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Poland’s ruling party has gone on the warpath against the country’s LGBTQ community — leaving them even more isolated in what’s already Europe’s most homophobic country.
Recent days have seen the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and its presidential candidate Andrzej Duda turn gay rights into one of the main issues ahead of the June 28 presidential election.
Duda compared what he called “LGBT ideology” to communism; the head of his campaign team, MEP Joachim Brudziński, tweeted that “Poland is the most beautiful without LGBT”; PiS MP Przemysław Czarnek said that gay people he’d seen parading in Los Angeles “aren’t equal to normal people”; and another PiS lawmaker stated that “LGBT aren’t people” at all.
That drumbeat of attacks reaffirmed to many LGBTQ people that they’re Poland’s undesirables — underlined by the less-than-full-throated defense they got from opposition presidential candidates.
“This is not a big surprise that the Polish government is extremely homophobic … But the moment it was stated by the president of my country, it just confirmed my belief that I am not wanted here,” said Kuba Malec, a 24-year-old economy student.
While some of Duda’s political rivals condemned his language, they were careful not to open themselves to political attack by being too pro-gay.
It’s not the first time that PiS has attacked LGBTQ people for political advantage. This year’s effort is a copy of the strategy used during last year’s European election.
Poland’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have had to put up with nationalists attacking pride marches (including planting bombs), a Catholic bishop calling them “a rainbow plague,” or some right-wing mayors declaring their towns as “LGBT-free zones.”
Dawid Mycek, who together with his husband Jakub (they were married in Portugal) runs social media channels on same-sex marriage in Poland, said that while such comments from the political class have happened before, he was astonished that they were used in the presidential campaign.
“I couldn’t believe that a man who is holding the highest position in the country presents a plan for his next presidency based on hate. It was crushing for us, it was outrageous,” he said.
Duda himself scrambled back from his comments when they earned him foreign condemnation, tweeting that he had been taken out of context, and even U.S. Ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher said that “the US condemns discrimination or hatred based on race, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation.”
While some of Duda’s political rivals condemned his language, they were careful not to open themselves to political attacks by being too pro-gay.
Szymon Hołownia, a center-right independent candidate with ties to the Roman Catholic Church, said he was concerned “that the homophobic comments might lead to someone committing suicide in the real world.”
Rafał Trzaskowski, the liberal mayor of Warsaw from the Civic Platform (PO) party who is Duda’s main rival, said, “For several days we’ve been observing with disquiet what is happening in the electoral campaign.”
While Trzaskowski backs civil partnerships for same-sex couples, and did talk about pro-LGBTQ policies while running for mayor in 2018, he again dodged the subject of gay marriage during a candidates’ debate on Wednesday evening. Going in that direction is politically dangerous; 48 percent of Poles don’t support partnerships between people of the same sex.
That caution is dismaying LGBTQ rights activists.
“Rafał Trzaskowski was a ‘rainbow candidate’ in the local election to become Warsaw’s mayor,” said Ewa Bujacz, a bisexual activist and child psychiatrist. “During the presidential election, he sold us to attract PO’s more conservative electorate … A big part of our community feels betrayed.”
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Malec said, “The candidate who calls himself a democrat, who wants to unite all Poles … he should openly and firmly state whose side he’s on … and he should stand in our defense, more firmly, bravely.”
But even those kinds of comments are enough for Trzaskowski to be attacked by Duda and PiS.
Some right-wing commentators say that on June 28, Poles will choose between a red-and-white Poland — represented by Duda — or “rainbow one” — represented by Trzaskowski.
PiS says that their program — and especially Duda’s “family values” charter that vows to protect Polish children, to never allow gay marriage, and to ban any promotion of “LGBT ideology” in public institutions — aims to protect Polish families from an ideology they say Trzaskowski promotes.
Divide and rule
With the mainstream candidates dodging the issue, that leaves Robert Biedroń, an MEP and the presidential candidate of the left-wing Lewica party. He’s openly gay, but is polling at only about 4 percent — meaning there’s no chance he’ll make it into the second round of the election on July 12 when the top two candidates square off against each other.
“There’s only one rainbow candidate,” said Mycek.
In his effort to backtrack from comments that were reported around the world, Duda even invited Biedroń and his mother for a chat to the presidential palace — and was turned down flat.
“I can’t keep quiet when somebody harms my child,” said Helena Biedroń. “What you say about our children hurts and wounds us … I wouldn’t want you to take a photo with me while having those same harmful thoughts in your head.”
But the gambit of turning the election campaign into a debate about gay rights has actually worked for PiS. Talk of the economic downturn, of Poland’s high rate of coronavirus infections, and of growing corruption accusations around the government’s response to the pandemic has been drowned out by LGTBQ issues.
“We’re treated as a ‘replacement subject’ — which is a very hurtful statement,” said Malec. He added that even if Trzaskowski wins against Duda, nothing will change. “Honestly, I’m losing hope that I will be able to live in this country, that I’ll be able to start a family. It’s just very sad.”