The situation of LGBTI people in Poland which is already bad, is still worsening – with „LGBTI-free zones” and the smear campaign triggered by politicians. Why is this so and what can be changed in this regard? – this was discussed by the participants of the webinar organized by the European Commission Representation in Poland and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights under the patronage of EURACTIV.pl.
„Human rights are universal and everyone, including LGBTI people, has the right to exercise them fully. This is a matter that everyone should support” – we can find in the letter of fifty ambassadors in Poland, published at the end of September, who stood up for non-heteronormative people in our country.
During the speech on the state of the European Union in September, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, stated that „she will not rest in her efforts to build an equality union where everyone can be who they really are – without fear of accusation or discrimination, because being yourself is not an ideology.
She referred to the adoption by some Polish municipalities of resolutions on so-called LGBTI-free zones. „This is identity, and no one can take it away from anyone. I want to make it clear: LGBT-free zones are zones free of humanity. There is no place for them in European Union,” she said.
At the same time, in this year’s ‚Rainbow Europe’ ranking published by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Association (ILGA), Poland has fallen from the penultimate to the last place in the EU. This means that LGBTI people live in Poland the worst in Europe.
Helena Dalli: European Commission is preparing its strategy on LGBT+ equality
Meanwhile, as recalled by EU Commissioner for equality Helena Dalli in her opening speech, the fundamental rights for all EU citizens – including LGBTI people – are guaranteed not only by the EU Treaties or the Charter of Fundamental Rights, but also by the constitutions and legislation of all Member States.
„The EU is built on these fundamental rights, and all Member States share them. Nevertheless, I agree with the title of the report prepared by the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) ‚Long Way to Go for LGBTI Equality’. As many as 43 percent of the people in this group declared that they suffered discrimination in 2019. This is 6 p.p. more than in the previous report from 2012 – said the EU commissioner.
That is why the European Commission will adopt a strategy for the equality of LGBTI people to address the problems identified in the FRA report. „The European Commission will work towards abolishing LGBT-free zones. Being an LGBTI person is not an ideology, but an identity. We want all levels of government in the Member States to respect the EU treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, also when it comes to the implementation of EU funding projects” said Helena Dalli.
She also announced the continuation of „an open dialogue with the Polish authorities to end the atmosphere of continued hostility and attacks against LGBTI communities in Poland.” „The EC will also work for the recognition of family relationships throughout the EU. LGBT+ parents may not be recognized as parents in another member state. In such a situation, there may be violations of children’s rights or discrimination. If you are a parent in one Member State, you are in one throughout the EU,” said the Commissioner and announced the publication of details of the LGBTI equality strategy is planned in November. She will set out the concrete direction for EC action in this area for the period 2020-2025.
Marek Prawda: European Commission acts not as an ideologist, but as an accountant
In turn, the Director of the European Commission Representation Office in Poland Marek Prawda reminded that at the end of May two directors in the European Commission – Marc Lemaître, Director General for Regional and Urban Policy together with Joost Korte, Director General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion – sent a letter to the Marshals. „Above all, it was addressed to the municipalities that had adopted LGBT resolutions. It was an expression of the European Commission’s concern. Not because local government resolutions are a source of law – because they are not – but they can influence the discretionary power of democratic bodies in matters that concern the distribution of EU funds,” he said.
As he explained, it was an action „not from the position of ideologists, but from the position of accountants, who are obliged to check whether EU money is distributed according to the principle of non-discrimination. „At the end of September, after the answers from the local governments, these directors once again wrote asking to counteract all forms of discrimination. Now, at the stage of programming the EU budget, one should reckon with such a categorical appeal to withdraw from these resolutions, because it is the voivodeships that distribute these funds” – said Marek Prawda.
The director also reminded that only recently administrative courts in Poland have begun to consider the Ombudsman’s complaints against these resolutions. „Three resolutions have already been annulled. There are many legal consequences of this event. Already the statements of politicians can, as we know, be considered by the European Court of Human Rights as a source of rejection of a motion. This gives an argument to question the decisions of those who were omitted in the competitions concerning the distribution of EU funds” – stressed the director of the EC Representation in Poland.
Marek Prawda also called for not to be „sober realists” who choose silence when evil happens. This opportunistic attitude, while being critical of those who actively oppose discrimination, blocks real progress in the fight for our constitutional equality.
