The re-election of Polish president Andrzej Duda marks yet further discrimination and division against the LGBTQI community in Poland, says campaigner Magdalena Świder.


Our closely-fought presidential election, which this month returned the incumbent Andrzej Duda by a whisker for another five-year term, promises yet more division and homophobia in Poland.

Backed by the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS), Duda ran a campaign full of homophobic rhetoric, just beating the liberal challenger Rafał Trzaskowski – who had taken a call of support from Barack Obama in the days before the vote – with 51.2% of the vote share.

The close result showed just how divided our country really is: those under 50 and many living in larger towns and cities backed Trzaskowski, while older and rural voters stood by Duda.

Homophobic President

Duda, who is affiliated with PiS, scapegoated the LGBTQI community in his election campaign, saying that “LGBT ideology” was “more destructive than communist indoctrination”. 

During the campaign, he also signed something called the “Family Charter”, which promised to ban LGBT+ teaching in schools and ensure same-sex couples cannot adopt children.

Meanwhile, our justice minister has just said it would be “unacceptable” for the European Union to force our country to legalise gay marriage so it can get EU financial aid. 

We’ve been observing homophobic rhetoric from the ruling party for the past two years around election times, and Law and Justice parliamentarians have echoed Duda’s rhetoric during the run-up to the recent vote.

For example, the PiS MP Przemysław Czarnek stated:

“Let’s stop listening to these idiocy about some human rights or some equality. These people are not equal to normal people.”

Another, Jacek Żalek, of the conservative Agreement party, said:

“Poland is beautiful without LGBT” and “LGBT are not people”. 

Dehumanisation by the politicians in power has coincided with an intensification of hate crimes against the LGBTQI community here.

Poland’s shameful homophobic decline

For several years now Poland has been ranked poorly in the annual review of human rights for LGBTQI peoples, carried out by ILGA Europe for its Rainbow Europe project.

Even though legally Poland is a hostile place for the LGBTQI community, there has been certain progress over the years in terms of social change, as general acceptance of sexual diversity has grown.

However, over the past two years this positive trend has decelerated. We’ve been observing more hostility, more hate crimes and more hate speech in the public sphere.

Equating sexuality with paedophilia

One of the fundamentalist groups here has run a “STOP PEDOPHILIA” campaign, using billboards in Polish cities carrying deeply offensive slogans.

One reads:

“What the LGBT lobby want to teach children? 4-year-olds: masturbating, 6-year-olds: consenting to sex, 9-year-olds: first sexual experiences and orgasm”.

Others, carried on – or broadcast from – cars and vans which toured various Polish cities, said:

“See the relationship between paedophiles and sex-education.”

The idea that gay people want to introduce sex education to schools in order to sexualise children and therefore make them vulnerable to sexual abuse has paved the way to the introduction of legal changes on a local level, such as adopting anti-LGBT resolutions.

“LGBT Free” zones

Currently over 100 municipalities – about a third of the country – in Poland have symbolically declared themselves “LGBT free zones” by adopting declarations that implicitly or explicitly discriminate against LGBTQI people

About 30 of these municipalities have signed a “Local Government Charter of the Right of the Family” initiated by a far-right religious-based foundation, campaigning against LGBTQI rights, against non-discrimination education in schools and for a total ban of abortion rights in Poland. 

The Charter calls on municipalities to protect traditional families in all their policies, initiatives and funding. The ‘traditional family’ is here defined as a (married) union between a man and a woman and their biological children. 

By only focusing on these kind of families, the Charter calls for the discrimination of all other forms of families, including single parent families, patchwork families and same-sex couples and their families.

Some municipalities have adopted documents with names such as “anti-LGBT ideology resolution” or “declaration against LGBT subculture”, instructing defunding of LGBTQI organisations and restricting access to sex ed and anti-discrimination education at schools. 

We are challenging these documents in the courts, together with the Ombudsman.

Whipping up hatred for the ballot box

Many PiS and other politicians on the right have galvanised their voters with this homophobic messaging.

Around the parliamentary elections last year, PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński, said:

“[The] LGBT movement and gender threaten our identity, threaten our nation, threaten the Polish state”.

He added:

“We will be dealing with a huge LGBT offensive. If the opposition forces form a common government, then those who want to radically destroy the moral and cultural order in our country will certainly dominate.”

Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki said at the time:

“We do not want to fund cultural revolutions. Such revolutions are dreamed of by our opponents, and this is an attack on our identity, on Polish culture. I think that Polish parents do not want their six-year-old children to be taught how to stimulate sexually, or nine-year-olds to be encouraged to find homosexual tendencies and show off with them.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Science and Higher Education, Jarosław Gowin said:

“This [being gay] is an ideology – in my opinion – contrary to common sense and traditional Polish values.”

We believe such statements have contributed greatly to an increase in hate speech and hate crimes towards LGBTQI people in Poland. 

However, we lack legislation against hate speech and hate crimes, therefore monitoring and fighting them is a great challenge. On top of that, when such statements are made by the authorities, we get a clear message of acceptance of violence towards the LGBTQI community.

Divisions

The recent presidential election was one of the closest fought in Poland’s history. Duda’s margin (51.2%) over his rival (48.8%), who is the liberal mayor of Warsaw, was incredibly thin.

Taking something positive from the vote, it reveals that a great number of Polish citizens do not agree with Duda’s characterisation of LGBTQI people as an “ideology”, rather than as fellow human beings, or agree with his policies which sow division by demonising LGBTQI people for political gain. 

Despite that, the LGBTQI community is under attack and more than ever needs provisions in our criminal code that would protect sexual orientation and gender identity as characteristics in hate crime and hate speech legislation. 

The hate incited by Duda has not stopped with the end of the election campaign, however. His dangerous rhetoric legitimises the use of force and institutional discrimination against the LGBTQI community. This is why a lot of our friends in the community are considering leaving Poland, saying they feel unsafe here. 

It’s likely we may see more suicides within our community, too, who include some of Poland’s most vulnerable youth. The election campaign already saw one such suicide.

WATCH (video): I am LGBT – I am human

Magdalena Świder is programme coordinator of KPH (Kampania Przeciw Homofobii / Campaign Against Homophobia), a leading Polish NGO – follow on Twitter @KPH_official

With additional reporting by Nick Ryan