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 “We call on you to condemn these acts of violence and discrimination and to urge Polish authorities to protect the LGBT+ community and to pass legislation on hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity” – reads the petition initiated by LGBT+ activist groups All Out, Kampania Przeciwko Homofobii (Campaign Against Homophobia) and Lambda Warszawa.

On Tuesday, activists handed over the document signed by more than 340.000 people to the EU Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli. – LGBT+ people in Poland still have some hope left, and the EU cannot leave them alone– said Marcin Rodzinka, the co-chair of the Campaign Against Homophobia. During their conversation with Commissioner Dalli, the activists urged the EU to “take immediate action” to protect the rights of LGBT people. 

"LGBT-free zones have no place in our Union"

Even though the petition had already been delivered to its addressee, as of Wednesday (September 23) afternoon, more than 340.000 European citizens have signed it online. Mentioning the issue of sexual minority rights in her very first “State of the Union” speech delivered last week, the President of the European Commission made it very clear, saying that: “LGBTQI free zones are humanity free zones. And they have no place in our Union”.

As examples of anti-LGBT persecution, the document mentions the brutal attacks on participants of last year’s Pride march in the city of Białystok, stickers with homophobic slogans distributed by the daily “Gazeta Polska”, and the fact that many Polish municipalities declared themselves “LGBT-free zones”.

Towns, municipalities, and even entire regions have adopted homophobic resolutions and declarations. Authors of the “Hatred Atlas” project, which identifies and lists such local governments, report that 31% of all Polish citizens live in “LGBT-free zones”. Their interactive map shows nearly the entire southern part of Poland covered in red.

Last night, at 9:00 pm, members of All Out and the Campaign Against Homophobia projected their political slogans on the façade of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, calling on the EU to stop the spread of the so-called “LGBT-free zones”. The messages, projected both in Polish and English, read: “We are not an ideology, we are citizens of Poland”; “More than 300.000 people demand”; “Time to turn words into action. Stop the spread of LGBT-free zones in Poland!”; or, quoting Ursula von der Leyen’s own words “LGBT-free zones have no place in our Union”.

Sharing a video clip of the meeting with members of the LGBT+ rights groups in a post on Twitter, Ms. Dalli also emphasized that there’s “no place for humanity free zones in the EU or anywhere around the world”.

EU criticizes „LGBT-free zones”

In an interview “Wyborcza” published nearly two months ago, Commissioner Dalli said: - LGBTI is not an ideology. It’s an acronym referring to people who consider themselves lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, or intersexual.

She then added: –Every European citizen has both the right to a family life and the right to be treated equally, regardless of his or her sexual orientation or declared gender identity.

In July, Ms. Dalli announced that the authorities of 6 Polish towns who adopted the homophobic resolutions will face financial consequences for their decisions. And indeed, they were denied subsidies under the “Europe for citizens” programme meant to facilitate diversity and European values among the Member States. One of the places which had declared themselves “LGBT-free”, Tuchów, later received three times as much money from the Justice Fund overseen by the Minister of Justice, Zbigniew Ziobro. Moreover, the Minister also announced that he will do his best to establish a „permanent support mechanism” for every other local government „harassed” by the European Commission.

The issue of discrimination against LGBT+ people also found its way into the debate about the breaches of the rule of law and fundamental rights in Poland that took place in the European Parliament last week. During the debate, the Vice President of the European Commission, Vera Jourová, said that “EU funds cannot be used to finance regions where the rights of sexual minorities are being violated”. - I’m not an ideology, we are not an ideology. We are human beings, we are made out of flesh and blood. Stop using us and the LGBTI community in Poland for your disgusting political agenda – urged Terry Reintke, a member of the German Greens.

Three days later, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on “the determination of a clear risk of a serious breach by the Republic of Poland of the rule of law”.

Local governments double down on their homophobic resolutions

Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ine Eriksen Soreide, recently announced that the Polish municipal authorities who adopted the homophobic resolutions won’t receive any funds from the European Economic Area Financial Mechanism (also called the Norwegian funds) as long the resolutions are in force.

The perspective of reduced EU funds met with an immediate response by some of the local “LGBT-free governments”. Earlier this week, local council members of Kraśnik, a small town in south-eastern Poland which had adopted an anti-LGBT+ declaration in May of last year, held a vote on repealing the document.

- The decision we will make today will influence the future and fate of our city- said Paweł Kurek, the progressive councilor who initiated the vote. Calling on other council members to repeal the declaration, Mr. Kurek urged them to consider both the “civilizational” and “economic” consequences of their decision: - We should repeal the declaration for at least two reasons. Most importantly, we should keep in mind the civilizational, social, and ethical aspects of our decision. We simply cannot contribute to making even one of our citizens feel excluded. But there is also a second aspect, the economic one, for which all the councilors, as local government officials, are responsible. We’ve been told many times that by adopting this resolution our city might lose its chances for economic development.

The heated debate drew national attention. Other than local citizens and members of the local LGBT+ community, the audience included representatives of LGBT+ rights organizations and the catholic-fundamentalist foundation Ordo Iuris. MPs from both the ruling camp and the opposition were also following the discussion.

In the end, the motion was rejected. Proponents of repealing the declaration had only been two votes short.

Because of Kraśnik’s decision to adopt the homophobic declaration, earlier this year, the French city of Nogent-sur-Oise suspended their cooperation under the European town twinning programme.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, another local government that adopted an “anti-LGBT+” resolution sued the LGBT+ rights activist Bart Staszewski. -We decided to take legal action against Mr. Staszewski because his portrayal of our municipality as an "LGBT-free zone" is simply a lie. To suggest that our municipality discriminates and segregates people according to any criteria whatsoever would be false. Nothing of that sort is happening here- explains the Mayor of Zakrzówek, Józef Potocki.

The case concerns a project by the LGBT+ activist Bart Staszewski, who put up road signs that read “LGBT-free zone” at the entry to towns that adopted the homophobic resolutions. The project was supposed to raise social awareness and show what passing such resolutions means in practice.

Commenting on Mr. Staszewski’s project, Maciej Świrski, the chair of the right-wing NGO Polish Anti-Defamation League that decided to finance the lawsuit, said that: -the existence of 'LGBT-free zones' in Poland is a product of Mr. Staszewski's imagination. As far as the municipality of Zakrzówek is concerned (but also other places stigmatized in this way), this defamatory, sensationalist information only compromises its good name abroad, where such false information is spread.

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