ rights as exemplified by legalizing same-sex marriage in 2005. As you may assume, it is not legal for same-sex couples to get married in Poland to this day.
The LGBT+ community in Poland faces many issues. Of particular concern is the evolution of “LGBT-free zones” located in ⅓ of Poland. “LGBT-free zones,” also known as “LGBT ideology free-zones” are areas where “opposition to LGBT ‘ideology’ is symbolically written into law at state and local levels.” These zones started as a response to Rafal Trzaskowski’s, Mayor of Warsaw, “LGBT Charter” in February 2019, which promised support for vulnerable LGBT+ people and promised a fight to end discrimination. With this support for the LGBT+ community, other municipalities started going the other way. In March 2019, the current conservative political party in power, PiS, began ramping up its anti-LGBT messaging. PiS and advocates were spreading the message that “‘LGBT ideology’ is a foreign (Western) imposition on Polish Christian culture and morality.” Then, in summer 2019, Gazeta Polska, a PiS loyal newspaper, began handing out “LGBT-free zone” stickers in their weekly editions. Although they were ordered by the court to stop handing out these stickers, the damage was already done. This led to the now 100+ municipalities, towns and regions which have passed resolutions and have declared themselves free of "LGBT ideology".
In 2020, Poland held presidential elections in which PiS ran with a strong anti-LGBT platform. Robert Biedron, Poland’s first openly gay politician, says PiS were “looking for a scapegoat and [were] exploiting people’s sense of security. They’re trying to turn public attention away from the real problems to the imaginary problems.” With this platform they were able to secure a win to the disadvantage of the LGBT+ community in Poland.
A 2017 report by the Centre for Research on Prejudice at the University of Warsaw found that since PiS entered government in 2015, the exposure to hate speech in Poland’s media, including hate against gay people, has increased by 25%. Some say a line was crossed last year during the 2020 election where daily Polish viewers were exposed to anti-LGBT ads on their TVs. LGBT+ Poles are feeling uncomfortable and out of place, with one of the few openly gay councillors in Poland, Marek Szolc, saying that they “lost the feeling that [they] are equal.” This anti-LGBT rhetoric is emphasized by the Catholic Church in Poland as well. For example, the Archbishop of Krakow is quoted saying that the LGBT+ movement is a “Rainbow plague.”
Today, rules for LGBT+ Poles are tightening further. Not only is same-sex marriage prohibited, they are also not allowed to adopt children. During the pandemic there have been reports of LGBT+ people having difficulty visiting each other in hospitals when sick. LGBT+ people in Poland are now in a situation where they can (1) emigrate, (2) keep their heads down, or (3) fight back. There are fighters, including many openly gay politicians, or spokespeople such as Bart Staszewski, who has led a queer tour of Poland's East to show citizens that gay people are "normal citizens". There is international support for the LGBT+ community in Poland. For example, the Canadian embassy in Poland celebrate and support the LGBTQ+ community by raising the Pride flag on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. However, more can and needs to be done to show solidarity with the LGBT+ community in Poland.
Pride Month is a time to celebrate liberty for LGBTQ2S+ communities around the world but it’s also an important time to educate and show solidarity with communities that are not so equal. It’s important to remember that not all LGBTQ2S+ people are liberated. Poland is one of many countries where LGBT+ people are denied fundamental human rights.
If you want to help in the fight for LGBT+ equality and education in Poland, sign All Out’s petition. You can also support by donating to a new foundation created to organize international fundraising for Poland’s LGBT+ community, Equaversity, whom fellow Polish- Canadian Queer Eye star, Antoni Porowski, is a Board member of. Also, you can check out what areas of Poland are “LGBT Ideology-free zones” on the Atlas of Hate.
 Strzelecki, supra note 2.