Adam Bodnar: Protection against discrimination is not unknown to Polish tradition
Ombudsman Adam Bodnar pointed out the lack of broad support for social activists or activists criticizing local government resolutions concerning the „LGBT ideology” and who are then attacked in public space. He thanked the Fundamental Rights Agency and the whole European Commission for undertaking to support such people.
„I mean not only the entire civil society, but also very specific people who take action to counteract discrimination. I will give you the example of Bart Staszewski, whose artistic activity allowed us to understand what social consequences these resolutions have. He is now pointed out by name as someone who allegedly creates some false reality and is guilty of all this confusion. And I am not convinced that he is defended enough by all of us,” said Bodnar.
Adam Bodnar pointed to campaigns of hatred against social activists, which can even threaten their lives and health. „There are more such LGBTI rights activists. The pro-government media, TVP or politicians in the government camp are running a hate campaign against them. If we forget about those who defend rights at the national level, there will be no one to deal with it soon. Strengthening the legal protection of their rights is very important” – he stressed.
He added that recently in Poland the issue of LGBTI rights has become a very political topic, used as a weapon in internal competitions. „These are not only games between people with opposing visions of what the constitutional order should look like, but also purely political games inside the ruling camp and competition for who is the true leader of right-wing and conservative thought,” Adam Bodnar emphasized.
„I do not want Poles to be persuaded that protecting people from discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation is something against the Polish tradition. – he added. And he listed a long list of actions and legal changes undertaken in Poland for almost a century to protect LGBTI people.
Michael O’Flaherty: The situation of LGBT+ people in Europe is deteriorating
The Director of the Fundamental Rights Agency Michael O’Flaherty presented the results of a study on the situation of LGBTI people in the EU, already mentioned by Commissioner Helena Dalli, which was conducted by his Agency. As many as 140,000 people from all member states, as well as from the United Kingdom, Serbia and Northern Macedonia, were interviewed.
The head of FRA called the results of this report „sincerely disappointing and disgusting”. „It shows that the situation of LGBTI people in Europe has deteriorated in recent years. 58 percent of those surveyed stated that they have experienced some form of aggression because of their sexual orientation over the past 5 years. 5 percent admitted that it was physical violence. 43 percent experienced discrimination in the past year – said Michael O’Flaherty.
He also pointed out that transgender people are most discriminated against. 60 percent of such people have experienced discrimination. „LGBTI people do not report what happens to them. Only 14 percent report violence, and only 17 percent report cases of discrimination. 40 percent of those surveyed indicated that the level of prejudice against them had decreased, but 36 percent indicated that it had increased in their opinion. 66 percent of those surveyed do not believe that their governments will be able to protect them from discrimination, intimidation or violence,” said the director of FRA.
Michael O’Flaherty also highlighted that there are big differences between member states. In Malta, 83 percent of those surveyed trust their authorities and believe that they will be able to defend them in case of need. But for comparison, in Poland, only 4 percent of respondents feel this way.
The director of FRA said that at the EU level it is necessary to better fight against hatred and violence against LGBTI, encourage victims to report violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation, strengthen anti-discrimination law in the EU, create action plans to promote pluralism and diversity in European societies, and cooperate with the LGBTI community at each of these stages.
Patrycja Pogodzińska: Most LGBTI people do not report cases of aggression. Mainly due to fear of the police
Patrycja Pogodzińska: Most LGBTI people do not report cases of aggression. Mainly for fear of the police. Legal expert at the Fundamental Rights Agency Patrycja Pogodzińska added that in comparison with the 2012 study, the group of respondents was extended to include intergendered people and persons aged 15 and over. „The new survey was conducted between May and July 2019, i.e. even before the recent events in Poland concerning LGBTI people. Unfortunately, hate speech or hate crimes against LGBTI are still widespread in many places in Europe. Moreover as has been said, the vast majority of people do not report them. As many as 1/4 of them are frightened of homophobic reactions from the police…”. – said the FRA expert. She added that while in Malta it was indicated that sexual orientation intolerance had decreased, in France and Poland it was indicated that it had increased.
LGBTI aged 15-17, experience more harassment than older LGBTI, according to the FRA report. But, on the other hand, almost half of them indicated that someone in a situation of discrimination or aggression was defending their rights. In the case of people aged 18-24, however, the level of this support is already dropping to 33 percent. In the case of people aged 40 and over, it is only 7 percent.
