On July 28, European Union Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli announced in a tweet that 6 Polish towns had been rejected from a twinning program because they had adopted resolutions about “LGBTI-free zones” and “family rights”. This decision led to the withholding of funds that these towns wished to obtain. Polish authorities strongly denied that there was such a thing as “LGBT-free zones” in their country and called it “fake news”. But Helena Dalli’s statement is mostly true.
EU values and fundamental rights must be respected by Member States and state authorities.
— Helena Dalli (@helenadalli) July 28, 2020
Politicians from the Law and Justice party (the largest political party in the Polish parliament) as well as some NGOs argued that the so-called “fake news” had been spread by Polish LGBT activist Bart Staszewski as part of one of his art performances. The city of Zakrzowek even decided to sue Staszewski for the damage he caused, given that the European Union makes the allocation of its funds conditional on the respect of human rights, which include LGBT+ rights. The conservative and nationalist Polonia Institute even asserted that “he has been caught illegally placing signs with the multilingual inscription “LGBT+ free zone” below the legitimate signs with names of towns and municipalities”.
As a matter of fact, he did install such signs in some towns, but it did not come out of nowhere. His initiative was meant as a response to the nearly 100 towns and municipalities, representing a third of Poland’s population and mostly located in southeastern regions, which declared themselves free from LGBT ideology. Polish LGBT activists, who deny the use of the word “ideology” to define what they consider to be basic human rights, created the Atlas of Hate, a map identifying which regions of Poland adopted, rejected or still discuss discriminatory measures against the community.
A context of growing tensions
Ordo Iuris Institute for Legal Culture, a Polish NGO defending traditional values, published a study on that matter in which they argue that, despite the existence of charters on family rights defending the traditional family model, neither homosexuality nor LGBT-free zones were ever mentioned in these documents. They added that gay marriage was not required by any international convention and that therefore there was no reason to accuse Poland of not respecting human rights. Moreover, such charters have little legal effect and do not ban anyone from living in these areas.
This dispute takes place in a country where LGBT rights have become a huge factor of division – as demonstrated during the presidential election last July. Polish authorities have used very harsh rhetoric against gay men and lesbians. The mention of traditional family and Christian heritage often comes with the more or less implicit idea that homosexuality is a threat to Poland. One example among many others is MEP Elzbieta Kruk declaring that she hoped “Poland will be a region free from LGBT”. The term “LGBT-free” remains sensitive in Poland because of the Nazis using similar terminology to describe areas free of Jews during their genocide.
The statement that “Polish authorities adopted “LGBTI-free zones” resolutions” is mostly true. It is certainly true that none of the areas concerned by the LGBT-free zones charters have “cleared” LGBT people out of there, and that the issue at stake remains mostly symbolic – for now. But it is definitely true that many local governments adopted “LGBT-free zones” resolutions that are meant to prevent the LGBT “ideology” from spreading. The fact that it has no real legal effect does not change this observation. And given the growing intolerance in Poland regarding LGBT+ rights, these symbolic “LGBT-free zones” might be the first step of a wider repression to come.