Poland: From anti-gender to anti-LGBT

Imagen: Wojtek Radwański/AFP/Getty Images

Poland has been witnessing another wave of right-wing campaigning against “gender”, though this time, the phrase “gender ideology” has mostly been replaced by “LGBT ideology”. The attacks are directed against NGOs promoting sexual minority rights (e.g. Campaign Against Homophobia or local groups organizing LGBT marches) as well as sex educators. However, the real aim of the attacks appears to be the opposition parties. Law and Justice (the right-wing populist party in power) has been using anti-LGBT rhetoric to boost its popularity before elections (to the European Parliament in spring and more recently to Polish Parliament). The strategy is to portray themselves as “defenders of the natural family” against sexual minorities (who are persistently portrayed as perverts and equated with pedophiles) and to stigmatize democratic opposition as supporters of these perverts and pedophiles. This is ironic given the recent outbreak of discussion about Polish Church harboring pedophile priests, but the anti-LGBT campaign can also be viewed as a response to the threat these scandals posed to the ruling party, which has strong ties with the church.

The initial trigger was the Warsaw’s major decision in March 2019 to sign so called LGBT+ Charter, which included anti-discrimination classes in public schools. The response was a campaign focused on danger to children. For example, a right-wing politician Krystyna Paunovic posted on twitter: “This is war! On Polish children and families. On Polish villages and cities. ON POLAND AND EUROPE, which AWAITS our HELP! On Polish identity and culture. … We HAVE to win this culture WAR! Proponents of Soros and leftist pathological ways – HANDS OFF POLAND AND EU!” Studies show that this alarmist rhetoric has a real effect. Close to one third of the population views “LGBT” as the most serious threat to Poland. Polarization is growing. The key events of the past few months have included the following: a number of townships announcing that they were “LGBT-free zones” (a campaign initiated by a right wing paper); a flood of right-wing media attacks on LGBT; neo-fascist violence against LGBT march participants in Bialystok in July (the police failed to contain it); several anti-LGBT speeches by bishops filled with hateful rhetoric (e.g. Archbishop Jędraszewski described sexual minorities asthe “rainbow plague”); Jarosław Kaczyński’s speech on the natural family and the LGBT threat. A homophobic propaganda film featuring LGBT people as aggressors, enemies of the Polish nation and pedophiles was aired on Polish public TV Info channel two days before the elections (its title tells it all: “Invasion”). On the upside, we have also seen an unprecedented number of LGBT marches taking place around Poland all summer (around 20 in various cities).

In October, two significant laws were passed signaling the government’s intention to escalate the culture war even further and possibly to prepare the ground for legal measures to be used against political opponents: one law on protecting minors from pedophilia bans any talk of sex with minors de facto banning sex education. The other concerns protection of Roman Catholics against hate speech, thus de facto outlawing criticism of the Church and clearing the ground for censorship. We are also anticipating a new round of efforts to ban abortion completely; Poland’s President has already said he would be glad to sign such a law. It is useful to view these developments in continuity with the anti-gender campaigns of 2013-2015, which arguably helped Law and Justice into power. “Gender” and “LGBT” are both terms of vilification when used by the right. While the latter term has dominated the discourse this time, the two terms are sometimes used together (in claims that gender and “LGBT” are a threat to the family).