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An LGBT-free zone (Polish: Strefa wolna od LGBT) is an act by a Polish municipality, powiat (county), or voivodeship (province) declaring their respective regions as free of "LGBT ideology".
While unenforceable and considered primarily symbolic, activists say the declared zones represent an attempt to stigmatize and exclude members of the LGBT community. As of August 2019, around 30 different LGBT-free zone declarations have been made in Poland, including four voivodeships in the south-east of the country: Lesser Poland, Podkarpackie, Świętokrzyskie, and Lublin.
In February 2019, Warsaw's liberal mayor Rafał Trzaskowski signed a declaration supporting LGBTQ rights and announced his intention to follow World Health Organization guidelines and integrate LGBT issues into the Warsaw school sex education curricula. PiS politicians objected to the sex education program saying it would sexualize children. PiS party leader Jarosław Kaczyński responded to the declaration, calling LGBT rights "an import" that threatened Poland. The declaration "enraged and galvanized" conservative politicians and conservative media in Poland, according to The Daily Telegraph. The LGBT-free zone declarations are considered to be a reaction to the Warsaw declaration.
According to The Daily Telegraph, the conservative establishment is fearful of a liberal transition that may erode the power of the Catholic Church in Poland in a manner similar to the transition around the Irish Church. Decreasing Church attendance, rising secularization, and sexual abuse scandals have put pressure on the conservative position. In May 2019, Polish police arrested civil-rights activist Elżbieta Podleśna for putting up posters of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa with the halo painted rainbow colors for the charge of offending religious sentiment, which is illegal in Poland. Also in May, two weeks prior to the 2019 European Parliament election, a documentary on child sex abuse in the Church, was released online. The documentary was expected to hurt the Church-aligned PiS electorally, which led PiS leader Kaczyński to speak heatedly of the Polish nation and children as being under attack by deviant foreign ideas, which led conservative voters to rally around PiS. According to feminist scholar Agnieszka Graff, "The attack on LGBT was triggered by the [Warsaw] Declaration, but that was just a welcome excuse", as PiS sought to woo the rural-traditional demographic and needed a scapegoat to replace migrants.
In August 2019, the Archbishop of Kraków Marek Jędraszewski said LGBT people were like a "rainbow plague" in a sermon commemorating the Warsaw uprising. Not long after, a drag queen simulated his murder on stage.
As of 2019, being openly gay in Poland's small towns and rural areas "[takes] increasing physical and mental fortitude" due to the efforts of Polish authorities and the Catholic Church, according to The Telegraph. Public perceptions, however, have been becoming more tolerant of gays. In 2001, 41 percent of Poles surveyed stated that "being gay wasn’t normal and shouldn’t be tolerated" whereas 24 percent said so in 2017, 5 percent said "being gay was normal" in 2001 while 16 percent said so in 2017.
LGBT-free zone motions are made by Polish municipalities, powiats (counties), and voivodeships (provinces) who declare the regions under their control as free of "LGBT ideology" in reaction to the declaration. While unenforceable, activists say the declared zones represent attempts to exclude the LGBT community. Activist Olga Kaczorek called the declarations "a statement saying that a specific kind of people is not welcome there."
As of August 2019, around 30 different LGBT-free zones have been declared in Poland, including four voivodeships in the south-east of the country: Lesser Poland, Podkarpackie, Świętokrzyskie, and Lublin. The four Voivodeships form the "historically conservative" part of Poland.
Powiats adopting such measures include: Białystok County, Jarosław County, Lesko County, Lubaczów County, Mielec County, Puławy County, Ryki County, Świdnik County, Tarnów County, and Zamość County.
Law and Justice party
Ahead of the 2015 Polish parliamentary election, the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party took an anti-migrant stance. With migration slowing significantly, in the run-up to the 2019 Polish parliamentary election the party has focused on countering Western "LGBT ideology". PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński labelled migrants as "parasites and protozoa" in 2015, while in 2019 he rebuked the Warsaw mayor's pro-LGBTQ declaration as "an attack on the family and children" and stated that LGBTQ was an "imported" ideology.
