A Polish LGBT activist has launched a project to protest against Polish towns that declared themselves “free from LGBT ideology” amid a government-led anti-LGBT campaign. In response, two MPs from the ruling coalition have submitted a request to prosecutors for him to be investigated.

Bart Staszewski travelled to the towns, where he hung a sign saying “LGBT-free zone” along roads leading into them. He then took photographs of LGBT people who live in those places, before taking down the sign.

Staszewski says that the project is intended to offer “a symbolic response to the symbolic resolutions” that have been passed by a number of municipalities, mostly in Poland’s conservative south-east and whose local authorities are controlled by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

“Maybe after this project, they will look differently at people they see as a threat,” hopes Staszewski, quoted by Krytyka Polityczna.

 

Two MPs from Poland’s ruling camp have reacted angrily to the campaign, submitting a request to prosecutors to investigate Staszewski under a law against tampering with street signs, reports website wPolityce.

One of the MPs, Jan Strzeżek, says they are particularly concerned by the fact that Staszewski is causing “more lies about Poland abroad” because some outside Poland believed that the fake signs are genuine.

This included Guy Verhofstadt, the former prime minister of Belgium and a leading figure in the European Parliament, who retweeted Staszewski’s images and added the false claim that “the Polish authorities have put up these disgusting anti-LGBTI+ signs”. Verhofstadt eventually deleted the tweet.

Last month, the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning discrimination against LGBTI people in Poland. It expressed particular concern at the fact that some local authorities have declared themselves “free from LGBT ideology”.

European Parliament condemns “LGBT-free zones” in Poland

The resolution called “on Poland to firmly condemn discrimination against LGBTI people…and to revoke resolutions attacking LGBTI rights, including local provisions against ‘LGBT ideology’, in accordance with its national law as well as its obligations under EU and international law”. It also called on the European Commission to ensure that EU funds are not “being used for discriminatory purposes”.

PiS made protecting Poland from “LGBT ideology” a centrepiece of its successful campaigns in European and parliamentary elections last year. Jarosław Kaczyński, the party’s chairman and Poland’s de facto leader, warned that the “LGBT movement imported [into Poland] threatens our identity, our nation, its continued existence, and therefore the Polish state”.

Anti-LGBT rhetoric was also promoted by some within Poland’s powerful Catholic church, most notably the archbishop of Kraków, Marek Jędraszewski, who in sermons likened the “rainbow plague” of “LGBT ideology” to Nazism and Bolshevism.

But others in Poland have sought to promote LGBT rights, which polls indicate are gaining ever more acceptance. A record number of LBGT Equality Parades were held in Poland in 2019, attracting large crowds. The mayor of Warsaw, Rafał Trzaskowski, signed a declaration promising to introduce measures to support LGBT people.

Such was the extent of debate over this issue that “LGBT” was chosen as one of Poland’s words of year for 2019 by a panel of linguists and in an online public poll.

Juliette Bretan is a freelance journalist covering Polish and Eastern European current affairs and culture. Her work has featured on the BBC World Service, and in CityMetric, The Independent, Ozy, New Eastern Europe and Culture.pl.

Main image credit: Bart Staszewski/Facebook

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