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LGBTQ+ rights in Poland
Photography Olena Yermakova

How LGBTQ+ rights are under threat in Poland, and how to help fight it

The country’s president, Andrzej Duda, has just been re-elected after a campaign laced with homophobic and anti-abortion rhetoric

On Monday (July 13), Poland’s incumbent president, Andrzej Duda, was re-elected into office for another five years. Notorious for his dangerously conservative views, Duda narrowly won with just 51.2 per cent of the votes – the slimmest election victory since the end of communism in 1989.

Backed by the ruling right wing Law and Justice party (PiS), Duda’s win is disastrous for women and the LGBTQ+ community in Poland, who are facing attacks on their fundamental human rights. Below, Dazed outlines exactly what Duda’s victory means for Poland, and how it will impact freedom of the press, LGBTQ+ rights, and abortion laws.

WHO IS ANDRZEJ DUDA?

A lawyer by training, Duda was first elected as president in 2015 as a PiS candidate. After resigning his membership shortly after his victory, Duda remained in office as an independent politician, and this week secured another five years of leadership. The 48-year-old is a conservative Catholic, popular with older voters and those who live in rural areas. Duda has been vocal about his anti-LGBTQ+ views, describing the promotion of LGBTQ+ rights as an “ideology more destructive than communism”. The president also backs a bill that seeks to tighten the country’s strict abortion laws, and has said he would sign the legislation if it ever reached him. In 2018, he received widespread criticism for agreeing to sign a controversial Holocaust bill, which made it illegal to accuse Poland of complicity in Nazi crimes committed during German occupation of the country.

HOW MUCH CONTROL DOES HE HAVE OVER THE MEDIA?

According to The Washington Post, Duda wants to “re-Polandise” the media, bringing foreign-owned outlets under Polish control. His election campaign was marred with media bias, with the country’s public broadcaster, Polish TV – which is required to be impartial due to it being funded by the taxpayer – regularly praising Duda’s government and attacking his liberal competitor, Rafał Trzaskowski, with anti-semitism, xenophobia, and homophobia. As reported by BBC News, it’s believed that PiS will want to use Duda’s victory to gain greater political control over the private media. This is particularly dangerous when it comes to the spreading of hate speech, as naive viewers may be swayed by their perceived notions of impartiality.

WHAT’S HAPPENING TO LGBTQ+ RIGHTS?

Poland is currently the worst-performing country in the EU when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights, with Duda asserting during his election campaign that he would “defend children from LGBT ideology”. Last month, the president launched a “family charter” which pledged to outlaw same-sex marriage, stop LGBTQ+ people from adopting children, and ban education about LGBTQ+ issues in schools. 

After Trzaskowski, Warsaw’s mayor, signed a declaration supporting LGBTQ+ rights in February 2019, many regional parliaments declared their districts as “LGBT-free zones”, with the areas now controlling a third of the country. This week, in the first ruling of its kind, two “LGBT-free zones” were declared unconstitutional and have been annulled. One of the deciding judges, Krzysztof Wujek, said that declaring a location to be “a zone free from” LGBTQ+ people “is turning a blind eye to reality”, adding that the zones are “harmful and strengthen a sense of threat against these people”.

In an October 2019 survey, Polish people were asked what they saw as the biggest threats currently facing them. For men under the age of 40, the most popular answer was “the LGBT movement and gender ideology”, proving that media, state, and religious messaging – one of the country’s archbishops previously said a “rainbow plague” is afflicting Poland – is impacting the Polish public’s viewpoints.

In a statement following Duda’s election, Amnesty International’s Europe director, Nils Muiznieks, said: “We are steadfast in our resolve to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with groups and individuals targeted by the state, and to help resist the rollback of human rights protection in Poland. We will continue to push back against homophobic and transphobic propaganda and the absurd idea that the choice of how someone lives their life threatens Polish identity.”

ARE ABORTION LAWS GOING TO BE MORE RESTRICTIVE?

It’s hard to say for sure, but Duda has been vocal about wanting to make Poland’s anti-abortion law even tougher, despite it already being one of the most restrictive in Europe, so it’s likely more constraints will come into place. 

In 2018, a wave of protests erupted in the country, as women and allies demonstrated against the further eroding of abortion rights. Abortion in Poland is currently illegal except in cases of rape, when a woman’s life is in danger, or in cases of severe or fatal foetal impairments. The proposed amendments to the law would ban abortions in cases of foetal abnormality. Amnesty International says introducing these restrictions “would force women to carry non-viable pregnancies to term, endanger their physical and mental health, and force them to give birth to children often with no chances of survival”.

“We will continue to demand access to safe abortion care,” Amnesty International said in a statement on Tuesday (July 14), “as well as education about sexuality in order to ensure women can make healthy decisions in a country where sexual and reproductive rights are already extremely limited.”

The Polish government has consistently rolled back women’s reproductive rights, including reducing access to the morning after pill in 2017. Defying human rights groups and the European medicines agency guidelines, Duda signed off a law making emergency contraception a prescription drug, meaning those who need it can only get it via a doctor’s appointment.

HOW CAN I HELP?

The first thing to do is educate yourself about what’s going on in Poland. You can get a detailed run-down of the Polish government’s homophobia and transphobia here; find out what it’s like to be LGBTQ+ in Poland here; and discover how women are challenging the country’s ultra-conservative regime here.

There are also a number of petitions you can sign, urging the government to abolish anti-LGBTQ+ lawslegalise abortion in Poland; and punish hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This petition is fighting to ban access to EU funding for businesses operating in “LGBT-free zones”.

Donate to pro-LGBTQ+ organisations in Poland, including Miłość Nie WykluczaLambda Warszawa, and Kampania Przeciw Homofobii.