LGBT equality in Poland is a contentious issue. While the issue evolved in recent years, since 2016 progress has been threatened by the right-wing Law and Justice party that governs Poland and boasts of its Catholic identity.
Government restrictions have not, however, stopped some Poles from celebrating the LGBT communities in their country. In June this year, some 50,000 people took part in Warsaw’s “Equality Parade” that holds up not only LGBT people but other marginalized groups like people with disabilities. In its 17th year, the Parade is more a demonstration for human rights against the right-wing government than a celebration of Pride.
As a bit of background, modern Poland never criminalized homosexuality. Since the Cold War ended, there has been an openness in some urban areas to lesbian and gay people. Homosexuality was removed from a list of mental health issues in 1991. The country has had openly gay and openly transgender politicians, and allows gay and bisexual men to donate blood.
Despite these positive developments, the country’s citizens remain generally opposed to certain LGBT rights. Marriage equality is constitutionally banned, and most Poles agree it should remain so. Attempted “registered partnership laws” for same-gender couples have been repeatedly defeated by legislators, though 2017 polling indicates that for the first time, a majority of Poles support some form of legal recognition. Non-discrimination protections are sorely lacking, and there are no anti-hate crime laws.
Unlike most nations, the situation in Poland is deteriorating and has been since the Law and Justice party took power in 2015. In an interview with World Politics Review, Agata Chaber of the country’s leading LGBT group, Campaign Against Homophobia, explained the conservative turn:
“The Law and Justice Party is stoking a fear of everything that is foreign, and portraying the EU as an unwanted and harmful influence on Poland. . .they say it has ‘forced’ Poland to adopt the so-called gay agenda. By portraying concern for LGBT rights as a product of foreign influence, the party is contributing to the isolation of Poland’s LGBT community.
“The Law and Justice Party has only been in power for two years, which is not long enough to dramatically change social attitudes. But given the alterations of school curricula, which removed elements emphasizing nondiscrimination while embracing more nationalist messaging, and the entrenchment of other policies, we might soon live in a society where any individual who is not white, straight, cisgender and Catholic is unwanted.”
Chaber added that the number of anti-LGBT people isn’t growing, but the “intensity of hate” by those who already are anti-LGBT is expanding. These radical nationalist groups are “increasingly dominating public discourse and public spaces, and in so doing they are making it much more difficult for LGBT people and their allies to live openly.”
Intimately connected to the Law and Justice party’s rise is the Catholic identity it strongly claims, even against church leaders’ criticisms. Poland is 95% Catholic, a majority of whom attend weekly Mass. For years, Church leaders have vehemently opposed any expansion of LGBT equality, creating fertile ground in which the conservative Catholic, anti-gay views of Law and Justice could grow.
The outcomes of this union of religion and politics have been devastating. Hate crimes have risen sharply, in large part because the government itself is ambivalent or even supportive of such acts. Harsh rhetoric has become more acceptable.
Chaber believes the future for LGBT rights in Poland is uncertain. As long as Law and Justice is in power and the threats from nationalist Catholic groups grow, there will be no new protections for LGBT people. LGBT groups’ best hope, Chaber said, is to do grassroots organizing that will “create a movement that will oppose violence and discrimination.”
I would add that now is a crucial moment for Catholic leaders, who are already critical of Law and Justice on other matters, to speak out for the human rights of LGBT people. Their opposition to the recognition of same-gender relationships does not have to stop them from using their power to oppose violence and discrimination against LGBT people.
New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick visited Poland in the late fall of 2016. For a report on her activities there with LGBT groups and the media, click here.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 8, 2017