„So it seems that the younger generations are experiencing more support, but also more aggression. This gives cause for both optimism and pessimism. 47 percent of the youngest respondents indicated that issues related to discrimination were raised at school, but as much as 10 percent indicated that they were raised in a negative way. 92 percent of young respondents also witnessed negative comments among their peers towards people perceived as LGBTIs. As many as 67 percent saw it „often” or „always,” said Patrycja Pogodzińska.
Anna Mazurczak: LGBTI people in Poland are less satisfied with life
Anna Mazurczak from the Polish Society for Anti-Discrimination Law (PTPA) pointed to other conclusions from the FRA study. „In most European countries, LGBTI people have a similar level of life satisfaction to other members of society. But in Poland there is a very clear difference. The average life satisfaction is relatively high in Poland, but among LGBTI people it is much lower. And this is a situation that actually only concerns Poland,” she said.
The expert pointed out that there are countries where LGBTI people feel low satisfaction with their lives, but also the general public feels the same. Here she pointed to Serbia and North Macedonia.
According to the expert, the difference in the satisfaction of life in Poland „is largely due to homophobia in the public space and to the openly homophobic statements made by representatives of the authorities, the hierarchs of the Catholic Church or those in the public media. The number of homophobic statements in the Polish public space is alarming” – emphasized the representative of PTPA.
She also stated that „there is not much to be done about it, unfortunately, because there are no effective means of legal protection against homophobic or transphobic hate speech in Poland. „This kind of hate speech is not a crime in Poland,” said Anna Mazurczak.
She also pointed out that very few LGBTI people in Poland speak openly about their gender identity and orientation, and the pressure to hide them also has a very negative impact on their quality of life. The FRA’s recommendation is to adopt strategies for LGBTI people at the local level as well, so that they feel part of the community and feel that they can get out safely. But unfortunately, such recommendations do not fit the Polish reality,” said the PTPA expert.
Ola Kaczorek: The scale of homophobia and transphobia is now unprecedented in Poland
Ola Kaczorek, Co-President of the „Love Does Not Exclude” Association, emphasized that such an approach is very important, as presented by the director of FRA, who pointed out that solutions and strategies should be created not „for LGBTI people”, but „together with LGBTI people”. „I would add such a demand to allow LGBTI people to create their own reality and possibly support them in this. Because we do a lot and do a lot, but of course we need allies and allies,” she said.
She also confirmed that it is currently difficult for LGBTI people who are active in politics and all other LGBTI people in Poland. „You do not have to expose yourself to danger at all. The scale of homophobia and transphobia is now unprecedented. We have not yet experienced such a situation. In the past, homophobia consisted of wiping out LGBTI people from public life, and now we are simply being targeted – said Kaczorek.
She added that in her opinion „it is horrifying that only 4 percent of LGBTI people surveyed in Poland believed that the state was able to provide them with security. But this does not surprise me at all. These are studies from before July of this year, when during the presidential campaign in Warsaw there were police arrests of participants of demonstrations in defense of LGBTI people, and then strange and terrible situations at police stations. Since then, this trust could still fall,” said the co-chairperson of „Love Does Not Exclude” Association.
She also explained that LGBTI activists want every victim to report cases of aggression or discrimination based on their sexual orientation, because that would give a true picture of the situation. „We need this argument to talk to politicians or the media. But we also know what is happening to the police and what can happen to LGBTI people who come for help. This is a very difficult situation. We need training for the services, but we also need allies and allies on different levels of administration or politics to change this situation,” Ola Kaczorek said.
Hanna Gill-Piątek: Local governments in Poland were misled before Ordo Iuris
Hanna Gill-Piątek (Poland 2050), a member of the LGBT+ Parliamentary Group for Equality, pointed out that the issue of declaring „LGBT-free zones” was until recently considered marginal, but the reality was different.
„Jakub Gawron and the other people who make up the Hate Atlas made us aware of how many such different >>zones<< are in Poland and how large an area of the country at various self-governing levels (communes, poviats and provincial assemblies) is covered by the zones we call laborally >>anti-LGBT<<, although they sometimes mean the adoption of the so-called Charter of Family Rights, which supposedly does not contain any discriminatory provisions and is not supposed to be local law, but it also creates an atmosphere unfriendly to LGBTI people,” the MP said.
The „Guidelines for Equal Treatment” are in place in cities, and this is a subject I have been working on professionally for years, in the area of applying for EU funds. And our parliamentary team has already pointed out that local governments with these discriminatory resolutions may have problems not only with future competitions for EU funds, but also with accounting for funds already collected under the current EU Multiannual Financial Framework – explained Hanna Gill-Piątek.
