Nowadays, LGBT+ members in Poland have to make a choice: staying in the country to fight for their rights, keeping down their voices and being suppressed by homophobic sentiments, or emigrating to other European countries where they can enjoy their lives. As of June 2020, over a hundred municipalities in the country have adopted resolutions which have enabled them to declare themselves as “LGBT-free zones”. Even though those resolutions are symbolic, they create the pretext to ban equality marches and other LGBT+ events. Not very surprisingly, Poland has currently the worst record in the European Union in terms of LGBT+ rights according to a report by ILGA-Europe. Additionally, Civil Society rating of Poland in Freedom House Annual Report decreased from 5.75 to 5.50 because of attacks on the LGBT+ community and the expanded predominance of extremist and illiberal rhetoric, although it remains in the category of consolidated democracies.
The Law and Justice party (PiS) formed a coalition government with the League of Polish Families (LPR) and the Self-Defence Party after they came to power in 2005. Since then, most of the politicians of these right-wing conservative political parties have made numerous homophobic and unscientific statements about homosexuality and have sought to suppress freedom of expression together with freedom of assembly for LGBT people. Same-sex civil union and marriage options are still not legal in Poland. Also, as a result of a constitutional amendment proposed by President Duda on July 4th, 2020, gay couples cannot adopt children anymore. Moreover, lesbian couples are not allowed to have children through in vitro fertilization (IVF) methods. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) Party, since it came to power once more in 2015, has pursued a highly conservative agenda and targeted LGBT+ rights by framing LGBT as an invasive foreign ideology that endangers the national identity of Polish people. The party promised to support the traditional family style and to protect Poles against LGBT ideologies and the imposition of gender.
Mainly starting with 2019, Poland has been experiencing major setbacks in democratic performance with the intense anti-LGBT+ campaign which alleviates the fears of the LGBT+ community. The campaign has been led by the ruling party and the church. Andrzej Duda, when re-elected as president in June 2020, has made remarks about the LGBT+ community which stated that “LGBT is not people, it’s an ideology”. He framed this so-called “ideology” as an “ideology of evil” that is “even more dangerous to mankind than communism”. The Archbishop of Kraków, like President Duda, described LGBT as a “rainbow plague” holding similarities to communism. Some explains these reactions against LGBT+ rights movements by arguing that the Polish conservatives is fearful of a liberal transition that may diminish the Catholic Church’s power in Poland due to declining levels of Church attendance, growing secularization, and recent sexual abuse scandals the Church involved.
In February 2019, Rafał Trzaskowski, who is the liberal mayor of Warsaw, signed a declaration supporting LGBT+ rights and announced his intention to create a sex education curriculum which integrates LGBT+ issues into the Warsaw school system in line with the World Health Organization guidelines. His intention was to promote anti-discrimination policies in areas such as education, health, security, and culture for LGBT+ people. The declaration stimulated an anger among conservative politicians and conservative media in Poland. As some argues, the “LGBT-Free Zone” declarations started as a reaction to this Warsaw declaration. The ruling party politicians and church leaders started a campaign against “LGBT and gender ideologies” by claiming that such a change in school curriculum would sexualize the children. In summer 2019, a lot of provinces passed declarations of “Zones Free of LGBT ideology”. The right-wing conservative newspaper, Gazeta Polska distributed “LGBT-free zone” stickers to its readers. They objected to criticisms by referring to LGBT as a “totalitarian ideology”. Even though the Warsaw District Court ruled an order to stop the distribution of the stickers, Gazeta Polska continued distributing them with a change of wording (“LGBT Ideology-Free Zone”) by claiming the ruling was a censorship.
As a reaction to those declarations, 2020 marked a number of LGBT+ protests in support of equal rights. However, a lot of them encountered attempts of obstruction by the anti-LGBT+ campaign of the ruling party and the church. Specifically, a march in Białystok was attacked both verbally and physically by anti-LGBT+ protesters. There were also several instances of police violence and harassment against journalists during the equality protests where the police coercively removed media from demonstrations by the claim of security concerns and prevented them from covering the march. During LGBT+ marches in Białystok, police arrested 20 protesters. Over 100 people were accused of committing crimes during the event due to the acts of throwing eggs or firecrackers. Three women were put on trial and still face jail for sharing posters of the Virgin Mary with a rainbow-colored halo. They are being accused of hurting the religious feelings of the people.
In April 2020, a bill which would make teaching or even supporting sexuality education to people under 18 a crime punishable by up to three years in prison has been promoted by anti-LGBT+ groups. Those groups claimed that children would be sexualized and be imposed with homosexuality through sex education classes. They further argued these lessons are used by the “LGBT lobby” to reach their radical political goals, including legalizing adoption by same-sex couples. By this bill, the sexual education was criminalized and also homosexuality was equated with pedophilia. The government scheduled the debate of the bill during the COVID-19 pandemic in which public protests were not possible due to restrictions on movement in line with the precautions against the pandemic. As such, the government practically prohibited any large-scale demonstrations against the bill on the grounds of health concerns. This represents an instance of democratic backsliding where the right to protest is limited and consequently, a particular group is depraved of their opportunity to take political action for defending their freedoms.
LGBT+ rights are human rights which are one of the core components of democracy, a regime in which everyone should enjoy their individual freedoms without discrimination and suppression. Even though the “LGBT-Free Zone” declarations are unenforceable in the sense that they are against both the European and the Polish constitutions, on December 2020, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe stated that the effects of these declarations are visible on LGBT+ community and they are suffering from the discriminatory acts of public officials and politicians along with the anti-LGBT+ protestors. The European Union has stopped funding those municipalities declaring “LGBT-Free Zone” since July 2020; however, it does not seem like it will have a positive impact on enhancing the rights of LGBT+ people in the near future in Poland as the country becomes more and more suppressive towards those people and their rights. The right-wing politicians of the country keep on stigmatizing the issue to gather support as a part of their populist agenda like they have already done on refugees in the past. This would not cherish the hopes for Polish democracy and leaves us worried about the rights and freedoms of the disadvantaged groups there.