The situation of the LGBTIQ community in Poland and Europe, the measures aimed at more effective defending their rights, the draft laws on LGBTIQ rights in the Polish parliament, and the approach of self-governments – those were the matters discussed at the EURACTIV.pl’s webinar “Union of Equality for LGBTIQ. European Commission’s Strategy on Combatting Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia”.
The situation of LGBTIQ in Poland is the worst in the whole European Union. For the second year in a row, Poland continues to occupy the lowest ranking in the Rainbow Europe Index by ILGA-Europe. In the index, which is published every year on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, Poland scored only 13 percent of the points.
ILGA-Europe justified this poor result, pointing to the “shrinking civil society space” and the inadequate response for the LGBTIQ street protests. During public events the police often failed to protect the representatives of LGBTIQ rights activists or even participated in attacking them, the organisation stressed. Another problem mentioned by ILGA-Europe is restricting freedom of expression, due to the anti-LGBT resolutions that have been passed by local governments.
On the other hand, the report published last year by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) revealed that 43 percent of the LGBTIQ community in Europe feels discriminated because of their sexual orientation, whereas 58 per cent have experienced homophobia- or transphobia-based aggression in the last five years.
EC’s LGBTIQ Equality Strategy
According to ILGA-Europe, in the last year, there was almost no positive change in Europe on respecting LGBTIQ rights. The leader of the Rainbow Europe Index – just like the previous year – is Malta, which scored 94 percent of the points. The Maltese EU Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli repeated the EU institution’s declaration that there must be no exemption when it comes to LGBTIQ freedom and equality. She also reminded that over 500 Members of the European Parliament supported the adoption of the resolution declaring the EU “LGBTIQ freedom zone”.
“We take various measures to support this community and protect it from discrimination. The Commission plans to put forward a proposal to extend the list of Euro crimes to cover hate speech and hate crime. We will also present a legislative proposal to ensure that parenthood that is established in one EU country is automatically recognised in all other EU countries”, she announced.
The Commissioner pointed out that in supporting equality regional differences must be taken into account and it is counterproductive to apply one solution for the whole EU. “In Poland, we have both Szprotawa, where the city council adopted the declaration of solidarity with the LGBTIQ community and over 100 local government entities that adopted resolutions against the so-called “LGBTIQ ideology”. This is anathema. LGBTIQ is not an ideology, but an element of identity – the truth some EU regions must still be reminded of. The situation in Poland shows that each EU country should have its own LGBTIQ equality strategy. The European Commission may help with it”, she assured.
She added that “real Union of Equality means equality in its every meaning” and assured that the Commission is “determined to create it”. The “equality” term embraces, among others, race, ethnicity, age, gender, and LGBTIQ equality. “As President Ursula von der Leyen said, we will not rest until we achieve this goal”, stressed Dalli, the first commissioner in the EU’s history with a portfolio dealing with equality.
In November 2020 the Commission has published its first LGBTIQ Equality Strategy, indicating EU planned measures for the next five years. “These include not only the changes relating to combatting homophobic aggression but also constant monitoring of the situation in member countries when it comes to counteracting discrimination by implementing EU-funded projects. We will also finance projects aimed at enhancing equality and fighting with discrimination”, Helena Dalli added.
Waiting for the horizontal Directive
Polish Ombudsman Adam Bodnar pointed to the importance of both the legal action and symbolic steps, just like March’s EP declaration on the freedom of LGBTIQ. “Such demonstration of politicians’ commitment to the matter of equality has a fundamental significance. Over a year ago, the previous US ambassador in Poland Georgette Mosbacher together with the representatives of 48 countries signed a letter on the LGBTIQ rights in Poland. After this symbolic act, Ms Mosbacher was criticised by Poland’s authorities. She responded that we may agree in various issues and cooperate, but on this matter, Polish authorities are on the bad side of history,” said the Ombudsman.
He pointed out that the question of LGBTIQ rights is often used for relentless political spats. “On the European symbolic level, it is crucial to build a transatlantic agreement. We see measures aimed at promoting the rule of law of democracy by Joe Biden’s administration, so I think that the matter of LGBTIQ people is yet another issue that could unite the EU and the US, which will have a substantial influence on the policy in Poland,” added Bodnar.
He also stressed the necessity of strengthening the EU equality bodies and the adoption of the horizontal Directive, which would extend the rights of all the people experiencing discrimination in all areas of inequality. “We expect this directive back to 2008. Various drafts were presented, but none of them was ultimately adopted. It is time for the EU to implement its competencies resulting from Article 19 of the Treaty,” said the Ombudsman.
He pointed to one more profound question for the EU equality strategy – the rule of law. “We will not put an end to the discrimination of LGBTIQ communities as soon as we do not combine this issue with respecting the rule of law. Let’s take the hate crimes. Without the rule of law and the guaranty of judicial independence the cases concerning such crimes will be impossible to resolve in some member states,” he explained.
Denmark as the champion of equality
In contrast, the LGBTIQ situation in Denmark substantially differs from this in Poland. The prohibition on discrimination based on sex orientation was introduced into the criminal law in 1987. Dania was also the first country in the world to recognise homosexual civil unions in 1989. Since 2012 homosexual couples can be joined in marriage, but even earlier (from 2010) they were allowed to adopt children.
