In the 2020 presidential campaign, Andrzej Duda, the candidate of the ruling Law and Justice Party (hereafter PiS), called LGBTQ+ people an “ideology” that is worse than communism. Also, in the same period, this presidential candidate signed a Family Charter that contained the same “LGBT ideology” narrative. It mentions specifically that family is the foundation of Polish identity which must be supported and protected in economic and social domains. For instance, it says that Polish families ought to be protected against poverty and supported to have decent living conditions as well as they must be defended against an “ideology”. The Family Charter outlines its idea of protecting children from “LGBT ideology” and prohibiting the propagation of it in public institutions. However, it does not define this kind of “ideology”. In this sense, it only mentions that parents are responsible for the educational activities of their children, especially regarding sex education. Based on the Family Charter, we see that “LGBT ideology” encompasses two things: 1) it is promoted in public institutions, and 2) it is connected to the sex education of kids.
Another example of the ideology narrative is found in the 2014 and 2019 political programs of PiS where “gender ideology” is mentioned instead of the one of LGBT. Gender ideology represents a danger to Polish families defining them as long-lasting unions of a man and a woman and a fundamental part of society. Also, those programs outline the artificiality of this ideology that is sustained by external financial funding. PiS’s political programs urge to put barriers to the spreading of this dangerous wave. Again, in those programs there is no definition of this so-called ideology, however, in the program of 2019 “gender ideology” is in the same context with phrases that mention protecting “natural” families. Thus, we might assume a link between “gender ideology” (for some conceptual clarifications about “gender ideology” see Szczygielska; Korolczuk and Graff) and “unnatural” LGBTQ+ families and other so-called “unnatural” issues.
In the examples above we see an interesting and puzzling issue of how Polish politicians use various communication technics in Polish society. In this blog post, based on academic literature and case studies, I am arguing that political figures of the Polish public sphere use the notion of “ideology” as a framing technic to convey and transmit one well-constructed fictional idea to society. Here, I am focusing on the anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric of the Law and Justice Party. Hence, I am arguing that PiS tries to frame LGBTQ+ people in two highly interconnected narratives: a threat to Polish families, and, secondly, as an ideology, presenting it as a set of ideas. As well, here, I am trying to explain why these framings have a major value in the political management of PiS.
Framing as a focus control of an issue
In nowadays digital reality, the simplest way to understand framing is through photography. In the image above, you can see a photo of the harbor where a person is framing something with his/her hands. Thus, focusing and controlling your attention on that white ship in the picture.
In social and communicational studies, based on academic works (Entman; Tadlock et al.; Malešič; Tewksburry), framing represents a tool to convey a special perception of the reality to form a specific belief in the minds of people. Frameworks construct the social understanding regarding social phenomena. This tool is highly valuable for achieving political goals.
Framework blueprints in the political cabinet of PiS
In the backlash against LGBTQ+ people, we see two highly interconnected frames: 1) presentation of LGBTQ+ people as a danger to Polish families, especially, to kids, and 2) LGBTQ+ people as an ideology. PiS representatives vividly emphasize both frames through their discourse and political activities. For instance, in the past year, 222 out of 228 members of PiS in Sejm (lower house of the Polish parliament) supported the bill called “Stop LGBT” which aimed at prohibiting multiple issues such as equality marches, promoting the extension of marriage, questioning marriage as a union between a man and a woman, promoting non-heteronormative sexual orientation, promoting sexual activities of underaged (18 y. o.) children, etc. Interestingly, the presentation of that bill had a highly controversial discourse of Krzysztof Kasprzak – representative of an anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ+ foundation – calling LGBTQ+ as an “extremely bad” ideology and mentioning it in the same paragraph with communist and Nazi ideologies. Nevertheless, PiS representatives endorsed the bill. Interestingly, their political programs of 2014 and 2019 mention some of the same objectives (perhaps, maybe not in the same radical discourse). For instance, they mention “gender ideology” which is dangerous to families and parenthood in Poland. Family and nation are the most important in society, especially, “natural” and monogamous families. Law and Justice Party is ready to defend this “natural” state of family outlining a direct exclusion of LGBTQ+ families. Another example of those frames is emphasized in the oppositional discourse of the president of PiS, Jarosław Kaczyński, regarding the Warsaw LGBT+ Declaration. He criticized sex education provision in the declaration – that ought to create a safer and more inclusive city for the LGBTQ+ community – saying that it is “an attack on the family, carried out in the worst possible way because it is an attack on children”, “social engineering” and “early sexualization of children”. Again, we see many interlinked similarities in the examples above. Discourse represents one of the fastest ways to spread those frames.
Another example of an ideology-danger-to-Polish-families frame is when Andrzej Duda called LGBTQ+ people “LGBT ideology” or “ideology of evil”, citing a famous priest – John Paul II. Also, saying that current human rights discourse tries to denigrate humanity and attack families. Andrzej Duda framed the LGBTQ+ community as an ideology emphasizing that sexual minorities are not people; they are a set of ideas; hence they do not have human rights. This frame represents a political interest of the party that endorses family values through a heterosexist presentation of the issue to create a favorable public opinion that supports the idea that LGBTQ+ is something foreign or “unnatural” to the Polish nation.
Consequently, “gender ideology” – which was mentioned in the 2014 and 2019 programs of PiS – is an imagined enemy that united various issues such as gender equality, sexual minority, sex education, etc., according to Weronika Grzebalska and Andrea Pető. At the same time, it tries to demonize those vitally important issues for society creating a new understanding of what is normal and legitimate. In spring 2019, “gender ideology” was replaced to “LGBT ideology”, observes Elżbieta Korolczuk. Most probably, because of the Warsaw LGBT+ Declaration and the rise of LGBT-free zones. This ideology narrative serves as a tool to foster ultraconservative agenda, win electoral competitions, and mobilize their supporters. Moreover, in the case of “gender ideology”, one concept can unite together various actors in the same conservative movement.
I believe you have landed on an important trend in backsliding democratic countries. Many populist leaders, from Adolf Hitler to Donald Trump, use scapegoating techniques to galvanize their base of supporters by generating and directing anger and fear towards an out-group of their choosing. Therefore, I find the anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and policymaking in Poland highly concerning. Not only is PiS and its leaders denying the existence of non-heterosexual and non-cisgender people by trivializing their identities as a set of values or beliefs with ideology arguments, as you discussed in your post, but they are also using LGBTQ+ people to threaten the general public by speaking about them and legislating about these issues as if they are a grave threat to the health and safety of the Polish people. This is where the framing technique you mentioned comes into play, although I find it goes further than merely demonizing queer people in the eyes of the Polish citizenry. The real concern with demonization campaigns is not that they so often result the desired public reaction, but why populist leaders find this technique so useful in the first place. PiS is doing more than framing the discourse surrounding LGBTQ+ rights in Poland. When asserting that certain people in society don’t deserve rights, or that certain so-called ideological systems are not worthy of respect and protection, PiS is also reframing the concept of democracy into a more exclusivist and polarized system. Unfortunately, these politicians are simultaneously sacrificing the health of Polish democracy and safety of hundreds of queer Poles on the altar of political capital.