As she explained, „it can be seen after already existing cases of refusal of funds (in the programs >>Cities Partnership<< and >>Local Development<< from the Norwegian Funds), that if the money from grants flows directly from the source and is not distributed at the local government level and there are no so-called managing institutions along the way, they can really be a tool to influence and react strongly to local policies”.
„For this reason, there are calls among politicians for us not to distribute EU funds by politically marked local governments, but for the EU to grant these funds directly to local governments. However, I think that this is not possible at present – was recognized by Hanna Gill-Piątek.
She also appealed to the European Commission to initiate equality projects in programmes where Brussels decides on the allocation of funds. „So far there have been no such projects. Instead, there have been programs that have solved other problems, developed housing or revitalized different areas. This involved issues of non-discrimination against the poor, for example, but there was no program that would point to local governments in the context of equality,” the deputy emphasized.
She also pointed out that the emergence of „zones” for LGBTI people is lobbying for Ordo Iuris. „Her representatives travelled to local governments and urged them to adopt these resolutions. They often mislead the councilors. Their adoption was very often not due to bad will, but to this lobbying. Someone important came, said something, it seemed that everything was going to be all right, and now there is a problem, because no money was granted, e.g. in a partnership program” – said Hanna Gill-Piątek.
Aneta Dekowska: We no longer talk about dignity, but about the safety of LGBTI people
Those who suffer discrimination or aggression against LGBTI people are also their families – parents, partners or siblings. Aneta Dekowska, president of the Acceptance Association, who is the mother of an LGBTI person, said that her daughter has been in a happy relationship for 14 years. „Her partner is de facto my second daughter. I would very much like both of them to be able to marry legally in Poland. Their relationship would be properly honored, because LGBTI people have dignity and would like to live like all other citizens,” she said.
She added, however, that „today we no longer talk about dignity, but we talk about the safety of LGBTI community. „When I started 8 years ago, the situation in Poland was different. At that time, we fought for marital equality or for partnerships or the penalization of hate speech. But today we fight for the health or life of our children. LGBTI parents themselves need help. This atmosphere of aggression and fear for our children or friends, fuelled by the ruling party or the current president, makes us need to receive support ourselves. And it is we who should be mobilized to fight for the rights of our children – stressed Aneta Dekowska.
She pointed out that „the presented recommendations are currently abstract for the parents of LGBTI people. „How to educate, how to support when we actually do not have access to schools? Seven-eight years ago we rode around schools, but now this is no longer possible” – The President of the Acceptance Association alarmed.
Paweł Kurek: It was a political mountain that gave the green light to local government politicians’ actions
The councillor of Kraśnik, whose councillors adopted a controversial LGBT resolution in May 2020, Paweł Kurek reminded that in February 2020 some residents and councillors made an attempt to repeal this resolution. „Unfortunately, the civic project in this matter was not included on the agenda. In the fall I made another attempt and submitted such a motion as an alderman. This was a few days after it turned out that the local governments that had passed resolutions against LGBT were not getting any money from the Norwegian Funds. And we, as a local government, have been working hard for a year to obtain these funds,” he said.
He also pointed out that Kraśnik is one of the poorest county towns in the EU. „In a ranking of 267 such cities, we took 265th place. And the funds we have applied for are even 10 million euros. It is a lot for our local government. However, our project repealing last year’s resolution was rejected at the session of the City Council in September” – said Paweł Kurek.
When asked whether it is a good idea to turn off the tap with money for local governments that have been recognized as „anti-LGBT zones”, he said that history shows that „intolerance is sometimes correlated with wealth. Wealthier communities are more aware. A glance at the map shows that regions with higher living standards in the countries concerned are more tolerant. It is also visible on the map of Poland. There are more LGBT free zones in the east of our country than in the west – he said.
According to Paweł Kurek, most of the resolutions passed by Polish LGBT local governments were inspired by the current ruling political camp and its local politicians. „A mountain gives the green light to the actions of councilors in the municipality, county or provincial assembly. In my opinion, it is not the local governments that should be punished for taking away funds. It is punishing all citizens for the political actions of those in power,” argued Councillor Kraśnik.
As he explained, „all inhabitants of my city will be punished for the actions of politicians of the ruling party in Poland”. The majority of Kraśnik City Council has representatives of Law and Justice.
This article was written based on the webinar organized on 16 October 2020 by the European Commission Representation Office in Poland and the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) entitled: „Situation of LGBT+ people in Poland and Europe”. EURACTIV.pl was the partner of the event.