Danish Labour and Equality Minnister Peter Hummelgaard Thomsen stressed that “being yourself and loving whoever you want is one of the basic European values and a human right”. “Thanks to the legal steps we have taken, homosexuals are full and equal member of our Danish society. Homosexual marriages can even be solemnised in churches. In Denmark, not only do homosexual couples have equal right for adoption of children, but from 2013 both women in a homosexual union obtain parental rights in a moment when one of them bears a baby. It does not have to be IVF,” he explained.
“The possibility of raising a family with a person you love is an integral part of the experience of humanity. Similarly, being a parent, with all the responsibility that this role implies, with all the moments of joy and sorrow, with all the sleepless nights and early wake-ups, is one of the greatest gifts in human life. I hope that all the EU citizens, regardless their sexual orientation or gender identity, will be able to enjoy parentship. There are no two same families, but each family is a real family. It makes me proud that Denmark belongs to the avangarda of marital equality and it secures the equal rights of the LGBTIQ people’s to bringing up families,” said the Danish minister.
He reminded that the right to live in a family is underlined in both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. “We have to remember that the LGBTIQ rights are a matter of human rights and legal equality. Marital equality and right to raise a family guaranteed by law is an area that must be protected by the states. LGBTIQ people must be equal in their rights and duties as the remaining part of the society,” stressed Peter Hummelgaard Thomsen.
Two equality draft bills in the Polish parliament
From the current term (started in 2019) in the Polish Parliament there functions a Parliamentary Grouping for the Equal Rights of the LGBT+ Community. This is not a Sejm or Senate commission, though, so the rights of this body are strictly limited. The deputy leader of the grouping, the Left MP Anna Maria Żukowska said it is not an obstacle in the work for LGBTIQ rights.
“Firstly, we create a platform for cooperation of civil organisations. Secondly, last year we prepared two draft bills on the matter. One concerns regularising civil unions, the other – homosexual civil marriages,” the MP pointed out.
She added that the parliamentarians from the grouping together with the civil society representatives reached a conclusion that none of these draft laws can function without the other one. “Therefore, last year we submitted both projects to the parliament. We do not see any possibility for them to be considered separately. We are in the position that there must not be only homosexual marriages of homosexual civil unions. Both possibilities are equally important,” said Żukowska.
She continued that the grouping also works on the law that would introduce into the Polish criminal code the categories of hate speech. “We want to extend this concept. Currently, it embraces only factors like gender, age, race, or ethnic origin. We want also the hate speech concerning sexual orientation and mental identity to be punished. The aim is to make the criminal code better protect the LGBT+,” explained the MP.
She stressed that the parliamentary grouping includes not only members of the Left, but also of the Civic Platform and the Modern Party. “We are open to all the parties,” she assured.
The rising awareness
President of the Łódź-based organisation Equality Factory Ida Mickiewicz-Florczak pointed to the matter of Polish people’s awareness about the need to secure LGBTIQ rights. She underlined the differences on the issue.
“It depends. Social awareness is rising. But at the same time, we face more attacks and are more persecuted. The LGBTIQ community is attacked from each side. However, a result is that LGBTIQ persons receive more attention,” said the activist.
She explained that more and more often a question arises “what we fight for and why do we fight the system that is told to be perfect.” “Our organisation, one of many in Poland, educates and raises public awareness on LGBTIQ rights so that there are no people who do not know who LGBTIQ people are or discriminate them,” she added.
Szprotawa solidary with LGBTIQ
The webinar was participated by Andrzej Stambulski, the president of the Town Council of Szprotawa in Lubuskie Voivodeship, which adopted in January the declaration of solidarity with LGBT+. “Szprotawa municipality commits itself to respect fundamental principles of equality and respecting of the diversity of all citizens, regardless of gender, race, age, disabilities, ethnic origin, religion, worldview and sexual orientation,” the document states.
“In the declaration, we as the Town Council expressed our will to cooperate with every resident of the municipality regardless of their sexual orientation. Our policy will be void of homophobia and transphobia, but also friendly to queer people. It concerns both us as an employer and the relations between the office and claimants,” said the President of the Szprotawa Town Council.
He admitted that the town councilors did not expect such a big interest by the media with the declaration. “Some media criticised the declaration, but others praised it. However, for us the most crucial were the voices of our residents and those were definitely positive,” stressed Stambulski.
He denied that the measure by the Szprotawa town councillors was meant to be a straightforward answer for the discriminating anti-LGBT+ resolutions, adopted in numerous Polish municipalities between 2019 and 2020. “Our aim was simply to assure our residents that no one is going to be excluded or discriminated by the municipality institutions – also on the basis of sexual orientation. We pledged to respect Article 32 of the Polish Constitution, stating that “all persons shall be equal before the law” and “all persons shall have the right to equal treatment by public authorities,” and “no one shall be discriminated against in political, social or economic life for any reason whatsoever.” This should be obvious and require no special confirmation,” he said.