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Why Polish cities are declaring themselves ‘LGBT-free’

Warsaw, Poland – Dozens of Polish cities, municipalities and provinces have declared themselves “LGBT-free” as the debate surrounding gay rights in Poland escalates.

Over 30 Polish cities say they are “free from LGBT ideology”

According to local daily Gazeta Wyborcza, 31 municipalities throughout Poland have adopted, in the past few months, resolutions saying the were “free from the LGBT ideology”, in statements either voted by the municipal council or at the regional level.

The municipality of Swidnik, in the eastern part of the country, was one of the first to adopt, in March, an official resolution claiming they were a “LGBT free zone”, all the while slamming the “ideological war” launched by “radicals who seek to foster a cultural revolution in Poland”. Many other municipalities followed suit, most of them located in the Lublin region – whose governor eventually gave out awards to the city councils who declared themselves “free from the LGBT ideology”.

“It is very good that the local government has passed it and that they will fight the ideology. There shouldn’t be any gays or other deviations, everything should be normal”, reacted 88-year-old Miroslaw Rutkowski from Swidnik.

Although these local statements are not legally binding, critics say they only amplify the climate of fear and hate speech directed towards the LGBT community. “How are LGBT people, particularly the young, supposed to feel when they hear that the regional council or local government are against them?” pointed out activist Bartosz Staszewski.

Some activists also question the legality of such resolutions.

Reaction to Warsaw major’s LGBT+ declaration

According to their proponents, these measures were a direct response to the LGBT+ declaration signed, in February by the mayor of Warsaw Rafal Trzaskowski, expressing his public support to the LGBT community and laying out several measures to fight against discrimination – including a new sexual education program based on guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

This declaration was the starting point of a nation-wide debate that turned LGBT rights into a hot-button issue in recent months. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and conservative and religious circles seized the opportunity to launch an aggressive campaign against the LGBT community and portray it as the embodiment of Western liberal values it seeks to combat.

A few months ago, party chief Jaroslaw Kaczynski described LGBT rights as “a foreign import” that threatens Polish traditional values, de-facto turning the issue into an important political battleground ahead of this year’s key European and national ballots. He repeatedly urged Polish citizens to vote for “the only party that gives a 100% guarantee that our values will be protected”.

Scapegoating the LGBT community for electoral purposes

The Polish government’s “misrepresentation” of LGBT rights as a direct attack against family values and “sexualisation” of Poland’s youth was slammed by NGO’s and civil rights groups, including Human Rights Watch who reminded of the “importance of accurate and inclusive sex education”.

According to analysts, the ruling party targets the LGBT community the same way it demonized refugees and immigrants in 2015: to mobilize its right-wing, conservative and largely rural electorate – a strategy that appears to have paid off as PiS emerged victorious from the European Parliament elections.

Growing controversies regarding LGBT rights

Numerous controversies have turned LGBT rights into one of the most divisive topics in Poland, which shows one of the highest levels of discrimination toward LGBT people – despite some polls and studies showing growing tolerance among the population of this staunchly Catholic country.

In May, a human rights activist was arrested and detained by Polish authorities, arguing she had “offended religious belief” for distributing leaflets and posters of the Virgin Mary and Jesus whose halos had been colored with the LGBT rainbow flag.

More recently, the decision of the local Krakow branch of IKEA to fire an employee for posting anti-LGBT comments triggered a nation-wide debate on the issue, with the Catholic Church accusing the famous Swedish-born brand of ‘”LGBT indoctrination“.

In a landmark case ruling late last month, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal considered that a Polish printer, who refused to make posters for an LGBT organization because of his religious beliefs, had to right to do so and to act according to his conscience. “A dark day for the history of the protection of human rights in Poland”, Pawel Knut from local NGO Campaign Against Homophobia, reacted.