After Archbishop Jędraszewski made his speech calling "LGBT ideology" a "rainbow plague", the Polish minister for aid defended the comments.
Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro ordered an investigation of Ikea after it fired an employee who expressed homophobic sentiments, which according to The Washington Post, "[kept] the conflict in the news".
The conservative Gazeta Polska newspaper issued "LGBT-free zone" stickers to readers. The Polish opposition and diplomats, including US ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher, condemned the stickers. Gazeta editor in chief Tomasz Sakiewicz replied to the criticism with: "what is happening is the best evidence that LGBT is a totalitarian ideology".
The Warsaw district court ordered that distribution of the stickers should halt pending the resolution of a court case. However Gazeta's editor dismissed the ruling saying it was "fake news" and censorship, and that the paper would continue distributing the stickers. Gazeta continued distribution of the stickers, but modified the decal to read "LGBT Ideology-Free Zone".
In July Polish media chain Empik, the country's largest, refused to stock Gazeta Polska after it issued the stickers. In August 2019, a show organized by the Gazeta Polska Community of America scheduled for October 24 in Carnegie Hall in New York was cancelled after complaints of anti-LGBT ties led to artists pulling out of the show.
In Rzeszów, after LGBT activists submitted a request to hold a pride march, PiS councilors drafted a resolution to make Rzeszów an LGBT-free zone as well as outlaw the event itself. Some 29 requests for counter-demonstrations reached city hall, which led mayor Tadeusz Ferenc, of the opposition Democratic Left Alliance, to ban the march due to security concerns. The ban was then overturned by a court ruling. PiS councilors put forward a resolution outlawing "LGBT ideology", which was defeated by two votes.
Following the violent events in the first Białystok equality march and the Gazeta Polska stickers a demonstration for tolerance was held in Gdańsk on 23 July 2019, with the slogan "zone free of zones" (Polish: Strefa wolna od stref). In Szczecin a demonstration under the slogan of "hate-free zone" (Polish: Strefa wolna od nienawiści) took place, and in Łódź left-wing politicians handed out "hate-free zone" stickers.
Support for declarations
The national PiS party has encouraged the local declarations, with a PiS official handing out medals in Lublin to local politicians who supported the declarations.
Criticism of declarations
In July 2019, Polish Ombudsman Adam Bodnar stated that "the government is increasing homophobic sentiments" with remarks "on the margins of hate speech". Bodnar said he is preparing an appeal to the administrative court against the declarations, as according to Bodnar they are not only political but also have a normative character that affects the lives of people in the declared region.
In July 2019, Warsaw city Councillor Marek Szolc and the Polish Society for Anti-Discrimination Law (PTPA) released a legal opinion stating that LGBT-free zone declarations stigmatize and exclude people and are illegal as they violate article 32 of the Constitution of Poland which guarantees equality and lack of discrimination.
In August 2019, multiple LGBT community members have stated that they feel unsafe in Poland.
Liberal politicians and media and human rights activists have compared the declarations to Nazi-era declarations of areas being judenfrei (free of Jews). Left-leaning Italian newspaper la Repubblica called it "a concept that evokes the term 'Judenfrei'". Campaign Against Homophobia director Slava Melnyk compared the declarations to "1933, when there were also free zones from a specific group of people." Warsaw's deputy president Paweł Rabiej tweeted, "The German fascists created zones free of Jews. Apartheid, of blacks."
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- CARNEGIE HALL CONCERT LINKED TO ANTI-LGBT MAGAZINE CANCELED, Newsweek, Jake Maher, 26 August 2019
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While conservative social media users cheered the move on Twitter and on Facebook, many liberal Poles connected the effort to create "LGBT-free" zones to Nazi efforts to create zones free of Jews.
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- "Polonia, botte e insulti al gay-pride di Bialystok" [Poland, beatings and insults to the gay pride of Bialystok]. la Repubblica (in Italian). 21 July 2019.
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- Łucyan, Magda (19 July 2019). "Naklejki "Strefa wolna od LGBT". Komentarz ambasador i odpowiedź rządu" [Newspaper promotes stickers with the words "LGBT free zone": US ambassador "disappointed and worried"]. TVN24 (in Polish).